Austin's unique "BE"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Vegas: City of Illusion

If Austin is "be yourself" and LA is "be famous" what about Las Vegas? "Be your alter-self" is the phrase that often comes up. And indeed, Vegas is the place to indulge our novelty and stimulus-seeking primal brains, where we can participate in the activities that allow us to let loose and have a good time. Its monikers "sin city," "adult Disneyland" and tagline: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas -  perfectly capture the city's unique ethos. More over, when Vegas tried to be family-friendly a decade ago, it completely flopped and returned back to its core.

How does Vegas pull off its "be your alter-self" theme? By turning the whole city into an illusion, a magic trick, a mirage. First, and most importantly, Vegas is a mirage in the desert of Nevada. It appears, most improbably, out of nowhere, especially when approached by road. As if to exemplify the point, one of the marquee hotels on the strip is called the Mirage. Vegas has housed the largest number of literal illusionists, including Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, Criss Angel and Siegried and Roy and Cirque du Soleil's incredible shows transport you to different worlds. The illusion continues as you walk into Paris, New York, Luxor and Venice. You listen to musicians playing cover songs, either of themselves or others. Elvis finished his career in Vegas, playing the Elvis of a bygone era. You engage in the illusion that you can make money at a casino, whose odds are setup against you. And even on the streets, the illusion continues as buskers and street artists help to complete the illusion. In that sense, it's even more impressive than Disneyland, where all the performers are employed by one company. In Vegas, thousands of "independent actors" human and non, work side-by-side to co-create the fantastic illusion. 

And soon enough, you will hit the limit of your primal brain's enjoyment and it will be satiated. It seems the average is 3 days, but it's likely not much more than 5! At whatever place you hit your cut-off point, you're ready to get back to your real life, having fully enjoyed the illusion. Vegas has done its good work as the temporary off-road for your primal brain.

In 2013, Vegas got AKHOB, created by James Turrell, whose artistic statement reveals his fascination with illusion and created realities which perfectly captures the city's unique meaning. It sits atop the Louis Vuitton CityCenter Store and can only be viewed by appointment. After you enter the chamber and stay for a while, things start to distort and your sense of time and space warp. The illusion is at work!

The stewardship of a city's unique meaning, is incredibly important because it orients visitors and inhabitants alike. Interested in illusion-making? Come to Vegas! Interested in fame and the creation of personal brands? Come to LA! Interested in discovering and expressing yourself? Come to Austin! And so on.