Kitsch Is Dead, Long Live Kitsch: The Production of Hyperkitsch in Las Vegas

Irazabal Zurita, Clara E.

This study investigates the production of hyperreality and kitsch in the latest generation of hotel-casino developments in Las Vegas. In these environments, visual imagery is manipulated for the creation of spectacle and a sense of alienation from time and reality. This suspension of real time and space is aimed at both facilitating the production of a simulated environment as "natural" and producing ideal sites for pleasure and consumption. Building upon the concepts of hyperreality and kitsch, this study proposes the framework of hyperkitsch to understand Las Vegas's contribution to contemporary urbanization. Through four case studies, this paper suggests that the iconographies of hyperkitsch allow visitors to enact fantasy lives that ease the estrangement that is the result of conflicted urban identities and impoverished citizenship in today's alienating cities. The first two are Rome and New York at Caesar's Palace and the New York-New York Hotel/Casinos respectively, which established the new prototype of the hotel-casino complex. The latter two case studies are the urban microcosms of the Venetian and Aladdin, which among the newer hotels feature the perfected "naturalized" cityscape ever more prominently. Breaking ranks with popular dismissive critiques of the Las Vegas prototype, this study argues that if hyperkitsch is here to stay, we need to explore its pedagogical, liberating, and redemptive potential. At a time when meaningful urban citizenship struggles to find footing in a culture increasingly defined by spectacle, hedonism, and consumerism, the hope for this study is to suggest a way out of the impasse imposed by the crises of social urban identity formation.

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Journal of Architectural and Planning Research

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Urban Planning
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January 15, 2015