History of Nevada/Nevada in Popular Culture (1865-present)
- 1 Mining and the Gold Rush in the Silver State
- 2 Nevada in Film
- 3 The Strip Revolutionizing Popular Culture in the U.S.
- 4 The Show Girls of Las Vegas
- 5 Las Vegas and Prostitution
- 6 Area 51
Mining and the Gold Rush in the Silver State
The state of Nevada, nicknamed ‘The Silver State’, is historically rich and has been instrumental to economic growth in the Southwestern United Sates. The longevity of the states nickname serves as a testament to its roots and, it continues to fit surprisingly well in modern contexts. Nevada is known worldwide for its large collection of casinos, bright lights, stage shows, crime, and massive amounts of gambling. However, the story of how it got this nickname is also very interesting. The state of Nevada received this name from the mass amounts of silver, gold, various valuable minerals like breccia, and other volcanic rock based minerals that were mined in the state from the middle of the nineteenth century up until the middle of the 20th century. Prospecting and mining silver deposits became synonymous with the state and became paramount in shaping Nevada’s identity. Nevada's mining industry was the leading contributor in a diversifying population, employment opportunities, industrial growth, and nationwide notoriety. An immigrating Mormon population for the outskirts of Nevada began mining as early as 1846. It was during this time that the settlers discovered the Comstock Lode, a silver ore deposit located under Mount Davidson. News spread quickly of the initial strikes, and in turn generated a wave of migrants in search of prosperity.
The Comstock Lode
The Comstock Lode was a very profitable deposit of gold, silver, and other precious minerals located under Mount Davidson and its surrounding geological landscape. Discovered in 1859, the site measured twenty-one thousand feet by one thousand feet. Ironically, the mineral that the state was named after was not originally what miners were looking for. Miners who traveled to Nevada in hopes of finding gold, were met with dismay upon striking deposits of rich blue material. Unbeknownst to them, they stumbled upon something that would be the catalyst for urban development. It wasn't until professional mineralogists arrived, and revealed that the mysterious blue material was actually high quality silver. As a result, the mineral began to harvested almost exclusively and revolutionized the mining industry in Nevada.The Comstock Lode was the first major silver deposit in America and can be attributed to the end of the California Gold Rush.
Mining Towns and the People of Comstock
From 1860 on, Nevada underwent a mining boom. Many mining towns built up around the Comstock Lode, the two largest and most profitable being Virginia City and Gold Hill. These towns thrived off of consumerism, consisting mainly of gambling halls and saloons. The emergence of these industries contributed to the popularity of casino culture, specifically in modern day Las Vegas. The states newly found prosperity allowed the entertainment and hospitality industries to thrive off of wealthy workers. Drinking and gambling became a popular pastime amongst miners. The abundance of wealth inevitably lead to increased crime rates in the majority of these mining townships. The lure of prosperity attracted an ethnically and socio-economically diverse population. These population was comprised of laborers, missionaries, charlatans, criminals, lawyers, writers, reporters, actors, visionaries, and investors. Mark Twain was the most notable figure residing in the state of Nevada when he wrote the book 'Roughing It'. Men and women came from a variety of different backgrounds and social castes. People of the upper classes would live next to people of middle or lower classes, all in an attempt to raise their social status. Large mining companies paid their workers four dollars a day on average, which they then spent on goods and services in town. The population Comstock grew from a few small groups to about 25,000 in the mid 1870’s. This is considered as the most profitable period during Nevada's mining boom. Nevada experienced exponential fiscal and monetary gains in subsequent years, earning four billion dollars from 1859-1880. The mining industry experienced an unprecedented decline up until 1940. Exports experienced a dramatic decline as the value of silver began be depreciate.
It's easy to see how the discovery of the Comstock Lode and the mining of it is important to the history of Nevada. The Comstock Lode caused an surge in immigration and increased productivity capacity within the mines. This generated massive amounts of wealth for the better part of ninety years. Ironically, the nickname of the state came from a mineral that was initially tossed aside in favor of mining for gold. Mining created a largely diverse community equipped for the rapid development of infrastructure. However, many of these mining towns were abandoned once the natural resources were depleted. The Comstock Lode left a mixed legacy once all was said and done. One half of its legacy consisting of old run down buildings lost in the desert, and the other the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip.
