Friday, March 11, 2011

Las Vegas, America's Corrupt Heart

One of the most compelling books I've read in a long time--Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion--has this passage on Las Vegas, in the context of a devastating chapter on American pornography:
Fake Eiffel Tower at Vegas
Las Vegas, a city built on illusions, lends itself to the celebration of porn. It is the corrupt, wilfully degenerate heart of America....Las Vegas strips away the thin moral pretension and hypocrisy of consumer society to reveal its essence. the commodification of human beings, the heart of the consumer society, is garishly celebrated in Las Vegas. Here there is no past, no history, no sense of continuity, and no real community. The mammoth resorts and casinos glittering in the desert are monuments to greed and vice, even as the rest of the country crumbles under the onslaught of physical decay, shuttered stores and factories, a disintegrating infrastructure, and mounting poverty.

Las Vegas sells a cartoon version of other cultures and other lands....the guts and sinews of every theme-park hotel and casino, however, hold the same, mind-numbing slot machines, roulette wheels, and blackjack tables, A trip to Las Vegas is a visit to a sanitized, cutout version of foreign countries without the intrusion of foreign people, the hassle of unintelligible languages, strange habits, different ideas and traditions, or bizarre food. Here everyone speaks English...Here, once you get past the facade, it is all the same....

Las Vegas, should, as Neil Postman observed in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, be considered the "symbolic capital" of America. "Today we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, a a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-food high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, our religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice."
I can say from first-hand experience that the church is struggling desperately with that very issue: worship as entertainment.

But I don't care what Hedges says...the dancing fountains at the Bellagio are awesome!

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