Straight From The Hip

17 Aug 2010 | 18:30

I remember my first visit to Las Vegas in the late 1990's.

Nightclubs were few, dayclubs were fewer, and every casino in the city looked like it was designed by a classroom full of 8 year-olds on LSD.

Kids screamed on thrill rides, overweight tourists with fannypacks rode trolleys, middle-class heroes pretended to gamble like James Bond at $1 Blackjack tables, and cheesy skin shows ruled the night. 

The entire town was corny, gaudy, and ridiculous.  It didn't take itself seriously.  It didn't really try to be hip, didn't try to be trendy, and didn't seem overly-concerned with how it was perceived.  Back then, Las Vegas openly embraced its uncoolness, and to me ... that's what made the place cool.

Fast forward 12 years.

Things are a bit different.

Gone is the Boardwalk, gone is the Stardust, gone are the bulk of skin shows, gone is the trolley, gone is the MGM Theme Park, and gone is the excellent working-class gambling.  In their places are office park casinos, 6:5 Blackjack, vacant lots, nightclubs, posers, and pool parties.

Much of what made Las Vegas cool for me is now nothing more than a bunch of memories.  Like the corners of my mind.  Misty water-colored memories.  Of the way we were.  CAN IT BE THAT IT WAS ALL SO SIMPLE THEN?!!  OR HAS TIME RE-WRITTEN 

Sorry.  

When it comes to Barbara Streisand songs, I just can't contain myself.

Even though Vegas crossed the cool/lame line in my own mind a few years ago, a recently released "survey" by Forbes Magazine underscores just how out-of-touch I am with the American mainstream.

Allow me to present to you the following:

What do the Big Apple and Sin City have in common? According to a recent survey, they're both among the hippest places in the world. In fact, New York City and Las Vegas are the two coolest cities in the United States, tied for the No. 1 spot in our annual measure of America's Coolest Cities.

Las Vegas has a reputation for attracting pensioners who come to while the day away at slot machines. But in fact, respondents between 18 and 34 years old thought Las Vegas was cooler than New York. A full 11% of that age group gave Sin City the "coolest" badge. Still, while they might imagine it to be a happening place, trendy young folks don't account for the majority of visitors to the city. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the average age of vacationers in 2009 was 50.

Las Vegas and New York tied for coolest city in America?

Really?

Of course, these "surveys" are about as scientifically valid as throwing darts at a map with your eyes closed, but they do spark conversations amongst hipster idiots.  Since I am, if nothing else, a hipster idiot ... I decided to dissect the results, and by proxy ... give even more publicity to Forbes Magazine.  I'm sure publicity is pretty much the point of these stupid surveys, so kudos to the Forbes marketing department.

In any event, this still leaves the question to ponder.  Is Las Vegas Still cool?

Before one can answer the question, one must define "cool".  This is not an easy task, because what is cool to one person is certainly not cool to another.

For example ... for one person, cool is standing around in a smoking jacket, sipping a martini, and listening to Sinatra.  For another, it's crowd-surfing at the Reading Festival.  For another, it's screaming "I'm in Las Vegas, Bitch!" while hanging out at the Encore Beach Club.

Personally, I have always used "cool" more or less as a synonym for "good".  If I like a movie, I describe it as cool.  If I like a song, I describe it as cool.  If I find a particularly inspiring line of source code in the Linux kernel, I describe it as cool.

I'm sure my definition is not what Forbes had in mind, however.

The lack of a mutually-agreed-upon definition for the word "cool" makes things difficult, but for effort's sake, I'll use a psuedo-definitive source to define the word -- Dictionary.com.  Since there are many derivates of this particular word (the most common being related to temperature), I will have to selectively pluck out the entries and definitions which relate solely to aesthetics.

This leaves me with the following:

 

Cool

Pronunciation: \'kül\

Function: adjective

: marked by steady dispassionate calmness and self-control;

: lacking ardor or friendliness;

: free from tensions or violence;

:free from agitation or excitement;

:calmness, deliberateness, or dispassionateness;

 

In order to get a second opinion, I also looked up "cool" in the (Yellow) Snow Leopard built-in dictionary, and got the following:

Cool (aesthetic)

Cool is an aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist. Because of the varied and changing connotations of cool, as well its subjective nature, the word has no single meaning. It has associations of composure and self-control (cf. the OED definition) and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval.

Still not completely satisfied, I looked up the word in a variety of other places such as Merriam-Webster, and I found similar definitions to those above.

Now, while it is obvious that the definition of cool is quite abstract, there does seem to be some common ground spread amongst the various sources, and the recurring themes are that "cool" almost always connotes a certain level of composure, indifference, and self-control.

I do not think that these are traits that anyone would associate with Vegas.  2010 Las Vegas is a place filled with manufactured excitement and tireless self-promotion.  It's a place where people preen, get drunk, and excitedly run around the perimeter of swimming pools screaming "Woooooo!".  

By definition, this is the antithesis of cool.

Personally, I think the last time Las Vegas was truly "cool" by definition was probably during the Rat Pack days.  Even though the whole crooner thing was not my personal vial of crack ("cup of tea" just sounds gay), I kind of get the appeal.  The performers had a "fuck you" attitude, and the town didn't promote itself with the desperate insecurity of a 300lb girl on prom night. 

Continued: Is Las Vegas Still Cool?

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