Nevada in Film
Film Depictions of Organized Crime in Nevada
Nevada has been depicted in many Hollywood movies throughout the history of cinema, typically through its largest city, Las Vegas. Many of these films focus on criminal activity in the state, especially organized crime. Some examples of this are Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film, The Godfather, and its sequel, The Godfather Part II. In these films, the criminal Corleone family owns a number of casinos and hotels in Las Vegas and Reno during the early twentieth century, and the titular Godfather, Michael Corleone, resides in the Nevada countryside on Lake Tahoe. These films display grisly murders, criminal dealings with corrupt Nevadan politicians, and the sinful excess of these cities taking place in the early twentieth century. The 1991 movie, Bugsy, also shows criminal influence in Nevada by telling the story of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, the mobster who was instrumental in the creation of the Flamingo Casino as well as the formation of Las Vegas as a gambling mecca. However, it neglects the fact that the idea for a casino in the middle of the Nevada desert did not come from a New York gangster, but from an investor named William Wilkerson. Criminal activities on the strip are again dramatized in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film, Casino. Here, the mafia influence behind the Tangiers Casino, based on the real life Stardust Casino, is displayed in casino overseer and Mafioso Ace Rothstein, who fraudulently skims casino profits off the top for the mob, and is nearly assassinated by mobsters when the FBI uncovers the corruption. Several murders, such as the brutal beating and burial of enforcer Nicky Santoro and his brother in the desert by the mob, are depicted in the film, and the message that Las Vegas is surrounded by similar shallow desert graves is often repeated. Less violent crimes are also portrayed here, such as blackjack players attempting to cheat the casino, which is dealt with brutally by the gangsters.
Las Vegas In Film and Television
Las Vegas is nicknamed “Sin City” for its affiliation with vices such as gambling, drugs, alcohol, and prostitution, and it is this sinful aspect of the city which is most commonly dramatized in film. The aforementioned Casino notably captures this with Sharon Stone’s character Ginger McKenna, a drug addicted former prostitute who marries the protagonist, Ace Rothstein. Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls also depicts the sleazy nature of Sin City, dramatizing betrayals and back stabbings between strippers and prostitutes as they attempt to rise to the top of the Vegas nightclub scene. Leaving Las Vegas shows the vices of Vegas by portraying a suicidal man’s attempt to drink himself to death in the city, and his blossoming relationship with a prostitute. Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas depicts two men taking the opportunity of a work assignment in Las Vegas to take a great deal of hallucinogenic drugs, again representing the city as a sinful hub. A more recent film which demonstrates this association is The Hangover, where four men on a trip to Vegas for a bachelor party take in the numerous vices of the city on a night-long bender, including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, gambling and theft. Frank Miller, creator and writer of the comic book Sin City, uses Las Vegas' nickname as the title of his series. In this fictional world, Sin City is said to be located in the American south-west, presumably bearing geographic semblance to Nevada.
As illustrated by the previously listed films, depictions of Las Vegas, and Nevada in general, in film tend to be negative, focusing on the city as a hotbed of organized crime and debauchery. While there were mafia influences in the city in the past, and prostitution, gambling and alcohol use are prevalent in Vegas, today it is much safer and becoming more focused on family entertainment. Yet films and television still depict it as Sin City instead of Las Vegas, likely due to positive audience response to this narrative. The Hangover was the highest grossing R-rated comedy ever when it was released, and Casino was also a box office success.
Las Vegas' portrayal as a city of gambling and crime has received a more sensationalized approach in films like Ocean's Eleven (1960) starring the Rat Pack, and its reboot trilogy from the 2000's starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts. Serving as comedic heist themed ensemble pieces, these films depict Danny Ocean and his crew using their unique skills to rob a series of casinos on the Las Vegas strip. Instead of violence or grit, the films are much lighter and depict Ocean and his group instead using their cunning to rob targets.
