Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Las Vegas Metaphor

David Sirota is the latest essayist to employ Las Vegas as a metaphor. He is right that Las Vegas is a mirror. As a community, it reflects the both the best and worst of our our nation. However, Sirota does no better than most who have come before him in understanding the city and why, as he puts it, "we all live in Las Vegas now." Vegas simply cannot be absorbed in three days and explained in 500 words.


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One can read Sirota's essay and surmise his visit to "Sin City." One of his flights came to or from the east in the daytime because he saw Lake Mead and its ever-growing bathtub ring, caused by the Colorado River's mineral-laden hard water. Given his complaints about the lighting, his room must have faced The Strip. He did not visit the buffets or showrooms, but did walk a few casino floors. He must not be getting press releases anymore, because Vegas abandoned the family-friendly, Disneyland marketing plan nearly 10 years ago. (Most of MGM's theme park is now condominium towers.)

Fundamentally, Sirota doesn't understand that the energy that runs Las Vegas comes not from coal or Hoover Dam, but imagination. Vegas allows its inhabitants -- both residents and visitors -- to pursue their dreams, desires, hopes, fears. However, Sirota begins to articulate the questions many wonder about Las Vegas. Can hoped-for dreams become sustainable realities? Can we reconcile our individual desires with collective goods?

Las Vegas embodies the paradox of the traditional American narrative. Sin City rebukes the Puritan values of hard work, moral conduct, and conservation in favor of leisure, hedonism, and decadence. Sirota notes that excess is not unique to Las Vegas, though he fails to see the problem of a well-lit Times Square. Even as we enter an Age of the Finite (as Sirota says), perhaps the solution is to repent: not from Sin City, but from beliving in the dichotomy. Together we must find the Golden Mean and live in moderation.

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