This is the situatonist city gone wrong. The Las Vegas Strip is an urban environment characterised by traps, snares, dead-ends, labyrinths and false tracks. But the labyrinth here is a means of control rather than a way of getting lost. There is an illusion of density caused by the artificial lighting of interiors and the abundance of mirrors but, as Calvino would have it, this is really a ‘Thin City’. Heading east away from the Strip the walker quickly enters a hinterland of car parks, low-rise housing and service buildings.
Thousands of people negotiate the Strip as best they can on foot but are blocked and manipulated; steered more or less willingly into casinos and shopping malls. The exteriors of these buildings refer to ‘real’ places, Rome, Paris, New York, Venice. The theatre is continued indoors with ‘canals’ and versions of the Forum. Last night I ate a Mexican meal in a Morroccan street in the eternal twilight under a painted cartoon blue sky. From my seat at the bar I could see 5 different TV channels on 12 monitors. There were too many sources of music to be able to distinguish one from another. Right now I can hear the rumbling of a band playing at a pool party 25 floors below (‘Hotel California with added echo and reverb) and at the same time there is the tinny background sound of canned music from an adjacent pool.
Sound becomes a kind of fog that adds to disorientation. Occasionally this fog is punctured by a burst of noise – a ‘volcano’, a spectacular explosive fountain display or the dull sound of recorded bells broadcasting from the campanile of St Marks. Speakers along the meandering disjointed sidewalks spew out a barrage of invitations to experience the particular novelties of certain casinos. Music and traffic noise fill any sonic gaps that might appear. The music is anything from Parisian accordions to the B52s. I have heard the latter 3 times in the lobby of the Flamingo Hotel and the lyrics – ‘Roam, if you want to, roam around the world…’ provide an ironic commentary to this place that acts as a replacement for travel, a replacement for anything that might be unexpected.
This attempt to replace the unknown with a set of pre-scripted experiences is ultimately melancholic. The things Vegas doesn’t recognise are decay and death. But no matter how many relics are swept away and how much is effaced there is the lingering suspicion that this city embodies a kind of grim futility.