The city of Las Vegas' portrayal with vices and crime extends into TV as well with procedural cop shows and dramas like Vega$ and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation portraying a seedy yet seductive underbelly to the glamour and lights of the Strip.
Reno in Film and Television
Another major Nevada city, Reno, also makes a number of appearances in film and television. Reno’s lax divorce laws in the twentieth century made it an ideal place for many unhappy couples to end their marriages, and several films use this idea of Reno as a plot point. One example of this is John Huston’s The Misfits, in which Marilyn Monroe’s character is in Reno for a quick divorce and ends up falling in love with a cowboy in the Nevada desert. Reno was also mentioned in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, when the protagonist’s cheating wife vows to divorce her cuckolded husband in Reno, which he forbids.
Comedy Central aired the series Reno 911! from 2003-2009. Created by Robert Ben Garant, the satirical mockumentary features the outlandish trials and tribulations of the Reno Police Department. Staring Cedric Yarbrough, Niecy Nash, Robert Ben Garrant, and Thomas Lennon, the show developed a cult following and has been working on a Netflix revival.
Nevada Countryside in Film and Television
One iconic film set and filmed in Nevada is Wes Craven’s horror classic The Hills Have Eyes. This film depicts a family on vacation being attacked by cannibalistic savages who live in the Nevada desert. The famous Twilight Zone episode I shot an Arrow Into The Air, depicts astronauts landing on a supposed asteroid only later finding out they crash-landed in the Nevada desert. Writer, and creator, Rod Sterling, closes with the quote: "Practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events. Practical joke wearing the trappings of nightmare, of terror, and desperation. Small, human drama played out in a desert 97 miles from Reno, Nevada, U.S.A., continent of North America, the Earth and, of course, the Twilight Zone."
Nevada Film Industry
More than just a backdrop, Nevada has for decades served as a shooting location. From the Mojave Desert being used to film serials and pictures like Hazards of Helen (1915) or Helldorado (1945), to more recent films that capitalize on Las Vegas as a location such as Rain Man starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, Nevada has been intertwined with Hollywood. The 1980's in particular saw the cementing of this relationship, and as such the influx and creation of businesses like catering, tent sales and hotels become a major source of income for the state.
The Strip Revolutionizing Popular Culture in the U.S.
The most well known part of Nevada is Las Vegas and in Las Vegas is The Strip. The city was founded in 1905 and in its first few decades, it was a dwindling small town. Las Vegas rose from a remote Mormon frontier as a small railroad town which eventually evolved to to an international entertainment center. The first infrastructure development began in 1941 on what is known today as “The Strip,” which sparked a new kind of lifestyle for Americans all over the country. The town experience a brief economic boom during the construction of the nearby Boulder Dam in the early 1930’s. Workers could not drink or gamble in Boulder City enticing their return to Las Vegas after a days work. Everything changed when casino gambling was legalized in 1931. During this time, there was an increase in popularity of the automobile, inexpensive land, and cheap electricity, as well as progressive attitudes towards gambling. This change in attitude allowed for the growth of casinos and resorts, which established Las Vegas as a city of indulgence, entertainment, and pleasure.
In the beginning of the 1950’s, defense spending and tourism were the main focuses of establishing the growth of a city and the recognition of Las Vegas as a metropolitan state. In order to entice tourists to visit Las Vegas, wealthy investors, businessmen and politicians devoted time and resources to increase the amount of resorts, conventions centers, and hotels. Las Vegas’s growth was contingent upon attracting more tourists, and in the 1940's a new airport was built to make transportation to the city easier. Along with the construction of a new airport, the city braced themselves for the preparation of Interstate 15. This highway was built from Utah to Southern California bringing prosperity and easy continental access to Las Vegas as well. For people in the central parts of the US, the Interstate made the drive to Vegas quicker and more efficient. Additionally, Las Vegas was benefiting from the post-war boom. Suburban shopping centers and financial establishments, such as the Bank of Las Vegas were thriving. As well as the creation of new government buildings, Las Vegas was honoured as the nations nuclear test site. Las Vegas was put on the map when the test site effectively detonated the first bomb in 1951. As much development as there was going on in the city, most of the commercial and residential development was in the emerging Strip suburbs. Developments on the Las Vegas Boulevard South attracted homebuilders, business owners, and civilians to the south of the city limits. Once this was established, Vegas was ready to expand and cater to the hotel industry.
