The last honest city in America …
I just visited Las Vegas for the first time. In all of these years in America, Sin City had never successfully seduced me in spite of its flashy façade screaming its invitation and its attractive moral slogan, promising to keep everything I do a secret. But recently, I found myself in the heart of the beast. I stayed at one of the big chain hotels where a multinational company was holding an international sales conference for the Middle and Far Eastern branches. This event brought lots of Muslims to the desert city for an unlikely pilgrimage, where they could be seen congregating and strolling in the casinos at ease. I thought the casino should have offered footbaths and praying rooms to handle the influx of gambling brothers. It also occurred to me that for those of you who think Muslims are coming to America to change our Judeo-Christian values, you can relax a little. Gambling and other hedonistic pleasures are alive and well and have become an American pastime and sport. Americans spend almost $50 billion on gaming every year, more than what they spend on movies tickets. 70% of all gambling revenue comes from these wonderful, colorful entertaining slot machines, where millions of people spend most of their time trying their unlucky fate, cut off from time and the pressures of modern life. However I was very skeptical about what Sin City could offer me, since I don’t enjoy gambling or rental sex. But there was something very refreshing about Las Vegas, something I didn’t find in other major cities on the east or west coasts like Boston, New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, those big shot cities with their tired sophistication and pretense of “higher culture.” Las Vegas offers an honest artificiality. Vegas is in your face, brutally honest about its shallowness. Las Vegas doesn’t promise the illusion of hope that our free market consumer culture tries to every minute of our life. Las Vegas is the illusion. The miniature Las Vegas version of the Statue of Liberty doesn’t represent or claim liberty, and they make sure it stays that way. The Egyptian-style pyramid of the Luxor hotel, the replica Eiffel tower over the Paris hotel, the Venetian, and Caesar’s Palace are all imitations, fakes to lure you in for gambling and paid pleasures. Forget about the Eastern sophistication and pretension of New Yorkers, Bostonians, or the fantasy ideal of the west coast epitomized in Walt Disney and Hollywood beauty. Those cultural ideals, not real, are all merely facades displayed in museums and culture centers. Las Vegas doesn’t exhibit culture in museums, doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it really is – a place for fun, gambling and sex for sale. “For me,” writes author Marc Cooper, “Las Vegas is the American market ethic stripped completely bare, a mini-world totally free of the pretenses and protocols of modern consumer capitalism. Watching it operate with barely any mediation generates nothing short of an intellectual frisson.” If the desert produced religion in the Middle East, the Las Vegas desert produced heaven!
Everything happening in the casinos on the strip, these cathedrals of commerce, has replaced culture. Even at the airport, once you get through security, you can start getting busy gambling where the real terrorist you will face is your luck. You don’t see a church, a temple or a mosque. You don’t see a cultural center, no government buildings – they’re not worth faking. This city is governed by a higher moral code where no one cares who you are or how much money you make. The slot machines and prostitutes don’t care either and both treat you the same. Latino immigrants standing in the street with wallet-sized cards of naked young women promoting the only literature of the Sin City to its visitors. You don’t have to pretend in Las Vegas, since whatever happens there is honesty. You don’t have to pretend that you are going to make it there because you know you are going to lose, and so is everyone else. You don’t have to pretend to love someone to have sex; you know you are going to pay and there is no use feigning otherwise. People come from all walks of life to indulge in an “honest” world of artificiality. To have a true fake city like Las Vegas, you need to always admit the original source of the falseness, make no claims. In Vegas unlike in other cities, they don’t claim liberty with the original Statue of Liberty; they don’t claim history by displaying a model Sphinx; they don’t claim sophistication with the replica canals of the Venetian. American East Coast cities in which they profess sophistication and great cultural history make the mistake of also trying to claim its origins. New Yorkers didn’t give us modern life and liberty, the French did. Bostonians didn’t give us sophistication and culture, the British did. So if you lost your heart in San Francisco or couldn’t make it in New York, go to Las Vegas, where you may find your soul.
Host of the Arab-American TV show, Belahdan
Belahdan airs on Minnesota Public Television
Ahmed blogs at: Notes From America www.ahmediaTV.com
Can be followed on fBook and Twitter: @ahmediaTV