On The Street Where You Give

"...If economist Joseph Schumpeter was correct in theorizing that "creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism," then capitalism as practiced in Las Vegas is the purest strain. The erection of the Vegas mega-resorts was not only heralded by the televised dynamiting of their predecessors but also accompanied by the concurrent collapse of much of the rest of America's urban, industrial and employment infrastructure. Isn't it logical or at least fitting that Las Vegas, the City of the Eternal Now, the town that every few years seems to slather yet one more layer of pavement and glitz over its own scant history, tradition and roots, would expand just as long-entrenched communities from Southeast Los Angeles to Lima, Ohio, evaporated into the deindustrialized dust of globalization?... "
"Las Vegas as America, America as Las Vegas. It's like what came first? The chicken or the egg?" says Vegas historian Michael Green. "Fresno, California, doesn't have a row of casinos, but you can be sure it has some part of town where you can go for vice even though it's supposed to be illegal. Here it's not necessarily vice in the first place, but it's certainly not illegal. We have the same sort of stuff and more. Except that unlike in most places, here it's just out in the open." What extraordinary prescience social critic Neil Postman displayed when he wrote in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death that Las Vegas--where Wall Street corporations had replaced mafias and mobs--should be considered the "symbolic capital" of America. "At different times in our history," Postman wrote, "different cities have been the focal point of a radiating American spirit." In the era of the Revolutionary War, Boston embodied the ideals of freedom; in the mid-nineteenth century, "New York became the symbol of a melting-pot America." In the early twentieth century, the brawn and inventiveness of American industry and culture were captured in the energy of Chicago. "Today," Postman concluded, "we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, our religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice."

Read more of America's Last Honest City at the Nation

"The terrible, cold, cruel part is Wall Street. Rivers of gold flow there from all over the earth, and death comes with it. There, as nowhere else, you feel a total absence of the spirit: herds of men who cannot count past three, herds more who cannot get past six, scorn for pure science and demoniacal respect for the present. And the terrible thing is that the crowd that fills the street believes that the world will always be the same and that it is their duty to keep that huge machine running, day and night, forever. This is what comes of a Protestant morality, that I, as a (thank God) typical Spaniard, found unnerving.”

Federico Garcia Lorca

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