The first beginnings of the Strip can be traced back to hotelman Tom Hull, who decided to build a motel-casino in 1941. The first hotel was named El Rancho with a neon windmill roof designed to attract tourists. The previously empty desert between the boulevard and the highway began to fill with commercial centers and residential development. Major resorts such as the Dunes and Riviera, the Hacienda, Tropicana, and Stardust were all venues that sparked the early success of the strip. Las Vegas also offered opportunities from those leaving notorious crime organizations in the East Coast. In decades before it established itself, Nevada struggled to achieve respectability among other states in the US as public perception saw it as a place for mobsters, and scandals. Men transformed themselves from criminals to successful businessmen running world-class enterprises. Wealth and luxury lead to the increase in tourism. Resorts fueled by extravagant golf courses, pools, and raunchy shows all intrigued those to experience the secrets of the Strip. In 1980 Las Vegas had about 46,000 hotel and motel rooms and was visited by just under 12 million people. By mid-1996 the number of hotel and motel rooms in Las Vegas had swelled to over 94,000, more than any other single city in the United States. Hotels on the Strip have evolved from a one night visit to huge mega buildings that some people even resided in. A great example is Caesars Palace. It is not only a hotel but has an indoor shopping centre, a casino, large variety of restaurants, and theater shows. The hotel has created a luxury palace with every need and every want imaginable. Hotels such as Caesars Palace, Bellagio, The Mirage, or the Wynn have started a new trend for hotels. Why bother leaving the hotel when everything you need is under one roof? This idea of all inclusive luxury is what drove people to visit.
The influxes of resorts eventually lead to the Strip being wealthier than Las Vegas itself and its suburbs. However, Las Vegas should be recognized for more than the Strip. From the 1920’s onward, the cities politicians pushed for state legislators, congressional delegations, federal bureaucrats military commanders and local endeavors to promote new projects. The promotion of new projects allowed for the Silver State to lean away from its previous primary industry of mining towards the more urban entertainment industry it is known for today. The journey from the 1950’s to what Las Vegas is today proved an uneasy path. A clear example was in 1957 when the Nevada Council of Churches made demands they saw necessary to create a functioning society. They required state legislators to end twenty-four hour gambling and to close casinos from 2 A.M. to 8 A.M. They wanted to see a reform in the liberal marriage and divorce laws as well as the creation of a government funded study to confirm the social and economic effects of gambling on the residents of Nevada. Religious groups challenged and revolted against the immoral activities that the Strip promoted. Politicians leading anti-gambling campaigns proposed in the senate to increase federal taxes on casinos and all table game and slot winnings.
Despite the continuous attempts to altar the life of the Strip, Las Vegas culture still was vibrant and booming. Las Vegas became one of the fastest growing metropolises in the country. The population soared immensely between 1970 and 2000, from 270,000 to more than 1.3 million. Originally Las Vegas was intended to be an oasis of excitement for tourists to visit for a few days, it was never intended as a place where people would live. Since the start of the 21st century, and through tremendous advertising and funding, Las Vegas’s industries have been called more recession-proof than the rest of America. As more resorts and casinos were constructed, it became clear that this would be a major American city. Gambling became the fabric of Las Vegas's economy and created a vibrant and world-renown culture. As the second largest contributor to Nevada’s GDP in the early 21st century, entertainment had become very significant. As well as being known as an entertainment hub, Las Vegas culture began to thrive in sports as well. Horse racing was a major draw that was established in 1930. Popularity of sports betting increased throughout the next forty years. Caesars Palace started to host world championship fights starring celebrity boxers such as Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson.
