Publication date: 2005
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In the Desert of Desire
Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle
Las Vegas, says William Fox, is a pay-as-you-play paradise that succeeds in satisfying our fantasies of wealth and the excesses of pleasure and consumption that go with it. In this context, Fox examines how Las Vegass culture of spectacle has obscured the boundaries between high art and entertainment extravaganza, nature and fantasy, for-profit and nonprofit enterprises.
His purview ranges from casino art galleriesincluding Steve Wynns private collection and a branch of the famed Guggenheim Museumto the underfunded Las Vegas Art Museum; from spectacular casino animal collections like those of magicians Siegfried and Roy and Mandalay Bays Shark Reef exhibit to the citys lack of support for a viable public zoo; from the environmental and psychological impact of lavish water displays in the arid desert to the artistic ambiguities intrinsic to Las Vegass floating world of showgirls, lapdancers, and ballet divas.
That Las Vegas represents one of the worlds most opulent displays of private material wealth in all its forms, while providing miserly funding for local public amenities like museums and zoos, is no accident, Fox maintains. Nor is it unintentional that the citys most important collections of art and exotic fauna are presented in the context of casino entertainment, part of the feast of sensation and excitement that seduces millions of visitors each year. Instead, this phenomenon shows how our insatiable modern appetite for extravagance and spectacle has diminished the power of unembellished nature and the arts to teach and inspire us, and demonstrates the way our society privileges private benefit over public good. Given that Las Vegas has been a harbinger of national cultural trends, Foxs commentary offers prescient insight into the increasing commercialization of nature and culture across America.
Available in hardcover and paperback .
"As I tagged along on his zigzagging explorations of Steve Wynn's $300-million art collection, the local public art museum, the Guggenheim-Hermitage gallery inside Adelson's Venetian, through the Mirage's "dolphin habitat," out to the bare-bones Vegas public zoo and then into Cirque du Soleil's steamy stage production of "Zumanity," I felt the exhilarated giddiness of one of those long, winding nocturnal rambles through the Strip itself.... 'What's being sold?' Fox asks in his preface. He provides several answers, foremost among them 'spectacle' on a scale never before seen in history. 'You can order up whatever spectacle you can afford, a pay-as-you-play paradise,' he writes. 'Las Vegas enables you not only to gaze upon spectacle but also to sleep in its bed and have sex with it.'" Marc Cooper, Los Angeles Times Book Review, 14 November 2005
"In a nutshell, Fox says what happens here doesn't necessarily stay here." Ken White, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 20 November 2005
"It is an interesting and fascinating examination of the role Vegas continues to play in culture as well as an interesting travel guide with a definite point of view." Salt Lake Tribune, 25 December 2005
"...a remarkable book. It deserves a wide readership, especially among students and scholars concerned with tourism, spectacle, and the American West. It should be required reading for those concerned with Las Vegas." C. Richard King, Journal of the West, January 2006
"Fox is...a kind of reverse magician who sets out to show us the invisible gears that make things work." - Bomb Magazine
"The claims are intelligent and grounded in historical and personal accounts, making this book readable for both entertainment and enlightenment." - SaltLakeUnderGround Magazine
"In the Desert of Desire is, like the spectacles on the Strip, both entertaining and educational. Fox raises important questions for students of American and visual culture, museum studies, and western tourism, and contributes to the growing literature on Las Vegas itself." - H-Amstdy
"In the Desert of Desire is a well-supported exploration of the questions Las Vegas raises. Fox gets a satisfying fix on the nature of culture in this mercurial city. To walk the streets of Las Vegas with Fox is to see purgatory and paradise around every turn." - Southern Humanities Review