Oct 042010
 
Authors: Jim Sojourner

So it turns out that what happens in Vegas doesn’t really stay in Vegas because I’m writing about it.

This week I’m writing from Sin City itself, as four of my colleagues and I were given the opportunity to head out to the Nevada desert for the annual Society of Professional Journalists national conference.

Now, given the fast-lane living dispositions of the average journo, I’m not sure what SPJ was thinking bringing a bunch of journalists together in America’s most decadent city. But after a cramped, 12-hour car ride Sunday straining to hear the scratchy in-and-out ESPN AM radio with its fantasy football score updates, here I am in Planet Hollywood listening to Las Vegas Journal-Review columnist Norm Clarke tell us five things to do in Vegas on a budget before we leave.

I’ve already missed the first three because I’m typing away but I’m not too sad because, being the thrifty college student that I am, I’ve been there and done that cheap/free stuff. It’s not taken me long to see through the glitzy facade that hides Vegas’ true face.

The eminent gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson once took a mythic, drug-addled journey through Las Vegas to what he called the savage heart of the American Dream, documented in his book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

To make a long story too short and too simple, toward the end of his journey, Thompson found the American Dream in the form of a burned-up, abandoned psychiatric clinic named The American Dream.

Though today’s Vegas hardly resembles the Vegas of Thompson’s heyday, and the defunct clinic is surely gone, Thompson was on to something. It’s not the clinic, though, that represents the perversion of the once-great American Dream anymore; it’s the ever-more-expensive, glowing skyline, dancing fountain, lion cage and mock Eiffel Tower that really get at the heart of the new American Dream.

Wandering through the strip, I’m struck by the mask Vegas hides behind. On television and in movies, Vegas is glamorized –– it’s the place to blow money on high-end hookers and blow, to cash in the big bucks in high-stakes gambling games and to club with the beautiful people. College kids grab cheap flights for not-so-cheap thrills in Sin City to take part in the glitz and glamour.

But the lights, thong-clad dancers and chiming slot machines only distract from the filth.

The money that flows through Vegas’s corroded veins is pumped by the city’s heart of exploitation. The casinos exploit the gamblers and the bars exploit the alcoholics.

Walking along the streets blackened by dirt, spilled booze and billions upon billions of shoe bottoms, one takes care to avoid the clusters of illegal immigrants exploited by their overlords and made to hand out cards advertising cheap, young, exploited hookers available for purchase to the businessmen, old lechers and drunken vacationers.

Just blocks off the Strip, pushers and addicts crawl out of their barred up and dilapidated homes as the sun sets to engage in the perverse, parasitic relationship that sustains both, and exploits the addicts and the society whose underbelly they dwell in.

Here in Vegas, Americans can experience an upscale Paris or Egypt without having to interact with someone who speaks a different language and can grab a hamburger or a slice of pizza to keep them fat and comfortable on the way to the craps table to keep the casino fat and comfortable.

The illusion of glamour calls to the American essence, telling us that, in Las Vegas, we can be somebody. We can win big and be surrounded by gorgeous, half-naked women. Nothing is more important than “me” in the Nevada desert.

Vegas is an experiment in the American Dream unleashed. Unfettered capitalism feeds rampant hedonism, and the illusion of glamour feeds the American myth that the self is all that matters. Everything competes to be bigger, flashier, more expensive, more refined, more glamorous, more American.

Human lives take the backseat to money and the mythology of the self under the sun and under flashing-neon signs that are more grotesque and ridiculous than the fake boobs that grace the chests of Vegas’s topless dancers. All the while, the Bellagio’s fountain dances to the tune of “I’m proud to be an American.”

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

 Posted by at 2:15 pm

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