Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sin City

In Psycho Janet Leigh is told by the flirtatious tycoon (from whom she will steal $40,000) that she should “go to Las Vegas –it’s the playground of the world.”   He also tells her that you can’t buy happiness, but “you can buy off unhappiness.”  In 1960 these words may have raised Ms. Leigh’s eyebrows in arch disbelief but they seem to be very much be the case in Las Vegas today.  There is plenty of contentment in the passing faces but, strangely, almost no really energetic happiness. Eyes gleam with a thousand lights but I see no exuberance provoked by the spectacle –only a glazed kind of gawking. In the casino the hands of the young and old move at the same mechanical pace over tables and slots. People are certainly enjoying themselves but this is gambling after all.  All around dollar signs rise up and down in digital schizophrenia but I catch no joy or desperation at taking chance, winning, or even surrendering to compulsion.  Instead I see a docile, lackluster determination to gamble and consume, to be drunk, to wear little and think less. The sins of Sin City are maddeningly placid no matter how much flash gets wrapped around them.  Everything here is shattered by mirrors and plastic that give bright and buttery reflections; by explosions of colored bulbs and jumping pixels; by hyper saturated images that flatten and tame vice into the equivalent of a diner menu or travel post card. This place is the inverse of the carnivalesque – vulgarity and carnality here are drained of release and rebellion.   I like some desperation in my sin please. It’s more fun that way and allows me, for better or (usually) worse, to know where pleasure ends and danger begins. It seems impossible that anything could be beneath the surface in Las Vegas, but the real sins here, the capital “S” sins of greed, excess, and waste are exactly that – hidden beneath their own display, waiting patiently for a wallet to empty, for a card to be rejected, for a glass to spill, a high heel to break– anything that could land someone in one of those “personal traps” from which “we claw and tear” discussed by Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh in the Bates Motel parlor just before hidden cash and an illicit glimpse of flesh lead to her murder.