As well as Las Vegas making its mark through the Strip and gambling, sports and politics played a large role in what established Las Vegas as a great city. One of the most visited places on earth, Las Vegas’s impact in books, films and other interpretations of popular culture give the city a position of great appeal to the world. In addition to being an entertainment centre, Las Vegas has proven to be the cultural, financial, and economic hub of Nevada. The city that never sleeps holds many iconic attractions that infiltrates our popular culture and draws us in to learn the secrets of the Strip. Over the last decade and a half Las Vegas has created a part of pop culture that most can relate to. Vegas has merged into an adult playground where anything goes, and anything is possible. Known for its ridiculous hotels, extravagant nightclubs and bar scene, diverse group of locals, and of course The Strip , Vegas is a place where individuals can let loose and indulge in the pleasures of "Sin City". Walking down the strip it is not uncommon to see costumed visitors-pairs of brides and grooms, men wearing fraternity letters, and squadrons of bikers clad in silver-studded black leather.
As you drive into Las Vegas from the airport or out of town, it is hard to miss the array of billboards that confront you along every major road. Giant, garish images and verbal invitations promise free slots and cheap buffets, while larger-than-life lines of dancers grin from static poses above the freeways. This city has embodied the definition of pop culture. In a society that places gender stereotypes and norms as well as societal perceptions of who you should be as a person, Vegas offers a world of the weird and eccentric where anyone is welcome. The biggest thing Las Vegas has to offer is its truly exceptional diversity. People from every generation, race, religion, and sexual orientation all come together in one place to co-exist in harmony. Las Vegas also played a huge role in establishing what we know was as a nightlife scene. The evolution of nightlife was started in Las Vegas. Dinner theaters, burlesque clubs, huge nightclubs, and the notion of over the top parties was started in Vegas. Vegas had a major influence on pop culture and laid the framework for how we perceive exorbitant lifestyles today. The Strip is a constant hub of activity. The constant need for expansion gave developers endless possibilities to create and design unparalleled world wide metropolis. Being able to provide so many options for whatever your want or need is why Vegas is the striving, successful city we know today. Change has been seen in Nevada’s stance in popular culture over the course of a half century. Since 1950 change from a rough mob regulated state, to an emerging profitable market of entertainment means a great deal for the view of Nevada in the media. Now areas of Nevada such as Las Vegas offer people potential to live comfortably, as well safely visit the tourist hotspots. Nevada now seems to have a prominence in popular culture as a destination unlike any other.
Attractions of Las Vegas and the Strip
During the early days of the Strip in the thirties and forties, a variety of thrilling entertainment acts and performances could be found. At the El Rancho Vegas hotel, guests enjoyed performances by actors, comedians and musicians such as Nat King Cole, Jackie Gleeson, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
More recently, a large variety of attractions can be found along the Las Vegas Strip. Such as museums like the Liberace Museum containing the world's largest rhinestone at an 115,500 carat piece of lead glass weighing 50.6 lbs. Other museums include Madame Tussands Wax Museum boasting a large collection of celebrity sculptures such as Jackie Chan, Katy Perry, Barrack Obama and even fiction characters like Master Chief from the Halo video game series. Other museums include the Venetian's various art galleries, the Elvis Presley Museum, and the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Featuring a series of exhibits on the mob's involvement in gambling, smuggling and prohibition in the United States as well as Nevada and Las Vegas, the site draws on Vegas' history of crime and mafia involvement through figures like Al Capone, Elliot Ness' operation to arrest the infamous mob boss and pieces like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre blood stained wall. Not just crime or pop culture, the city is home to a variety of art galleries such as the several at the Venetian. Opened in 1999 by Las Vegas real estate developer and mogul Sheldon Adelson at a cost of $1.5 billion, the Venetian hotel hosts two galleries from the New York Guggenheim Museum as well as an extensive collection of motorcycles from 1868 to the present known as, The Art of the Motorcycle. Further hotspots include Adventuredome (formerly Grand Slam Canyon), an $75 million amusement park opened in 1993 and featuring a 68 ft. high waterfall, animatronic dinosaurs, rollercoasters and a water flume ride. The site is an example of some of the family fun to be had in Vegas.
