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Las Vegas Meets Globalization

How much can Las Vegas teach Americans about globalization?

October 29, 2001

How much can Las Vegas teach Americans about globalization?

Since the founding of Las Vegas — the gaming capital of the world — the city’s hotels and casinos have always tried to present a glamorous, worldly image. But all the careful planning that has gone into the city’s architectural landmarks has taken on a new dimension in the aftermath of September 11.

For starters, there is the New York, New York, a hotel and casino that has appropriated the New York theme. The hotel represents a stylized New York City skyline, complete with the city’s famous buildings — the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Since the tragic events of September 11, the fence around the Statue of Liberty fountain in front of the hotel has become a shrine for World Trade Center victims. Just as the hotel’s facade is a post-modern, humorous collage of New York’s skyline, its shrine somehow imitates the genuine ones that have sprung up around New York after the terrorist attack.

There are at least three hotels playing the Italian card, both in its historical context and across the regions. The old-timer, Caesar’s Palace, is lavishly decorated with copies of Roman and Greek statues.

Two fancy newcomers, the Bellagio and the Venetian, represent regions in Northern Italy. Naturally, the Disneyland recreation of Venetian canals within an enclosed shopping mall lacks the filthy, stagnant waters of the original.

Two hotels play on the French theme. But while the Monte Carlo is pretty much an exact recreation of the gambling city-state on the French Riviera, the Paris is quite different. It has replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, as well as the Paris Metro signage. Needless to say, however, it has no hint of the rude French waiters — or of the persistent anti-Americanism typically exhibited by beret-wearing French intellectuals.

The same is true of the numerous hotels that have appropriated more exotic subjects and decors. What is not immediately apparent, though, is how some of Las Vegas’s fanciest hotels reflect the extremely dangerous political realities which are currently tearing apart the Middle East and North Africa.

If you visit hotels such as the Luxor or the Barbary Coast you see splendor but not terror. Tourists are not yet aware of the fact that these hotels emulate modern Egypt, Northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula is the very region where the September 11th hijackers came from.

That reality still has to register fully in Las Vegas, 7.000 miles away. For the time being, many tourists — who may never get the chance to see the real things — train their camcorders on the fake Egyptian statues and sphinxes in the lobby of the Luxor. But they do so without noticing the geopolitical character of the make-believe surrounding they walk through.

As a matter of fact, tourists have been killed in Egypt long before the events of September 11, making many Americans apprehensive about going there. Given the situation in the region now, travel agents report that bookings to the pyramids have been nonexistent.

Two of the newest hotels with exotic themes reflect the world further East. The Mandalay Bay has a Burmese name and, as the hotel staff now puts it, a “Southeast Asian-Northern Australian” feel.

Of course, it is true that Burma (or Myanmar, as it is now called by its military junta), along with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, has always captured tourists’ imaginations. However, Burma has been struggling under one of the most repressive regimes on earth.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has been in a severe financial and economic crisis since 1997. It is also in political turmoil, and in recent years its Islamic radicals have been among the most intransigent in the Muslim world.

Even in Thailand, the country’s 2 million or so Muslims have been conducting a boycott of U.S.-made goods in protests against U.S. bombings of Afghanistan.

None of that reality, of course, penetrates the make-believe world of the Las Vegas gaming and hospitality industries.

Of course, American — as well as foreign — holiday-makers don’t really want to be burdened with weighty, unpleasant subjects, while they are gambling away their hard-earned dollars on a Las Vegas vacation.

One comes away from those international theme hotels feeling that this is the kind of globalization many Americans would prefer — controlled, non-offensive, unthreatening and English-speaking.

Curiously, though globalization Las Vegas-style comes close to the fairy-tale vision of the world preferred not only by some Americans, but also by anti-globalization protesters. After all, the people who protest in the streets of Seattle, Stockholm and Washington also believe in a cleaned-up version of the world. It would be a happy, prosperous and bucolic place if only America’s McDonalds and General Motors wouldn’t meddle with various local idylls around the world.