Panel at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) Conference Las Vegas: “City of God, City of Destruction”
Presiding Officer: Erin Turner (University of Nevada - Las Vegas)
Las Vegas is a town that has commodified the absurd and the spectacle. Crime bosses are glamorous, rules are just suggestions, bodies are for showcasing; essentially, fantasy is reality. This is the image of Las Vegas most often depicted in literature and film adaptations. The city of Las Vegas recently changed its official slogan from, “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” to, “What happens in Vegas, Only happens in Vegas.” This proposal will call for investigations into the absurd as reality and spectacle as art or escape through literature about Las Vegas.
Society is obsessed with spectacle and Las Vegas makes its living off of it. To witness the absurd is expected and insisted upon by visitors. Film adaptations of literature such as Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, and Nicholas Pileggi’s Casino among many others depict realities wrapped in absurdities. Las Vegas’s not-so-distant past and its foundations include knowingly and happily electing established mob representatives for mayor for the past two decades. The Las Vegas community thrives on spectacle and has always ridden the line of acceptable on a razor thin edge, often being deemed unacceptable by conservative America. This fact was once evidenced by the refusal of certain businesses such as Cracker Barrel and Chick fil A to establish their franchises in the city of sin until very recently. Today, not only do those businesses choose profit over their founding beliefs, Chick fil A has even opened a location with an unmissable store front in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Given the current state of America, teeming with tension and discontent, could the widespread acceptance of the absurd and the spectacle be a major contributor to it all? Author Stephan Al examines the Las Vegas strip as a reflection of America in his novel The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream. Las Vegas based literature is more often non-fiction than fiction due to the absurd reality that is its life-blood. However, recent fiction based in Las Vegas includes novels like Beautiful Children by Charles Bok, The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss Jr., and Dragonfish by Vu Tran. Does literature about Las Vegas reflect the rest of society as Stephan Al proposes? Does the desire for the spectacle and the absurd in Las Vegas represent a desire for art and literature of a diverse array, or only escapist ideals and humanity's most base impulses?
We welcome proposals that examine the idea of the absurd as acceptable reality and spectacle as absolute truth through literature and film about Las Vegas. Topics to be considered could include, but are not limited to the following: The absurd, The spectacle, Surrealism, Literature based in Las Vegas, Dadaism, Realism, and Rhetorical Spectacle.