The Strip is also home to a variety of shows and entertainment such as Siegfried and Roy. For 27 years the duo mesmerized tourists and guests with their glamorous act featuring white tigers performing a series of tricks, to the audiences' delight. From 1990 until 2003, Siegfried and Roy performed in thousands of shows at the Mirage Hotel & Casino taking in $45 million in ticket sales annually. Unfortunately, the spotlight and shows ended to the duo's horror when the white tiger Mantecore attacked and mangled Roy Horn's neck amidst that night's stage performance.
Rules and Regulations of the Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip, known worldwide for its lavish hotels, mega casinos, and a night life that could rival any city in the world. These are just a few of the reasons millions of people a year travel to Las Vegas, Nevada or ‘Sin City’ as many call it. The history of the Strip is very interesting and there aren’t many cities that can really offer the same entertainment that Las Vegas can but to understand how it became the landmark city that it is today you must look back to the history of the City. Once the history and background of the city is understood it is important to look at the various rules and regulations that are in place in order to keep the city from getting too overrun by the Strip and its businesses. The rules are also used to help keep the public areas family friendly and not to mature that families stop traveling to Vegas with children.
Las Vegas is an interesting city that has been founded on the backbone of the Mafia and its Mobsters who had previously made most of their money from bootlegging illegal alcohol in the prohibition era. A group of former rival mobsters got together just before the re legalization of alcohol which in turn eliminated their bootlegging profits, this new organization was called “The Syndicate.” Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, was the founder of one of the first Las Vegas Strip Hotel-Resorts called the Flamingo in the year 1946. After other mobsters saw the success of the Flamingo they began to pour money into the area building new hotels, and casinos that would make Las Vegas a hot spot for Mob run businesses. The mobsters would have someone run the hotel, resorts, and casinos who had no criminal record in order to avoid police and then they would take money out of the businesses tax free, this would actually help Las Vegas become the city that it is today.
After the Mafia had built up Las Vegas it continued to grow as a sort of desert oasis that had been designed around the premise of making money and giving people pleasures that may otherwise be frowned upon in other states. This is why the processes of keeping Las Vegas in check and making sure it does not get to out of hand and still caters to all ages. Las Vegas is labeled as ‘Sin City’ because it is a city built around pleasure and material things which is why it is such a great tourist destination. However, it has begun offering more than just gambling and drinking, it now offers family shows and attractions making it a much more family friendly city. The significance of building safe communites throughout Las Vegas, especially surrounding the Strip would be a major theme for several decades. The clash between the old and new Las Vegas themes is seen by tourists as they are walking down streets and being handed flyers for adult services out in public where there are children and families. This can cause issues for a variety of reasons, first is if a parent is out with their kids on vacation and someone starts soliciting adult services this could cause someone to not want to come back for another vacation. It does not help having these companies trying to compete with each other in crowded public spaces. “These conditions directly affect resort patronage, particularly at resorts abutting premium canvassing locations.” This shows the changing culture in Las Vegas a city that was built on illegal operations now must create and follow laws in order to maintain its status as one of the world’s most famous tourist locations.
The use of laws and new bills has been an important factor in keeping Las Vegas a profitable and beneficial part of Nevada as a whole due to it being a huge part of Nevada’s state economy. The hotels must maintain a high customer per night rate in order to maximize profits. That is why the issue with canvassing in Las Vegas is one of the things they still deal with due their illegal past and they are now taking actions trying to maintain its name as a world tourist destination. Las Vegas is a much different city than what it was in its early days as a mob run paradise catering to all pleasurable desires. Now it is much more progressive and has diversified its culture as a city. However, now it has a global reputation as one of the most famous tourist cities in the world. It has something for everyone whether it is a show on the strip or a night out in the casinos the city can be the perfect spot for a bachelor or bachelorette party or a family vacation to see some of the world most famous entertainers. To keep this reputation of being a place for everyone they must regulate what goes on and what is visible to the public. This is why the issue with the canvassing for adult services is important because it is capable of decreasing the number of tourists if they don’t want to come back due to the street harassment from solicitors. Rules and regulations are being put in place in order to reduce canvassing and keep the streets a family friendly area. Las Vegas is an important part of the history of Nevada and has a past unlike anywhere else.
