During the month of April (7th to 24th) 2016, Bruce Kapferer and Rolf Scott travelled on a short fieldwork to concretize the beginning of an investigation into what we name Casino cities, or a comparison between Las Vegas, Macau and Monaco. The project originates in Kapfere’s wanting to compare old world European capitalism (Monaco) with new world capitalism as in the USA (Las Vegas), and the new Asian capitalism as manifested in particular in China (Macau). His hypothesis was that the major casino cities are “experimental” centers of global capitalism, as manifest in specific culture-cosmological orientated approaches to gambling, but also as importantly, revealed through the symbolism of specific architectures, innovative technologies of gambling, of desire, and the spectacle.
The 350 foot (107m) pyramid casino resort of Luxor shining its light into the heavens, with the interconnected Las Vegas strip spreading out into the background. Photo taken from the Internet.
Further, how the cities are organized, the particulars of their social life, and how they interrelate with their larger surroundings. In other words, an overall comparison, – would disclose essential aspects on the different types of capitalism, as well as how it manifests it self globally. As such, Casino cities when viewed from afar, can at the very least be seen as future projecting hotspots for certain types of symbolic imagery driven by and reconfirming globally influential powers. That it is so, is further evident in that the investors of these cities are dominated by major global “player” billionaires, of which the most prominent Vegas figures are Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn and their counterpart in Macau is Stanley Ho.
Our relatively short travel of two and a half weeks was of course just the beginning of an investigation into realities that must be analyzed far more intensely over time and the casino cities must also bee revisited. We had to delay traveling to Monaco, which we will visit this autumn. Still, traveling around the world from London to firstly Las Vegas and then Macau, confirmed without a doubt that the initial idea of the project, was intensely relevant. Further, it became obviously clear that one cannot analyze the true global nature of these cities, without having visited, seen and experienced the immense visual grandness of their marvels (or horrors depending on the view), which so obviously manifest insights of cultural, cosmological and global as well as hyper-real forces within their contexts and structures. In regards to the latter, Las Vegas, has gathered and created a reality that incorporates the spectacles of the real and mythical worlds, as defined in the eyes of the USA and through class structures, thereby (just to mention a small part of Vegas) recreated the Egyptian pyramids in the hotel complex and world of Luxor, joint with the equally mythic worlds of Excalibur and New York, New York, or the more upmarket mythical structures of the Bellagio, the Venetian and Ceasars Palace.
It was initially evident that the context of each of these cities are so immense, that they are in the singular the source of endless studies. Further, we wanted to avoid the danger of looking at the cities only through the limiting lens of gambling, and had decided to approach gambling as one out of many active reconstituting aspects of a larger cosmological whole.
The massive task in investigating such large contexts in a comparative manner, together with how the basics of anthropology is fieldwork, set in relationship to the relatively speaking limited amount of time and resources available to us, necessitates a certain “gonzo style anthropology” to use the term created by Hunter S. Thomson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). This to gain an initial sense and meaning quickly, as well synthesize some essences from the massiveness of the task at hand. We needed to be able to concretize some overall lines of comparison, which can set forth further investigations and hopefully also spark off new ideas, that can engage and further others research into the same subject.
Part of our initial effort when conducting this fieldwork, was thereby to cover physically and visually, essential structures like the globally enormous casinos. As an example, the Venetian in Macau has the 7th largest floor space in the world being 10,5 million square feet (close to a million square meters), and had a building cost of 2,5 billion $. This structure contains massive gambling halls, 3000 suites and a convention centre, as well as canals, pools, gardens etc. Although being a similar but substandard copy of the Venetian in Las Vegas, it contains like the Las Vegas hyperreal “original” (and all other large casinos) an entire enclosed life world. Albeit where the Venetian reality in Macau, differers considerably from its counterpart in Vegas. However, it was during this fieldwork, also important to grasp some understanding of the histories, and different locations and working of the cities, and further establish networks of people who are working on issues of importance within these cities. All of these tasks turned out to be successful. This is thereby a project, that will be revisited and presented on our web-pages probably several times in the future as it progresses and finds form.
The Venetian Macau at night. Photo taken from the Internet.