LAS VEGAS--From the balcony of our honeymoon suite here at The Platinum Hotel, you can see the backside of The Strip--Mandalay Bay on the far left to the Wynn and Encore on the way right--and you can almost convince yourself that you live at some remove from the vacationing hoi polloi who decamp from the fruited plain to Sin City.
Even on a honeymoon in Vegas, The Platinum's status as one of the few classy no-smoke, no-gamble hotels within proximity of the Strip--and my own inclination not to drink--might put us at a psychic distance from the action...but not so fast. No matter how much distance there might be in Vegas between one and the Strip one block away, there's no escaping what this place means to these United States.
Vegas, man-made and juiced-up, is where our story as a country has come to an end.
Evidence abounds at the resorts, from ParisLasVegas to New York, New York, from The Venetian to Caesar's Palace. More than a mere playground, Vegas is now the place where America comes in search of its own story. Instead of real history, we come to play pretend in make-believe places that require no narrative. When people asked us where we were going on our honeymoon, I said: "Vegas"--with no further explanation needed.
Here's the story or lack thereof. We went to see The Beatles "Love" show put on by Cirque du Soleil and it was magnificent in every way, from indescribable costumes to stomp dancers to roller bladders to trapeze artists who never seemed to sweat no matter how high they twirled. With a stage cut up into quadrants--and video screens and vocal skits by the fictionalized Fab Four--there's no way a fan can walk out of the show with anything but a warm and fuzzy feeling about John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
But I wanted more. When "Love" began, with the lads in Liverpool suffering through the Blitz in London during World War II, I had hopes for the chronological story that was likely to go from "She Loves You" all the way to "All You Need is Love." No such luck: the chronological was quickly dismissed in favor of an emotional journey that hop-scotched from "Eleanor Rigby" to "Help" to the recurring "tea" references that stood in for drugs hard and soft.
Blue Man Group the next night came with much brilliance but many of the same frustrations. With its emphasis on plumbing, future-speak, and drumming, the show was never less than entertaining and never really challenging. It was meant to be funny and it was, but the alien Blue Men, blue-faced brothers from another planet, always stopped short of the uncomfortable. Again: there was no story and no narrative to tie the entertainment together.
Things improved but only marginally on our final night when we bought tickets to "The Lion King," directed by Julie Taymer, who has appeared on my "Con Games" radio show in Aspen. This time there were incredible costumes and puppets and Elton John's music--and an actual story about a young Lion King who regains his father's throne--a story woven of the thinnest thread imaginable.
You might say story, story, story has been replaced by location, location, location--and not just in Las Vegas. Without a story to call our own, it's not entirely clear where we can go from here.