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April 21, 2014

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Porn, pixels, poise converge in Las Vegas

CES, Adult Expo, Miss America Pageant in city at same time show how very American we are

This is a big week for desire, even by Las Vegas standards, which is saying something. Here, you can satisfy your appetites any old day of any old week — in a poker room, at a table in Joel Robuchon, in the shops at Cosmopolitan, with a limo ride to Pahrump. Since the state legalized gambing, OK’d prostitution and hired its first showgirl, desire has been what we do.

Right now, though, everything seems bigger, wilder and more desirey, what with the Consumer Electronics Show, the Adult Entertainment Expo and the arrival of the Miss America Pageant contestants all happening at once. It makes for a heady, quintessential Vegas moment, the city of desire suddenly double-packed with objects of lust. Beauty queens! Porn starlets! Web-enabled 3-D television! Hang around the right nightclubs, strip joints or display floors, and you might get wired on the crosscurrents.

By the time it’s all over, more than 160,000 people will have come here for one or more of these events, and, in a testament to the wide-ranging power of desire, some of them will have paid more than $200 a night to stay at the Hooters hotel.

Before that, though, they — and many of us, too — will have felt CES trigger some complex yearning for advanced devices, those ultimate totems of cool. Or glimpsed through the window of the Adult Expo into a world of consensual raunch that contrasts markedly with our mundane lives. Or daydreamed about flirty but essentially wholesome young women who look smashing in a swimsuit, can ace the talent contest and care deeply about world peace.

“It seems oh, so quintessentially American to me,” says UNLV women’s studies professor Lynn Comella, “the meeting of techno-lust and sexual lust and the crowning of Miss America as an idealized version of female beauty and perfection.

“In fact,” she adds, “the juxtaposition of Porn Starlet of the Year and the soon-to-be crowned Miss America is a fascinating one indeed.” (Check LasVegasWeekly.com for Comella’s daily blogging from the Adult Expo.)

Very American, sure, but even more so, it’s very Las Vegas: “Like a magnetic pole, (the city) pulls in and organizes inchoate desire into patterns of behavior that are bizarre but compelling to contemplate,” William L. Fox wrote in his 2005 book “In the Desert of Desire: Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle.”

Or, put another way, all of this weirdness — the epic nerdgasm, the acres of sex toys on display, hot-and-cold-running hotties — just doesn’t seem very weird, does it? That’s another thing that makes this such a Vegas moment. For all their individual excitements, taken together these events say, simply: It’s January in Las Vegas.

“What I especially love and appreciate about Vegas, and always have, is that multiple, and even competing, desires such as these can coexist in an odd kind of harmony,” Comella says. “Somehow, it works in Vegas in a way that I am not convinced would work at all, or at least the same way, in other places. And that is the beauty of Las Vegas.”

Soon enough, we’ll know how much this confluence of big events signals the ka-ching of renewed convention business. Just how much the reliable Las Vegas formula of exploited desires paid off. Lord knows, we need it. The short-term economic indicators aren’t looking great. (You won’t be paying $200 for a room at Hooters next weekend.)

Which leads Comella to flip the notion of “desire” from the wants of individuals to the needs of the community:

“Will Vegas be able to cultivate a sustained desire for arts and culture for education, for downtown revitalization, for a diversified economy, in the same way that it has been able to cultivate, on a global scale, the desire for entertainment and leisure, convention business, sex and lust? I think that’s the million-dollar question.”

Knowing Las Vegas, it’ll take us a million years to arrive at the answer. Until then, let’s hope every January is as usually unusual as this one.

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