Sin City versus Family Resort Paradise
In the late 1980’s much of the Strip began to change from the neon lights and adult-centric tourist location many had loved to a much tamer version of itself. The Strip became not only a gambling focused hub in the west, but rather on becoming an all-inclusive entertainment resort. This change was spear headed by Steve Wynn, one of the major players in the development of The Strip in recent history. The goal was to make The Strip more fun than any other location in the United States for a growing demographic. This was because gambling had become more and more welcomed around the United States, with lotteries, casinos and other wagering becoming more widely accepted. Casinos and hotels started becoming themed, dropping the typical bright neon lights and beginning to adapt “Disney-esque” themes. This would lead The Strip to start marketing itself to not just a place for adults, but also for families to go and enjoy the tourist location. Las Vegas would continue this effort to become an entertainment hub rather than a strictly gambling focused city until the early 2000’s, with the City housing 9 of the 10 largest hotels in the world at the time.
In the early 2000’s, when Las Vegas began to enter a tourism slump, they tried reverting to their old roots, and tried to become the city it once was before the family focused Strip emerged. This slump might have had occurred due to the terrorist attacks on 911, making United States citizens choose local gambling locations over flying to Las Vegas. The city began offering less family orientated things, such as the introduction of the adult Cirque du Soleil show “Zumanity”, and the even changed the city motto to “What happens here, stays here”, to try and attract their original demographic, among many other things.
The Strip would continue to evolve, trying to maintain its edgy image, while also providing for children when they were brought along. This problem of what the strip should market itself as is still occurring and being looked into today, with tourism boards trying to figure out what to do about the situation. The University of Nevada Las Vegas has done research into the issue, determining that the Strip’s main attractions of gambling and nightlife, are not sustainable marketing tactics for their tourism.
The Show Girls of Las Vegas
The phenomenon of the French inspired showgirl in Las Vegas truly began in 1952 when entertainment director Jack Entratter’s first show featuring Danny Thomas premiered. Enthralled by the beauty and lifestyle these women led in advertisements in papers, audiences and actresses like Betty Bunch flocked to these stages to perform or just watch the act at hotels like the Sahara. The dresses alone costed $12,000 which when adjusted for inflation is $107,205.66 in 2016. Many Americans considered Las Vegas to be primarily a gambling resort when in actuality the entertainment industry plays a significant role in global marketing. Las Vegas wasn’t the only city in the United States that show girls were prevalent in. Cities like Miami, New York, and Hollywood put on similar shows as to the ones in Las Vegas. However, the modern day show girl survives only in Las Vegas which is affectionately referred to as a “time-warp museum of popular culture.”
Jack Entratter is often credited as the driving force behind the transformation of a small town in the desert to the massive entertainment paradise it is today. He spent his life living in nightclubs, and had an uncanny ability in acquiring talent for his illustrious productions. His role as entertainment director for the Sands hotel and the Copa Girl showcase allowed the artistic freedom break free from tradition. He decided instead of using show girls as entertainment during intermissions, he would make them the spectacle. Entratter was known for having a specific formula that he would apply when selecting applicable candidates for his shows, which he considered to be “the American look.” Entratter was focused on showcasing beauty rather than putting on a dance performance like his competitors aimed to do.
Art and Fashion
The costumes associated with showgirls are notorious for their complexity, brilliance, expense and provocative design. With the sole intention of emphasizing the sexual appeal of the women who wore them, costume designers took inspiration from French fashion and made the "showgirl" costume a creative outlets for their most extravagant creations in fashion and set design.
In the context of the tourism trade, the nature of the business lead to cut-throat competition. Casino shows competed for notoriety and audiences, which led producers and costumers to indulge in more and more outrageous and provocative shows that really put the sin in “Sin City.” Perhaps the pinnacle of this competition would be Harold Minsky’s introduction of topless dancers in his production. Nudity has always been prominent in the art associated with Las Vegas and the fashion associated with show girls is a testament to that. With nudity comes controversy and controversy breeds interest. Madame Bluebell, the founder and manager of the Bluebell Girls, defended the costumes by saying “Everyone knows our shows are tasteful and wholesome, and no one complains about exploitation. My girls ask to dance topless; it’s their choice.”
