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May 1999

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Let's Go To The Oasis
by Peter Block


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Let's Go To The Oasis
by Peter Block

If you are interested in knowing where our culture will be headed in the new millenium, one vision can be found in Las Vegas. It may not be a preferred vision, but it is too real to ignore. Las Vegas is the fastest growing, large city in America. It has sunbelt climate, low taxes, low unemployment and it is a step saving, labor saving, at your service, drink at your elbow spectator’s dream. A glimpse of the future or an anomaly among cities? You decide.

A few of its features:
- The hotel elevators have found their voice. No quiet, bland background music. They broadcast the latest hotel products, new slot machines and other entertainment delights. They operate efficiently, quickly, often stopping at your floor before you press the button. But once you are on them they become floating commercials to a captive audience. After four days of ups and downs, I had involuntarily memorized two messages and was working on a third.

-The ATM cash machines start at a $100 minimum. If you don’t want at least a hundred dollars, they are not interested. In my hometown it is the opposite. They want you to take out $20 and $50 each time. I guess so you will make more trips to the ATM machine. Not so in the city of the future. They want you to walk away wealthy so you can spend it more quickly.

- It is a 24 hours a day town and a shopper’s paradise. The finest stores in the world all have outlets in Las Vegas. And the pharmacies, restaurants, stores and bars never close. What is particularly customer minded is a jewelry store that never closes. You never know when you will wake up in the middle of the night and get a gemstone attack. They take the promise of anything, anywhere, anytime very seriously.

- The weather is perfect and under control. You go to a restaurant and you get a choice of indoor or outdoor dining. Outdoor please. You sit on the terrace, watch the shoppers stroll by and then you notice that you are still inside. The whole shopping center is domed and the ceiling is painted like the sky. The lights dim as the day ends and a starlit night is always on schedule. Perfect. No rain, no wind, no bugs, no heat. Outdoor dining with indoor amenities. Most of the city exists indoors and under thermostat control.

- You can visit the wonders of the world and get there by walking. Want to go to New York, Venice, London, walk through a botanical garden or see the largest Picasso art collection outside of Paris? Just look in your hotel. The major cities of the world and their attractions have either been replicated or are under construction. All clean, orderly, safe and courteous. Virtual globalization.

Reality, What a Concept
In fact it is a virtual city, with the dirt, stress, decay and other inconveniences of modern life, including nature, rendered obsolete—the logical extension of virtual intelligence, virtual reality technology which puts the world at your fingertips. It has made the conversion to a service economy and done it well. And it is a city where entertainment rules. You are never bored in this place, never have to amuse yourself or be distracted by silence or quiet reflection.

What is interesting about the city is that it is simply a more complete example of what is happening to our culture on a wider scale—perhaps the first ultramodern city. And if you watch for awhile, you begin to realize that the essential feature of the city is that every square inch has been commercialized. Every square inch is planned for its market value. Land has no value for its own sake, it only has value as selling space.

Entertainment Tonight
The major product, of course, is the gambling experience. This offers us the possibility of earning money not by working but by having fun. They achieve a merger between entertainment and work—the ultimate in quality of worklife. This is made possible by a kind of economic amnesia. I forget the money I lost and only remember my occasional winnings. A form of letting go of the past and engaging in positive thinking that so many authors write about but Las Vegas achieves.

The quality of life becomes measured by the quality of entertainment and purchasing power. Life becomes a spectator sport and a complete shopping experience. Extreme perhaps in this desert city, but not so far from the way we spend our time watching TV, surfing the internet, walking the mall or waiting for the new sports stadium to be built.

Where Do You Want to Go Today?
If you want to see the world, the city offers a kind of dyslexic globalization, where foreign lands are condensed, sanitized and brought to you without the inconvenience of lost luggage, broken schedules, currency conversion and strange languages. Where do you want to go today? Go two blocks down until you get to London, take a right turn, go past Venice and you will be in New York. The trip is the ultimate in reduced transaction time, lower cost, ease of information and seamless service. The journey isn’t real, but very consumer friendly.

There is a cost to this attraction, however. If you are not careful, the soul can become anesthetized, and the heart becomes a pump, waiting to be bypassed. Your pocketbook becomes your purpose and the number one fashion accessory. The quality of life is defined by the quality of service or product. And this shift in values is not achieved by force but by seduction. After a while we realize that it is not just the land, but us, that has become commercialized and it is not a question of whether we are for sale, but only a negotiation over price.

Please Step Back While the Elevator is Closing
We can look with disdain at this fastest growing Mecca, but is it so far from the lives we now lead? Aren’t we already immersed in the language of a market economy, value added activities, in the application of commerce and economic principles to government, education, social services and household management? What does it mean when attention deficit disorder is a growing concern and if a meeting or program is not instantly entertaining, we start surfing? You can blame Steve Wynn, the entrepreneurial icon of Las Vegas, but we secretly know that it is ourselves that is buying the program. And maybe hearing commercials in the elevator was not so bad. It made the descent seem swift and painless.

May '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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