is las vegas authentic?


I returned last night from a brief getaway with the family to Las Vegas. It was a deserved reward after having spent most of the last two weeks grading final papers and exams and finishing two papers of my own. The kids had never seen sin city before (and, of course, they still haven’t seen the most sinful parts of the city), and so it was a fun trip for all.

During the drive home last night I found myself thinking about our recent discussion of simulacra and reality. A simulacrum is intendedly not real, but rather it is a representation of something that is real. It supposedly lacks authenticity but resembles the authentic. In fact, that is what makes simulacra interesting; they attempt to portray something with which we have familiarity, highlighting or exaggerating certain aspects of it. The Strip of Las Vegas is a series of simulacra – bloated and outrageous portrayals of a reality that exists outside the Vegas world.

But does that make Las Vegas inauthentic in some way? Does classifying something as a simulacrum make that thing not real? I don’t think so. By portraying a familiar reality in a clearly and obviously inauthentic fashion, the creators actually seem to be entering a new category of stuff. The representations simply belong to a different social form. They are authentic according to the rules and standards of the new social form. Authenticity pertains only to a given category of things. When you say that you’re listening to authentic blues, for example, you mean that the music can be judged as real, authentic blues by those people who understand the standards of appropriateness and quality for that musical genre. The same goes for art or for any other artistic form. You can also judge organizations in the same way. An authentic microbrewery has to look a certain way, serve a certain kind of beer, and pass all of the other required hurdles needed to fit into the microbrewery category. Consumers of microbrewery beer who are familiar with those standards and criteria judge the fitness of the organization to the category. They’re the gatekeepers.

And maybe this is the whole point of the postmodern debate, which I’ve been slow to discover. We live in an age where simulacra have their own standards of authenticity. You can have a conversation about what makes an authentic Elvis impersonator. Presumably, criteria exist that allow us to assess the legitimacy of an impersonation (which is different than saying that this is a good impersonation).

Most of our organizations exhibit the qualities of simulacra. You create an office to portray a certain feeling or atmosphere that gives the office authenticity. They’re not just trying to be a legitimate office; they also sometimes try to make you feel as if you’re somewhere else more pleasant (a home or a garden). Many contemporary daycare centers try to simulate the coziness and sentiment of a family home. The sentiment created in those settings does not “reproduce” the feeling of home life, but it instead creates an entirely new feeling that is unique to the new social form. By simulating, we get something new.

This was the point I tried to make in a comment to Fabio’s earlier post. Simulacra are an interesting misreading of reality. By interpreting a reality that is familiar and in some ways common simulacra innovate and generate a new reality. What is today’s representation of reality is tomorrow’s reality. Does that mean that the whole world becomes a Las Vegas? Of course not. But I do think that Las Vegas, Disneyland, and the other theme parkish organizations/industries have created a new model of entertainment that is becoming more diffuse in our society. If you don’t believe me, compare the new major league baseball parks (or even the new movie theaters) with their predecessors. A new standard of authentic entertainment has been established.

Written by brayden king

May 2, 2007 at 7:58 pm

5 Responses

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  1. “I returned last night from a brief getaway with the family to Las Vegas…During the drive home last night I found myself thinking about our recent discussion of simulacra and reality.”

    Your kids must find you to be a theoretically engaged parent!


    Fabio Rojas

    May 2, 2007 at 8:34 pm

  2. Yep, leave it up to Dad to overtheorize a perfectly fun family trip.



    May 2, 2007 at 8:55 pm

  3. No more fantastical than the names of the bloggers here assembled!



    May 3, 2007 at 12:05 pm

  4. I think Las Vegas is a great example of someones imagination / fantasy exploited to the fullest. It is possible to turn thoughts into reality with the right intention. In this case Las Vegas is a wild mixture of the seedy underbelly of carnal lust, mixed with addictions and greed. Sprinkle a little excitment and cover it up with a shiny veneer of family entertainment.


  5. […] castle. And so on. But check out this intelligent commentary on the simulacrum that is Las Vegas: This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← The Kindness […]


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