Tuesday, January 02, 2007

243. Vegas vs Seattle

I spent New Year's weekend in Vegas. I went for two reasons: 1) to hang out with my parents - they come up to Vegas for New Year's and it's my first time away from home and I promised them I'd fly up to see them. 2) To visit my friend Willie, who does photography there.

It's been cool to see Willie and I'll write in another blog about seeing my parents but what I really want to write about is Vegas itself.

I. Hate. Las. Vegas.

Biggest gripe? Everything is fake, facade, facsimile. I think the fake New York skyline is dumb. I think the fake Eiffel Tower is lame. I think the faux Italian of the Bellagio and the faux Roman of Caesar's Palace are gaudy to the extreme. The whole exercise is a masturbatory bacchanal. It's like someone mixed the worst of pop culture with the worst of consumer culture and ended up with cultural antimatter.

This assessment doesn't just apply to the buildings and the businesses. The people also seem to be shallower and ruder and more selfish. I suppose some might say this is to be expected in a place that sells itself as sin city, but just because behavior can be expected, it doesn't make it any more palatable or acceptable.

It also doesn't help that I don't like to gamble. Don't have anything against it, just don't like to do it myself.

The only thing I even remotely enjoy about Vegas is the free water show in front of The Bellagio. I think the mixture of technology and music (and the fact that it's public and free) is extraordinarily beautiful. Not always tasteful (the last water show I saw was choreographed to the Lee Greenwood song, "God Bless the USA," which I think is cheese - not because I don't like America but because I don't like kitsch), but I love how it takes an everyday substance (water) and makes it dance and jump and play.

In a way, Vegas feels like the opposite of Seattle. Seattleites are opinionated to the extreme and are able to explain (often in detail) why they like or dislike something. Vegas-folk seem to have one of three opinions about everything: I liked it, I didn't like it, or it was okay. Ask them why they didn't like something and they'll usually respond with one of three answers: it was too short, it was too long, or I don't know. Seattle seems to be all about keeping it real. Vegas, as I already mentioned, is all surface sheen. Seattle does its best to be a green city. The only thing green about Vegas is all the money that flows through there.

Oh, and Seattle rains a lot. Vegas doesn't.

The differences between the two cities really hit home for me from the moment I got off the plane yesterday at the Sea-Tac airport. While walking down the concourse to baggage claim, I was drawn to the art on display all along the walls. I mean I literally was drawn to the work. Even though I was eager to get my bag and to get home, I slowed down, walked up to the displays and really looked at what was there.

I can't explain how good it felt to see things that were original and well made, that weren't trying to compete for my attention with flashing lights or oversaturated colors, that were encouraging me to think for myself instead of doing all the thinking for me. Even though I didn't recognize any of the artists names, I felt loved and respected because their work just sat there waiting to be seen. This is in stark contrast to the visuals in Vegas whose primary mandate seems to be, "LOOK AT ME!"

Maybe this makes me somewhat elitist, I mean there are millions who do enjoy Vegas and who am I to criticize them? I'm sure lots of them enjoy Vegas because they can just turn their brains off and be entertained. They probably do too much thinking at their regular jobs so why would they want to go to some artsy-fartsy cultural event where they have to think and pay attention some more? And I'm sure they enjoy the thrill of gambling - of placing money on a table of into a machine with the prospect of striking gold.

To each his own, I suppose.


But I think there's something more at stake here than varying tastes - something more essential - but I can't quite put my finger on it. I'll keep it in the back of my mind and let it stew there. We'll see if any epiphanies emerge.

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