The Las Vegas Affect

Welcome to the Desert of the Hyperreal...

Welcome to the Desert of the Hyperreal…

There has been a great deal of scorn poured on Las Vegas from the academy. From its low creative city ranking, its over-reliance on too narrow an industry base and its crippling ecological effects, Sin City has been attacked by urban, economic and environment geographers respectively. Baudrillard (1994: 91) has been equally as disparaging stating that the ‘liquidation’ of the mediated advertising architecture, and the “reabsorption of everything into the surface (whatever signs circulate there)… plunges us into this stupefied, hyperreal euphoria that we would not exchange for anything else, and that is the empty and inescapable form of seduction”. The city that seems to represent nothing but a simulacrum of itself and is awash with rampant hawkish capitalism, is designed in toto to rid you of as much financial, social and personal capital as is possible.

"...the empty and inescapable form of seduction..."

“…the empty and inescapable form of seduction…”

In what other city would 'A general store' gave signage like this?

In what other city would ‘A general store’ have signage like this?

How does it do this? Through a sensorial bombardment. All five senses are assaulted from the instant you enter the city limits (by plane, train or automobile). The garishly gargantuan advertising screens create a luminescence that infers a perpetual state of dusk (even their ‘everyday’ stores light up the night sky), and the faux architectural aesthetics are deliberately designed to dislocate and displace (you go from a pastiche of contemporary New York to a Disneyfied medieval Britain as you cross the road). Within the interiors of the large casinos that do not seem to have any end in sight at all (corridors that fade into the internal horizon), the aromatic odours of a perfume-like musk are specifically tailored so as to make you gamble (Hirsch, 1995). The subtle ambient jingle aurally follows as you traipse aimlessly and directionless through the labyrinthine and deliberately disorientating casino floors. Even to the touch, Vegas electrifies, quite literally in some cases with seemingly constant static shocks whenever a metal surface is touched. Finally, to the taste, Las Vegas also intoxicates with food and drink only being bested to the pinnacle of the city’s most heinous offerings by gambling.

Corridors that fade into infinity

Corridors that fade into infinity

"Jesus Loves You", even Sin City

“Jesus Loves You”, even Sin City

The senses are overwhelmed to such an extent that it could be argued that the mind-body complex is subjugated in favour of an affective agency that is not directed, but ephemerally ‘moved’ by the city itself. The ‘affective’ turn in Human Geography has highlighted issues of consciousness, corporeality, emotion and non-representational theory within the discipline of late. There now exists an ever-burgeoning body of literatures that are concerned with a “transpersonal capacity” (Anderson, 2006: 735) that affect affords, and many a cultural geographer has been dealing with a subject that belies a coherent definition (Thrift, 2004). There is one aspect of the affect debate which focuses on agency of the human body – with Harrison (2008) finding there to be a lacuna in the way in which agency is thought of as embodiment of vulnerability and susceptibility; with the majority of accounts biasing overtly ‘positive’ agency (that which affects). Harrison’s (2008) view balances corporeal affect and therefore opens up the possibility that the resultant stratified discursiveness of conscious feelings and emotions can indeed be the result of the unknown and/or unseen. Or perhaps, ‘the city’ writ large.

The Casino Floors: no windows, no clocks, zones of atemporality

The Casino Floors: no windows, no clocks, zones of atemporality

Can it be argued then, that Las Vegas, as an institution, is ‘attacking’ the vulnerability and unconscious susceptibility of the vast numbers of starry-eyed visitors that flow through the streets and into the casino floors? It is no secret that on the casino floors, there are “no clocks, no windows, just mirrors, endlessly circling aisles and cocktail waitresses – all the better to encourage you to stay at the tables, unconscious of the hours” (Fox, 2007: 23). The sights, sounds, smells and signs of the intense immanence of the gambling dens renders time irrelevant, an atemporal zone in which the body defenestrates any ‘feelings’ or bodily symptoms of tiredness in lieu of engaging with the city’s offerings. The only semblance of time passing that you encounter is when the rising sun streams through your bedroom window as you return to the room, and even this can be blackened out with the touch of a button.Indeed, Las Vegas does all it can to conceal time and its affect on the body. Therefore, by eradicating any emotions and feelings that are not directly conducive to feeding the god ‘gamblor‘, and stimulating the senses to a state of affective confusion, the city streamlines its capitalist accumulation process. And while scorn can rightfully be poured upon it, one has to admit, Las Vegas does it very well…


Anderson, B. (2006) Becoming and being hopeful: towards a theory of affect. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 24, 733-752.

Baudrillard, J. (1981 [1994]) Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press, Michigan.

Fox, L. (2007) In the desert of desire. University of Nevada Press, Las Vegas.

Harrison, P. (2008) Corporeal Remains. Vulnerability, proximity and living-on after the end of the world. Environment and Planning A, 40, 423-445.

Hirsch, A. (1995) Effects of ambient odors on slot-machine usage in a las vegas casino. Psychology & Marketing, 12(7): 585–594.

Thrift, N. (2004) Intensities of Feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect. Geografiska Annaler B, 86, 57-78.

Oli Mould

One thought on “The Las Vegas Affect

  1. Oli says:

    Reblogged this on .

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