This last week, I went to Vegas with three of the RAs I used to work with. Our goal is to travel a new place every year together, and this year, we celebrated 2 graduations and one 21st birthday. I laughed (and ate and drank..) more in a week with them than I have an entire month. It was the most gluttonous Sin City experience possible, and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, it led me to reflect a lot on the massive overconsumption of consumerism in this city that represents more of our society than I would like to admit. For someone constantly seeking balance, I struggled to be at peace in such a place where overindulgence in EVERYthing is the norm. From a marketer’s perspective, I was particularly intrigued by these few things:
When we first walked into the Las Vegas airport, there were already slot machines right by the gates. We spent 3 days merely exploring all of the different resorts and casinos along the Strip. The amount of gambling is appalling, even though I’ve been around slot machines since I was very young. Not all of them are ever full, and I wonder how often these are changing. There were many current pop culture-inspired machines, such as Orange Is The New Black or Ellen. What B2B manufacturers are making these? Is the demand for up-and-coming machines really this high? Are they creating entirely new machines, or just changing the graphics? Of course, you have to consider the massive amounts of money being abused at all of these casinos. Not to mention, the High Roller areas where tremendously large amounts of money are required, are likely despicable. It’s all so unsustainable. I would have loved to ask any gamblers who they are voting for this year.
The food in this city is ridiculous. Yes, we got some absolutely delicious buffet foods for a relatively low price, all things considered. Most restaurants that aren’t buffets still encourage mass consumption. It’s pretty difficult to find relatively healthy options, but no one really comes to Vegas for that anyway. One of my friends I traveled with is vegetarian, and he struggled to find many protein options. One restaurant downtown is actually called the Heart Attack Burger, and you get dinner free if you weigh over 450 pounds. Outside the restaurant, there is even a large scale (with LED numbers for all to see) and a sign boasting “fighting eating disorders for 50 years!” For someone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past, this is so disturbing that this culture even exists. If someone is over 450 pounds, they likely have an eating disorder themselves around binge eating. All eating disorders are unhealthy, but obesity is especially unhealthy considering it is so accepted and common and even encouraged to be obese and in the high risk area for heart disease. While it may be fun in spirit, one has to consider the consequences of businesses such as this. Is the marketing team truly happy working for such a disturbing company? What interview questions do they ask potential new hires?
Also, most of the entertainers in Vegas, whether professional or amateur, are incredibly skinny. Are they truly healthy? There is a total disconnect from the culture and the people that live there. Is it all a facade? Is it all a temporary place to stay?
For those following me on social media, particularly Instagram and Snapchat, you have seen my clubbing experiences. I love nightclubs and parties, but Vegas truly puts all other cities to shame. The clubbing culture is SO weird in Vegas, and I’m still trying to figure it out. I fully recognize it’s all bullshit, so if you for a second believed that I was truly such a ~gLaMoRoUs~ VIP, then I’m sorry you don’t understand my sense of humor.
Club promoters are common anywhere in the world, but especially in Vegas. Basically, promoters or “VIP Hosts” are required to fill the clubs with people. Clubs (day and night) often charge ridiculously high prices to get into clubs (often $30 for girls and $50 for guys), but with promoters, both often get in free. There are many different entry lines for clubs, and here is a rough breakdown of the different club tiers, from my own personal observation:
⁃ General admission guest list: You bought a ticket. You’re dumb because you paid a high price to get into a club, but you still feel kinda cool to be on the “guest list.” You are why clubs make a profit: you spent a stupid amount of money on tickets and you will spend an even more stupid amount of money on drinks. They actually add $10 to the cover price each hour the club is open, and they are known to make you pay higher prices if they think you look gullible/desperate enough to pay it.
⁃ Invited/staff guest list: You were added to the list by a promoter. Either a friend referred you to a promoter, or you texted one of the many who commented on your Instagram posts, promising VIP access and free drinks. Girls can get free access at any point in the night, but guys only get free entry if there is an equal ratio (2 girls, 2 guys) and if it is early in the night, preferably if they are escorted in by an escort at a particular time (usually 11pm — this is early!). Once in, girls get free drinks of some sort. Maybe there is an open bar from 10-11pm while the club is dead, you get 2 free drink vouchers, or if your promoter has a table at the club that night, you get to join in on the VIP Bottle Service experience for free! That is, until the promoter stops paying for more bottles. For girls, this experience is awesome and can save an incredible amount of money. One night with an hour of an open bar, my friends and I drank $200 worth – all for free. The drinks were good and strong too.
