Academic journal article American Studies

BRIGHT LIGHT CITY: Las Vegas in Popular Culture

Academic journal article American Studies

BRIGHT LIGHT CITY: Las Vegas in Popular Culture

Article excerpt

BRIGHT LIGHT CITY: Las Vegas in Popular Culture. By Larry Gragg. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. 2013.

As historian Larry Gragg notes in Bright Light City: Las Vegas in Popular Cul- ture, writers view Las Vegas through their preconceptions, describing it as everything from the dank epitome of American capitalism to a democratic space of self-invention. As this suggests, Vegas is more than a city: it is a magic mirror in which Americans have understood our nation and ourselves. Befitting such a place, novelists, filmmak- ers, and journalists have repeatedly used Las Vegas in their work. Gragg examines these hundreds of images to understand its "extraordinary appeal" (5).

Trained as a historian of colonial and Revolutionary America, Gragg brings an appealing passion to his topic. He argues that these multiple representations shape the experiences of visitors, though there is little analysis of reception. Arranged around themes such as "images of gambling" and "images of luxury," Gragg weaves the city's history into discussion of the cultural images. His best chapters utilize archival sources to show how town leaders constructed its image. Decades before Caesar's Palace, officials wooed tourists with spurious history, like the Helldorado, an annual festival of the frontier past begun in 1935. A few years later, "the chamber of com- merce urged residents to wear Western clothing because the frontier theme indeed was attracting more tourists" (35). However, there is little in the remainder of the book carrying this thread because, as Gragg mentions, he is writing another book on the role of developers and others.

Colorful stories of Frank Sinatra driving a golf cart through a window and Bugsy Siegel's death pepper the chapters, which otherwise chronicle the images he has found. …

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