Edward Saïd’s Files
Dig into the personal files of your favorite critic.
Saïd Says: A Personal Blog
My Weekend in Vegas
So I decided to spend the weekend in Las Vegas with my old lady, Mariam, because who doesn't love a good weekend away with the missus? Holy Western Imperialism Batman, was that a terrible idea. Why can't a weekend in Vegas just be a relaxing experience? (I saw Hangover—pretty funny—but Hangover 2? The thoroughly offensive portrayals of Bangkok and that gangster Leslie Chow got on my nerves). Unlike the Wolf Pack, I came home more uptight than ever. I'll just give the highlights here.
Welcome to My Nightmare
We rolled onto the strip after a turbulent flight and headed for our digs at the Luxor. I was feeling good because I had had a travel agent book the whole deal. No sweat, right? But when the taxi pulled up in front of the place, I started to get a bit hot under the collar. I thought Luxor was referring to how luxurious it was. Yeah, not so much. It actually refers to ancient Thebes in Egypt. Or at least, Vegas's version of Thebes.
All around were ziggurat towers, an obelisk, and the Great Sphinx of Giza—except his beard and nose were slapped back on, thus denying the passage of time and the very history of the Egyptian people who suffered and sweated to built the real Sphinx out of sandstone—as opposed to using computer generated mockups with cranes and crews of men in yellow construction hats. Toto, we're not in Cairo anymore. Seriously, Egypt should sue or something.
It may be self-evident, but this Western fortress of commercial excess just swallowed up the rich history of the Middle East, and barfed it back up as a vulgar movie set. Plus the Luxor has taken sites from all over Egypt and smashed them into one place, as if Egypt is some sort of Disneyland, where the next attraction is just a few steps/monorail stops away.
And by the way, if it's rides you want, you can take the featured Nile River Tour, a ride that carries guests to different parts of the pyramid and passes by pieces of "ancient" artwork on a river that encircles the casino. (Sorry, but the last time I checked the Nile did not go in a circle.) Ugh, and I don't even have it in me to detail the casino's very own King Tut's Tomb, a duplicate of King Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings… in Nevada. Let's just say I was not happy to see these cultural wonders removed from their geographical setting, recreated in metal and glass and plastic, and plopped down into the distasteful contemporary visual chaos that is the Las Vegas strip.
It's enough that the British colonized Egypt, but now America has to do it, too? I couldn't help but feel that they've used these images to woo people into a stereotyped "Oriental" state of mind in which they renounce all reason and meaning so they'll feed more dough into tinkling slot machines with racist and eroticized pictures of Cleopatra on them. Once again the materialistic West has sought to dominate the cultural accomplishments of the East. And a bunch of mindless gamblers are game.
The topper for me was that the hotel won awards for being a prime example of 1990s postmodern architecture. That bleedin' pyramid is a prime example of ancient architecture! See how they just steal the designs of the Other and claim them as their own? How has no one burned this place down yet?
Drowning our Sorrows in Hegemonic Refreshments
At this point, I needed a drink, so we headed over to Nefertiti's Bar, passing by the Isis and Sacred Sea restaurants. I caught a glimpse of Egyptian hieroglyphics on the casino's indoor walls; when I quickly translated them to myself, I was able to make out subliminal messages encouraging visitors to spend more money at the roulette table. Don't think I don't know what you're doing, Luxor staff.
The hostess who greeted us was barely clothed in black gauzy fabric. The waitresses were also scantily clad, while snake charmers sat in corners on cushions and turbaned men were splayed around on poufs puffing hookahs. (One guy's Nikes were peaking out from under his robe, and I could see his nametag. Did it say Ammon? No, it said "Phil.") The hegemonic discourse of Orientalism had drafted the entire wait staff into its ugly project, turning everything and everyone into a stereotype. Every motif, theme, and allusion in the hotel was borrowed from, or meant to evoke, the Orient.
My only comfort? The fact that this whole trip could be a tax write-off because it was not, in fact, a vacation—it was blisteringly intense research. Some fat cats sitting in an air-conditioned high-rise in downtown Las Vegas have used the power of advanced Western industrial society to amuse consumers of Eastern imperialism, repeating the old idea of attracting Western visitors to the East with its exotic charms, but this time it's not even the real East—it's a fake version of an imagined idea of the East smack dab in the middle of the Great American Desert (oh, the layers of meaning!). The whole history of Egypt had become a decorative orgy of oriental visual motifs! If I never see another sun disk again, it'll be too soon.
We checked into our room, which is called "The Pyramid Deluxe" complete with angled windows like we're being stuffed into the tip of a pyramid. And that's supposed to be a good thing—never mind that pyramids were tombs. I'll tell you what's dead here: any sense of respect or appreciation for Egyptian culture and history.