Scott A. Lukasstudies of cultural remaking


To avoid such moments of existential anxiety, Vegas gives us a multitude of forms that all purport to keep our interest, connect us to an-other, or make us feel as if we truly exist. Often such forms take the appearance of consumer versions, including the veritable trinket and gift shops which litter most corners of the Strip. The most profound is Bonanza Gifts, which is said to be the largest gift shop in the world. On two rainy days on different trips to the city, I have visited the shop and variously took copious pictures of its many curios. Now, on my camera, they resemble an order reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges' discussion of a Chinese encyclopedia in which the world of animals is represented in pataphysical brilliance--belonging to the emperor; embalmed; tame; fabulous; et cetera; having just broken the water pitcher--and suggest that all of our social, cultural, and psychological worlds come down to a few key signifiers:

Twenty types of wind chimes, some with pigs on top, others with skulls in place of pigs. An ear keychain and a $5.99 shopping bag that reads, "Someone Cares about Quality." Alien skulls and ash trays with smoking skeletons getting married. A punching nun and a Jesus pen. A flashing fart alert road sign and a parrot that shouts "Fuck You" when you break its motion signal. A number of Nefertiti busts and cactus seed kits. Thirty varieties of dice clocks and casino chip sunglasses. Elvis everything. Pet puke, farting powder, snotty nose and foaming sugar. Inscribed toilet tissue, a middle-finger-extended mug and a masturbation kit. A "Stay in Love Forever Spray" and T-shirts that include slogans like "I am Rick James Bitch" (complete with a lacking apostrophe) and "Marriage: Game Over." An ashtray labeled "Camille's Butts," "James' Butts," "Sally's Butts," and fridge magnets emblazoned with the words, "Sex, Money, Power."

My review of the camera stills of Bonanza Gifts reminds me not just of Borges' curious description of an encyclopedia but also of the base fact of our world. Vegas' key moments, its cultural archetypes, are represented by the numerous shows that we watch on the Strip, the menu items that we consume in restaurants and at the buffets, in the varieties of people that we encounter and push up against on the Strip, and also in the consumer trinkets that are laid out for our consumption. Reality is only a collection of those things that have been given to us, and while we can, and should, consider what isn’t given to us at any moment in time, we do not. Instead, we are left further isolated from ourselves, and others, amid the curios.

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