Transience, Memory, Public Space, and Las Vegas

Posted on October 16, 2009 by


I hate Las Vegas. I hate being there, I hate the crowds, I hate the traffic on the strip, I hate the douchebags and whores scattered all across the place.

No, I wasn’t in Vegas on my own volition; I was there to show my cousin and aunt from the mother Islands around.

While I was doing that, I couldn’t help but wonder about the Las Vegas’ and the strip’s culture’s propensity for  simultaneously disconnecting and connecting community, and hacking and re-creating memory.

The architecture of New York, New York, Paris, Miracle Mile, are some nice simulatons of cities but offer little in the way of history or heritage. By creating these simulations of real places, these architects filter out the grit, the homebums, the basketball playgrounds, the street cart vendors that are also offered in those cities. Ain’t no graffiti or murals. Ain’t no public parks. Ain’t no libraries. Ain’t no real room for public or green space. Ain’t no place to bike. The simulated place is a sterilized, privatized, well-run enterprise designed specifically to take your money as opposed to a communal, public, vibrancy.

The strip is an economy built on the transience of ordinary people. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Hotel, motel, holiday Wynn. It’s a never-ending movement of faces from all over coming here to do the same damn things.

Unless they’re authors of a book these people by and large will ignore the lives of people actually living in Las Vegas. The image of “average” Americans don’t live here. It’s hard to imagine people carrying out their cycles of life, their average American habits here without making a witty remark. As is my nature to invert popular thinking, I wonder about the lives of the dancers, the waitresses, the Latino card hander-outers, that drove em to be these cogs in the Vegas machine. Per the usual narrative, did they come from these “broken” families just to work in Vegas? How did so many of these Asian women become card dealers? How did all these Latinos come to handing out cards of nude women promising sex and how do they get paid doing it? Those are questions never asked.

The people who work there seem not to be subjects to be thought of, but mere objects, automatons who serve the function of dealing you, serving you, playing you, so that in the end they can take your money. It’s a place to temporarily, but excessively satiate your appetites or your assumed unfettered appetites for food, the promise of sex, and the promise of money. That’s the culture of Vegas.

The Vegas strip is a public space used by individuals to “act out,” which usually means, gamble, drink, do drugs, have tons of sex. You are supposed to temporarily forget anything you might consider tiring, heavy, or negative. Forget the everyday “grind”, forget what you might do there, forget the slutty dress you might wear that you wouldn’t wear anywhere else, forget that you’re drinking in public, shouting, and acting a fool.

Since you can’t remember and/or you’re not supposed to or expected to, you don’t have to be accountable for anything “deviant” you might want to do in Las Vegas. The cultural expectation is to behave deviantly and forget that you even did behave deviantly. It is a tourist spot, but a tourist spot which encourages hyper-consumption of vices such as drinks, gambling, sex.

With human automatons at work in the Vegas strip, in combination with a culture of transient forgetting, the physical space of the Las Vegas strip is the perfect space of disconnection.  This opposed to that of long-term connection and community-building.

Vegas is a permanent space to be temporary.

However, in the cyberspace that isn’t the case. Las Vegas is actually a place of connection. What people in my facebook network (mostly CA, so-cal-based people of all races and ethnicities) had most in common was that they would all go to Las Vegas. And announce it via status updates and group pictures. Las Vegas in Facebook’s case seems to be a common thread for a lot of people in my network.

VEGASSS all weekend!!!!!!!!!
VEGAS pt. 1, pt. 2

When the statues are updated and the pictures uploaded, all that’s left to remember and see is pictures of people and their friends engaging in acts, people sometimes go out of their way to announce these memories they make with each other in the space that is Las Vegas.

But they are not in the space to experience Las Vegas and its culture and heritage itself. The remembrance is not of Vegas itself, but of transients who migrate for a weekend. People in my network who seem hellbent on forgetting, yet remembering to show on a quasi-public space that they can act in a culturally expected deviant way.

They want to remember to show that they indeed experienced something, but everything else is something to disconnect and forget from. They want to prioritize their connections to these people they already know, and almost irresponsibly cut connections and possible connections to people there.  It’s like a micro-colonization of a temporary space, where people bring their own baggage and go there to unload.  It’s almost like a mental landfill, which is why perhaps I’m NOT completely disgusted by the place.  The metaphor of the mental landfill is actually qutie appealing to me.

I almost feel bad for Las Vegas’ permanent infrastructures and people there, but I suppose they knew what they were getting into before they got there in the first place.

But I assure you, I want to go back to visit this place called the Cleveland Clinic – the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a center who’s mission is to “Keep Memory Alive.” I understand needing a space to forget bad memories and whatnot, but it would be cool if within that culture of hyper-individualism there was some space to remember that there are people’s lives there, and that there is always more important shit in the world going on than what temporarily happens there.

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