Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Sinful Community

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the city of sin.” The flight attendant pretty much hit the nail on the head as the US Airways Airbus descended into the dusty Las Vegas afternoon. It is at this point that I would like to acknowledge that, yes, I realize that millions of happy tourists, businesspeople, gamblers (might not be happy), and horny/terrified soon-to-be-married men and women are excited – if not ecstatic – to participate in the excess of Las Vegas; I am not one of those people. I'm in town for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conference that's wrapping up as I type, and you can follow my professional twitblogging here. To summarize: a decent - at times mediocre - conference that was fortunately filled with amazing, inspirational and disgustingly kind people from around the world.

But I digress...

Now. The mandate of The Weekly Gumboot is to take ideas from everywhere and use them to build community. And to do so in a positive way. We don’t throw stones. does a fine job of that. To be honest, I’m struggling to not throw stones at the outspokenly sinful and excessive community of Las Vegas. Excess and dishonesty and corruption and environmental degradation are, truly, everywhere. So, sure, it'd be easy to deliver some delightful jabs at the town of Las Vegas and point out that it might very well symbolize the downfall of the American Empire. It's also hard to even think of throwing stones, though. Because everyone here is just so darn nice. (I also like that you can walk around everywhere with a beer-in-hand).

Things have changed since a community of Mormon Farmers settled here in 1854. Perhaps peoples' unflappable kindness hasn't, though. And people who live and visit here are certainly proud of Vegas and the sinful things for which it stands, as you can see by these "fun facts" about Sin City.

But there's a truly interesting story to tell about Las Vegas. And here are, according to recent findings (ie. interviews with locals and tourists, data from my twitblogs on the interscape, and stuff I just made up) the top five sins of, um, Sin City:

Sexual Shenanigans. Here I sit in the country where Janet Jackson's Superbowl escaped-boob caused a nationwide moral soul search. On Monday, I sat in a taxi in the same country and listened to Mike, the cab driver, use every lude, inappropriate, hyper-sexual, misogynistic, and, I think, anti-Canadian idiom in his -sexual-lexiconal-toolkit to describe just how much a young guy like me could score in the town of Las Vegas. Such a hypocritical juxtaposition of values has not gone unnoticed. America's sexual shenanigans just seem to be centralized here in Sin City. I gotta say, being a little more accepting of, say, television boobs (Rick Mercer and Bob Rae swam naked on the CBC, I'm just saying) might make our North American community less likely to flock to one particular place, unleash their inhibition and be unhealthy consumers of the global sex trade so long as it stays here (the clap comes with you wherever you go, though; don't forget that).
A city on a plateau in the desert. I'm not too sure what the Mormon farmers had in mind when they settled here, but Las Vegas sits in the middle of the Sierra Nevada and Spring Mountains, about 2,180 feet above sea level. Look. Sin City exists in an arid basin surrounded by dry mountains. It's sustainability is as unlikely as that of the panda bear. And, as with the panda bear, people are struggling to grasp why the town is doomed to dry up and blow away in the dusty desert wind.
Water, water everywhere, and it really makes you think. How many of you have seen Ocean's Eleven? After pulling off the caper, Danny and the boys stand in front of the Bellagio, taking in the water-show that goes off about every 20-30 minutes. In fact, the use and over-use of water on The Strip is quite spectacular. What is more spectacular is that it happens amidst an amazing conversation between city officials, developers,, entertainers, environmentalists, and, well, everyone else about the very real danger that Las Vegas might run out of water by as early as 2010. Even if the current $500 million pipeline project goes through, it might only help the city limp along until 2012, at which point Sin City could be suffering from a daily shortage of 45 million gallons of water. If you use the metric system, well, it's actually quite worse... Okay, forget the metric system, the volanoe at the Mirage Hotel uses 11,000 gallons of water per minute!
The culture of excess. Sure, you can walk around with a beer or glass of wine/martini in hand all around the city. But, in light of our global environmental, um, clusterf@#k, it seems a tad ridiculous that Sin City allows people to just toss bottles, glasses and everything else into the garbage. Now some of the hotels and entertainment chains, like Harrah's, have bought into this up-and-coming trend of recycling. But it's yet to catch fire. Oh man. And then there is the food. A few of my fellow conference goers made a pledge to eat prime rib each and every night. Another discussed the amazing experience of a $40 seafood buffet that saw him consume "like, 30 crab claws." In Las Vegas, such dreams are reality. The United States makes up around 5.5% of the global population. The country consumes nearly 45% of the Earth's resources (and about 94% of the ocean's crab claws). Las Vegas is the epicentre for such mass-consumption. And the Gulf of Mexico is the epicentre of an oceanic dead zone, where farm fertilizer (think prime rib and industrial farming) has drained into the ocean and screwed up the eco-system to the point where nothing can live in a 1,700 square mile area. Honestly, this connection wasn't too hard to make. Oh, and one of the biggest and coolest clubs in Las Vegas is called XS...or "excess." Sirens are whaling, but the techno-thumping of Sin City's club scene kinda drowns it all out, I guess.
What does living beyond means mean? According to recent findings, Las Vegas is one of the centres of the subprime mortgage crisis in the US; the town is also suffering from 30% unemployment. Of course, most media and "stats" will tell you that the unemployment rate is closer to 12%, but for the people I talked to at the Rio last night, it definitely feels like 30%. And then there's the gambling. The lack of connection between a nation thrown into crisis because it chose to live on credit - to live beyond its means - is quite staggering. And such behaviour was so impactful, so interconnectedly material and greedy, that it has brought the rest of the world into the fold. People. Watch any movie, show, YouTube video, or instructional video about gambling: the house always wins. And then they take yours...

Unlike my friend and Weekly Gumboot contributor, Stewart Burgess, Las Vegas and it's sinful lifestyle are not sustainable. I am truly fascinated by this place and the "fun facts" about its people as well as its very nature. And if Las Vegas is symbolic of something bigger and more meaningful in terms of the way our North American culture chooses to sin, what does this tell us about where we're headed as a regional community? Or a global one?

My friends, it's been quite a ride. And I'll be happy to be home in a city with a few trees and bike paths in the next few hours. To Sin City and the Paris Hotel, it's been an experience. Adieu!


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