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Outsiders are out of ways to make fun of Las Vegas


As predictable as the Earth’s revolution around the sun is the reaction of Las Vegas to the prick of an outsider’s pen.

Writers from around the country regularly parachute into town, collect (mostly the same) revelations, proceed to file the snarky, the snide, and the superior. And the whole town roars with collective anger in reply: Yes, in fact, they may be ridiculously over-leveraged tourist traps run by carnival barkers in the nicest suits money can buy, but they’re our over-leveraged traps and our bespoke barkers!

So it was on Facebook following the Aug. 7 publication on the L.A. Weekly’s website of actor, author and musician Henry Rollins’ latest piece, “Las Vegas is out of ideas.”

Speaking of, visiting writers generally hew to the same batch of Las Vegas cliches. Let’s see how Rollins stacks up.

The weather. It’s hot. Hell, that was his lead! “Walking around in 106-degree air makes you question your sanity.”

Gambling: It’s for suckers, man! “The idea that a hotel run by the likes of Sheldon Adelson is going to let me go home with more money than I came in with is sheer lunacy and goes against every sensible thought I have.” Hmmm, maybe it’s the heat?

This city is unnatural! “In many ways, Las Vegas is the ultimate statement of Homo sapiens. Not Coltraine, not NASA or literacy. This assault on nature is one of the most obscene attempts to tame the wild.” Wait until you hear about how we’re drilling under Lake Mead!

It’s kitschy!“But a few yards up the sidewalk is the knockoff Eiffel Tower and you realize it’s just amateur hour for chumps.” You must have realized that before you saw the tower.

There’s lots of sex here.“It seems that visitors don’t get enough nakedness back home. Images of surgically enhanced women are on the covers of newspapers, on cards littering the sidewalk.” Around these parts, we call that value-added!

It’s fake! “Several minutes later. The skies opened at 1946 hrs. The B on the Bally’s neon sign started blinking on and off. It’s a fake city, so I’m not surprised.”

It’s lowbrow!“What I don’t understand is that, when you have the chance to build a place in the middle of nowhere, so you can do what you want, this is apparently what you want — to eat in the same chain restaurants, to drink the same alcohol that you can get anywhere but with the added bonus of getting fleeced by professionals.”

It’s ironic!“Las Vegas fairly screams, ‘We’re out of ideas! All is lost!’”

Allow me to join the chorus of the offended who have risen in defense of Las Vegas. It’s not that modern Las Vegas is out of ideas. It’s that there was only really ever one idea, one basic shtick, and we’ve been recycling that same idea for more than 80 years.

Sure, the mob got run out by corporations. Sure, the hotels have AC now. Sure, we had to build an engineering marvel (an all too real engineering marvel, back when we were into that sort of thing) to make life possible in the desert. But we’ve done it. And the people keep on coming, more and more every year.

One last cliche? Oh, why not:

It’s soul killing!“I do, however, get a feeling of hollowness now and then. … Las Vegas gets me like that now and then.”

I’ll give you this one, Henry. Because remember that one idea we’ve been wringing dry all these decades? That whole thing about how you could be the guy who comes to town and takes Sheldon freaking Adelson for a big old wad of cash? Yeah, that’s pretty much fiction. And it always was.

Let’s keep that one between us, though, OK? We’re on track to hit 40 million visitors this year!

I’m taking a couple of weeks off for a late-summer vacation. My column will return Sept. 3.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.)