Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shrine to The Pursuit of Happiness: Reflections on Las Vegas Experience

I have been home for a week, and in that time, have been thinking about my week in Las Vegas, where the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership annual conference was held. I had gone, a little reluctantly, because I do not personally care for gambling, but very quickly found myself seduced by the atmosphere of a place which one of our presenters admitted frankly has, as its primary reason for existence, experience. Las Vegas is centered around gambling, glitz and entertainment - I certainly knew that - but what amazed me most was how centered it is on consumerism.

Never in one place have I ever seen more opportunities to spend money on stuff.  And not just your everyday stuff.  Every international design house has at least one store, and some, multiple locations - Dior, Chanel, Versace, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Cartier... the list goes on. Every major retailer whose ads grace the pages of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and other fashion magazines is represented.   The next tier down is there too: Diesel, Juicy Couture and others abound.  When one goes to the shopping malls on the Strip in Vegas, there are so many high-end retailers, that for us ordinary folks with moderate incomes, it is a real press-the-nose-up-against-the-window experience. This is obviously one of the places the jet-set, high-rollers, or whatever we call them, shop. 

So, what to make of a place that exists primarily for fun, entertainment and various ways to part a fool and his money?  It seems clear that the Las Vegas Strip is there as a national shrine, and that many people travel there to "worship" at the altar of everything America now sees as proper to the Pursuit of Happiness:  fun, experiences, and spending on consumer goods.

Vegas is the ultimate experience of fun - free outdoor venues, numerous shows, concerts, gambling and more. Big-name celebrities were the headliners: Cher, Donny and Marie Osmond... There are myriad sight-seeing opportunities, both in and nearby.  Golf courses, resorts, and a newly opened thrill-jumping opportunity (similar to bungie-jumping) offer opportunities for the outdoor types and the more-daring. Indoors, there are live panoramas and robotic shows, lavish interiors and panoramas of Paris streets, classical Rome, the Conservatory botanical garden display in the Bellagio (outdoors they have the famous synchronized fountains...) art galleries, and shopping, shopping, shopping.

In short, Las Vegas offers together in one place the most, the biggest, the brightest, and the best experiences money can buy. Coming back, I joked to friends that "everything seems so much smaller than life" after Vegas. I recognize the seduction. Las Vegas is really the Pursuit of Happiness gone mega-watt huge. Nothing else can compare. No wonder the lady in the seat next to us on the way out was going there on her 7th trip, clutching her Cher ticket, and sorting through a lap-full of discount offers. She was on her way to break the monotony of her daily life by worshiping at the shrine.


  1. Hi Joyce. It was wonderful to meet you face to face in Vegas. I had the same experience of being overwhelmed by the consumerism. I've been trying to articulate my feelings, and you've done it for me!

    Thanks, by the way, for your recent plug of the site on Facebook. I'm glad to know somebody is reading it!


  2. Nice to meet you too, Nick. Yeah, it took me about a week to realize what I was reacting to from the Vegas experience... it's a bit complicated.

    I'll share your RCIA stuff any time, Nick - it's great. I recommend it to our catechetical leaders who have responsibility for RCIA - and it is linked from our website. I find your suggestions thought-provoking and very user-friendly.

  3. For someone that has never been in Vegas, I think they have so much that it probably overwhelms you when you first get in.

    Like everything in life, it is not the existence of temptation (consumerism or otherwise) what the problem. In my humble opinion, the problem is that we have lost the sense of moderation.

    Perhaps our ordinary life seems so boring to us because we cannot or will not do what we need to do in excess -though we may try. Even buying, or dreaming of buying can be enjoyed if it is done within our budgetary limits and the limits of common sense and common decency.

    Your column is great. I still do not think I would specifically go to Vegas, just to have fun... but then, that is just me.

    Burbank, CA