What’s Las Vegas like these days? I spent part of last weekend there at a conference for conservatives and libertarians called FreedomFest. Las Vegas, you might think, is an odd place for conservatives to congregate. On the other hand, one assumes “free-to-be-you-and-me” libertarians think it is just fine.
I hadn’t been to Las Vegas in quite a while, though I knew it was no longer the city of sin, sleaze, and Sinatra. The Sands–where Frank and the rest of the Rat Pack played and played around–was imploded into dust way back in 1996. But what I didn’t expect was how downright “girlie” Vegas has become. And I don’t mean “show-girlie.” A few months ago Barbara Walter’s daily chick show The View spent a week broadcasting live from Vegas–now I understand why.
In almost every way, Vegas is dedicated to appealing to female visitors. I guess the tourism strategy is that if a couple comes and she has the good time, they will come back again. Slot machines are now the casinos’ biggest profit makers, and slot machines are designed primarily to keep women feeding in their nickels and quarters. And there is lots of shopping in Las Vegas–there are acres and acres and acres of stores, with more built every week. The city’s current planners have understood what no Godfather ever did: Even when they don’t spend a dime on gambling, you can still send them home broke.
Of course there are dribs and drabs of the old Las Vegas. A splashy production called “Jubilee” is still running after 20 years and features statuesque, siliconed, sequined, and stilletoed beauties parading around in half a Bob Mackie costume. The in-room advertorial at Bally’s that promotes the show focuses not on the nudity but on how hard the girls work and what good dancers they need to be.
And the only superstar who is always in town is Celine Dion, a women’s-magazine favorite, best known for her much-chronicled struggle to have a baby. In fact, Celine is in Vegas–performing five nights a week at Caesar’s Palace and earning $20 million a year–because, she says, it is a better gig for a working mom than touring with her young son.
Although there must have been some sin going on, it was hard to find it. When I hit the Strip before eight in the morning–I was still on Eastern Standard Time–I did encounter a few possible ladies of the night, tugging down their miniskirts and tugging up their black fish nets, as they made their way home. But there were far more middle-aged Midwestern blonds around, in baseball caps and jogging shorts, power walking to keep fit between Bellagio and the Venetian.
I noticed that the conference, like most meetings on the right, was attended almost entirely by men and almost every speaker was a man. The presentations were very serious and very dry. About the current administrations, the libertarians were dismissive and many of the conservatives complained. Almost everyone somberly predicted doom and gloom about the war in Iraq and the increasing federal deficit. During the sessions, Ronald Reagan’s vision and policies were frequently praised. But when someone asked if Nancy had influenced her husband’s political ideas, the notion was, almost snidely, dismissed.
The event’s big speaker was John Stossel, who admitted that nowadays he had trouble getting even his serious segments on the air, let alone his libertarian-leaning documentaries. That night 20/20, the newsmagazine on which he is co-host, was doing a big special, “Today’s Young Royals,” focusing on dishy Prince William and the wedding of the Prince of Denmark to his Cinderella bride. Guess who was watching?
Leaving Las Vegas, the taxi I got into had rejected the couple before me on line. “Do you know why I wouldn’t take them?” the driver asked as we headed for the airport. “He was smoking a cigar. If I let a cigar smoker in my cab, my customers will complain all night. Especially the women.”
What they have learned and made use of in Las Vegas is exactly what the FreedomFest attendees and so many on the right don’t want to consider or try to understand: Today, in so many ways, girls rule!
–Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.