Monday, December 31, 2007

The City That Ate America

Popular--that is, Hollywood--history has it that Las Vegas originated as the intended magnum opus of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, mobster, a man known more for murder than he was for empire-building. Before Siegel happened upon the desert city 270 miles to the east of Los Angeles (the story goes), Las Vegas was a baking sandpit of a place that just happened to have legalized gambling. The way Hollywood tells it, Vegas has a nearly Ruritanian feel to it, when you throw in Bugsy's moll, his peripateia, his hubris, and his Promethean struggles with the boys back home.

Let's throw fact to the wind and accept the Hollywood version of the origins of Las Vegas, the city that ate America. Bugsy Siegel's Hollywoodized vision of a playland in the desert has gone on to become the only American city that has both eclipsed itself and remained patriotically true to its original design.

Las Vegas is today's Great American City, a place that says more about the future than it does about the past. Any idea that America might still resemble Main Street, USA is quickly lost to the formless strip mall
and walled housing development; a quixotic notion that fortunes are won and lost at the spin of a wheel is belied by the number of call centers and minimum wage jobs. Vegas is the shape of things to come, once everything else is torn down in the name of progress or dies of old age. Next time you're in Iowa and see a farm that has been replaced by a Wal*Mart and a Starbucks, you are looking 2020 right in the eye. Big Shot aside, Vegas is where you take tomorrow's thrill ride today.

In order for Vegas to become the new American city, it had to go through several expensive iterations. To reach the level of child-safe hedonism it has today, it had to endure an awkward period in the eighties where the only hedonism was the snap of elastic waistbands around overfed senior stomachs. A lot of money has gone into the new PR campaign, which bills Vegas as America's new back yard, an engineered environment of Disney-like diversions and replicas for those who want everything delivered with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk.

If it appears that Vega
s takes and gives nothing in return, think again. Grossly overlooked is Vegas's great industrial product: the stripper. The stripper is the new girl next door, having become in a short decade a glorified pop culture icon whether or not she winds up a millionaire property developer. Although an exact history of how this occurred is impossible to parse, the bleed-through into cheap celebrity culture cannot be underestimated. Any society that lionizes tit jobs and Hef's pussy posse to the degree that we do was only one step away from making strippers the new Disney princesses and imbuing them with the family values central to our American belief system.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with all-American initiative, even when the get-up-and-go is not American at all but Baltic. In fact, this is the beauty of America: we own the right to dream, goddamnit--and where better to play out the fantasy than on the glittering Vegas stage?

Stripper-type garments used to be nearly exclusive to Frederick's of Hollywood. Frederick's featured naughty French maid uniforms with assless skirts or cut-out bras that had zero in the way of support other
than monetary. Today, Frederick's looks almost mainstream, its feckless clothing selection differing little from what you would find in a downscale mall in areas of the country that don't get any more elegant options.

Once strippers became the new girls next door, they went international, and then their stock in trade, the pole dance, became a new fitness option. Unlike aerobics, however, which can be done in any old sneaker, it is impossible to do proper stripper pole without a proper stripper shoe. VoilĂ : the Adore 708UV, whose main feature (other than 6.5 inch flamingo heel) is that it glows under black lights, along with any expensive dental work one might feature in one's mouth.

And they talk about a land of opportunity. And how.

Link: Booty Cocktails UV-reactive stripper shoe, $51.95


bronwyn said...

Those are mean stripper shoes:) I think that hip hop videos probably also did their bit to popularise stripper style and that whole get your booty on style mentality. Not to mention your Christina's, Britney's etc. But hey - maybe they got it from Vegas :)

nannies crochet said...

those flamingo plaftorm heels are great to kick some arses and great for a sassy night out!


Suzanna Mars said...

Bronwyn, thanks for that theory!

I first noticed this trend back in the late eighties, but then again, that was in LA and in a certain subculture (rock music)--and that would make perfect sense that hip hip carried the torch forward.

The LA/Vegas scenes were tightly tied together, stripper-wise.

Rollergirl said...

Hey Chica,
Happy New Year to you! And thanks for your comment, you're such a sweetie!

Heather said...

Great post, and great phrases, like "child-friendly hedonism" and strippers as the "new girls next door. I never thought of Las Vegas as a Hollywoodized city, but upon further reflection, it is very true, Las Vegas being almost as mythical to America as Hollywood itself.

Oh, and thank YOU for the compliment!

Suzanna Mars said...

Heather, my pleasure!