⁃ VIP Table: You are throwing away a stupid amount of money to get the VIP Bottle Service Treatment. The minimum spending amount for one of these tables is typically $1000, but each bottle costs extra. One table typically has a bottle of vodka, a bottle of wine, and mixers such as cranberry juice, orange juice, and sparkling water. You get to pour your own drinks and look super fabulous, but you probably are also inviting any hot girls to your table and giving them free alcohol because you are probably lonely and like to use your money to feel loved. You might even bring a several stacks of dollar bills to throw (this actually happened at a day club on Memorial Day Weekend, and they kept throwing money in spurts. I collected $15 from that rain, thank you very much.)
⁃ Actual VIP: You probably aren’t at these clubs as you realize no one here is actually famous or remarkable by any means. Other than cheap party goers (me) or luxurious spenders (bachelor parties and boring businessmen), there isn’t much to see here.
Bottom line: Vegas is all about making everyone feel like VIP. No one comes to Vegas to feel like a hometown peasant, even if that’s exactly what they are. I had a blast clubbing, especially since it was like a free concert with DJ headliners every night. It was just even more gross and sleezy than any club you might imagine.
4. White and Heterosexual Privilege
Traveling with RAs, naturally we discuss the social justice issues that are ever present. While you can see people of all ethnicities and races from around the world in Vegas, it’s predominantly white. Most products are based for a white audience. Most performers and entertainers are white. There are white people of all socioeconomic statuses, but white nonetheless. I would be really curious how other people felt traveling in a place with such a lack of diversity.
Additionally, the LGBTQ community seems virtually nonexistent in Vegas. Women are the primary source of objectification. Most street entertainers that are sexualized are women. The men are more often portrayed as strong Spartans or fighters of some sort. There were a few Chippendale-style entertainers, but they were minimal compared to the scantily-clad women with surely countless psychological issues. There are naked women on advertisements everywhere: buses, flyers, screens, and even cards being handed out on the street. While I saw one advertisement for Male Revues, there are countless Gentlemen’s Clubs. Most shows are based around heterosexuality, again with female objectification. Vegas culture is clearly misogynistic but also heterosexual. Maybe I’m just used to Chicago’s liberalism, but I couldn’t help but think that Vegas is extremely traditional for such a sinful city.
Overall, Vegas disturbed me with how disposable everything is. Everything is artificial and temporary. Everything is flashy, but the second it flashes, it is already dull. There were very few recycling options, which is indicative of its sustainability. There are even few trash cans in my opinion, but everything is always clean. On my morning runs, I witnessed the many workers working very hard to clean the sidewalks while everyone pauses their consumer habits to sleep. While one million tourists can be found in the city everyday, there are still two million living there regularly. I have no idea why anyone would choose to live in such an ugly city with ugly intentions. The city’s primary focus is to offer flash to make ridiculous profits. I will say that the shows are spectacular, but the shows merely seem to provide an artistic perspective to the ever weird Vegas culture. While it’s funny to laugh during s show at the ridiculousness, it isn’t so funny when you live through the culture mindlessly without any consideration of its longer lasting impact.
Ethics is so strongly rooted in my Loyola Jesuit education, and I am constantly questioning the motives of other business professionals and what this means for the future of business. I know that Vegas and much of the Southwest is running out of water in reservoirs, and I honestly hope it runs out sooner than later. Clearly, this city needs a lesson in moderation and preservation.
While I had a blast in Vegas and would recommend a bachelor or bachelorette’s party here, I will likely not be returning for awhile. It’s so rewarding being able to afford my own travels, but I would prefer to explore in better places, preferably those that don’t make me think our society is doomed. I’m going to hope that Vegas is actually a social experiment to see how people actually behave when encouraged to participate in a mass consumerism culture.