The Stigma of Vegas

This past summer was quite a hectic one. Volunteer work, a lecture series I participated in and a trip to Nepal, left me with with only sixteen days of downtime for summer break. My family had the perfect cure: “Vegas!” After informing friends, family and all the other necessary parties of our jaunt to Sin City, judgements were cast upon us as to how and why youths would be going to this adult playground. I call this the Stigma of Vegas.  

Dr. Gerhard Falk, a professor of sociology at Buffalo State College, defines stigma in his book, Stigma: How We Treat Outsiders, as “an attribute in a person or group which is viewed as  setting that person or group apart from the rest of society.” Organized crime, partying, gambling, and prostitution shape the infamous Las Vegas Strip. Las Vegas grew in the 1930s during the construction of the the Hoover Dam, when workers stayed in the city and engaged in the casinos. In the later half of WWII, military and defense personnel resided in the city due to its  proximity to a nearby air force base and magnesium plant. Before this time there was actually an area where prostitution and gambling was legal. The modern image of Vegas started with the opening of the Flamingo in 1946 by mobster Bugsy Siegel. This started the trend of pouring organized crime money and other funds from banks and churches to build hotels and book the top performing singers of the time. Later in the 1960’s, organized crime money was replaced by business tycoons buying up the hotels and casinos. Despite the drastic changes in ideas and how things are conducted in the city today, the perception has not changed.  

While walking around in the city, I sensed an urge of escapism in those around me. Lines of people from every walks of life sitting at slot machines, shopping at high end brand outlets, eating at overpriced and luxurious restaurants, were all prominent in the overall grandeur of the hotels on the Strip. At the Bellagio, for instance, every night the hotel displays its famous dancing fountains, also known as musical fountains, which attract people from all over the world. The water shooting up hundreds of feet in the air and falling in different shapes in sync with the music, projects something from another world. Other themed hotels, such as Caesars Palace and The Venetian, depict far away places. All of these elements reflect a loss of reality and fantasy.

Seeing these things almost makes you wonder what each person is going through to come here to escape. Which is why the world should not stigmatize Las Vegas, but see what is in this place that brings a diverse group of people to gather in this city for the same purpose: get lost in a trance-like state. Personally, I enjoyed walking around and seeing the lights and architecture, and I am sure that many others came to this city for the same reasons. Granted, there are many people who partake in the activities for which this city is stigmatized, but I believe the reason for people doing so is far deeper than what meets the eye. I encourage others to step outside the realms of the Stigma of Vegas, and address the deeper concerns and reasons that lie in this ever-expanding city.