The implication arose that many of the performers and dancers were little more than “glorified, gussied-up call girls” when in reality many of these girls were enrolled in university in the pursuit of degrees and achieving careers outside of dancing while also establishing families. Las Vegas was a pioneer in pursuing economic equality for women and being a show girl was considered one of the best jobs a girl could have with all of the accommodations and steady work that came with it.
The “Folies Berger” premiered on December 11th 1959 at the Tropicana resort. In the beginning of the show girl era there was an immense pride in being a part of the production. The performers would often leave their makeup on after the show in order to be recognized in the lounges and bars around the strip. The environment during the 20th century productions from the 50s through the late 70s was a lot different in comparison to later years. The early years of the production are often remembered fondly as a time that the production team had a close family dynamic rather than the corporate feel of the modern era. This is attributed to the transfer of power of Las Vegas from the mafia to the mega-corporations of the 21st century. This transition also included the quality of performance conducted during the shows. In the early days the performers were only expected to be aesthetically pleasing and in the words of Bill Garbett “They couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time.” In the more modern productions showgirls are seasoned professional dancers.
The End of an Era
The showgirl phenomenon reached its zenith in the mid-1960's. As time went on, tastes in entertainment and art changed along with it. This change in popular culture left but two major show girl acts remaining: “Jubilee” and “Folies Bergere.” The last of the two, “Jubilee” had its final showing in February 2016. In the 21st century, much of the eroticism showcased in productions has been set aside for more family-friendly shows. Though the original showgirl era ended in order to make way for new shows aimed at new audiences, the impact on the art world is forever etched in the history of Las Vegas with the Showgirl Art Competition Exhibition hosted by the Nevada State Historical Society. The image of the showgirl is expected to remain a part of Nevada’s rich history of popular culture a long time. “You can implode hotels and sell off the contents,” Varney told The New York Times at the Reno exhibit’s opening, “but art won’t vanish. Art is forever.”
Las Vegas and Prostitution
Legislation was passed in 1971 that allowed for the practice of prostitution in almost all counties in Nevada. However this law excluded counties that had a recorded population larger than 200,000 during the previous census, so consequently, this meant that in Clark county (which contains Vegas), Washoe (which contains Reno), Douglas and Lincoln, prostitution still remained illegal. Because of this, one of the primary issues that the state of Nevada deals with is the concept of sex trafficking, and Las Vegas was deemed the thirteenth highest city for “high intensity child prostitution… where the average age of a child prostitute [is] fourteen.” Although it is hard to exactly know the number of sex trafficking victims because there is “no uniform method among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to collect data.” In addition, not only is Las Vegas known as a hub of sex trafficking, but it is also one of the highest states for violence against women, and the violent nature of “sexualized city culture make[s] it easy for sex traffickers to blend in and profit from selling women and children. Finally, with the legalization of brothels, the government requires the girls to be examined on a weekly basis and receive blood texting on a monthly basis. This may seem like a beneficial law for all parties involved, however, because the “prostitutes do not receive health benefits, they pay the full expenses… [and after all other expenses] this leaves many women earning only nineteen-to-twenty-one cents per dollar.”
However, it has been argued that the legalization of prostitution may not be the worst thing for Nevada, and that it has reduced sex trafficking and the violence against women. By taking the power out of the hands of illegal pimps and placing it in the hands of the state, which can regulate the practices within the legal brothels, it frees prostitutes from the threat of violence and provides a more hygienic outlet within the sex industry. In addition, as many as one third of Nevadans support the notion of legalizing brothels in Las Vegas, and the former mayor Oscar Goodman even “proposed a downtown red-light district or ‘little Amsterdam’… [with the idea being] that a regulated, visible sex industry would significantly minimize the need for and underground industry where sex trafficking can thrive.” Another benefit of having the industry of prostitution regulated by the government is it allows for the government to maintain the industry of commercial sex out of the public eye. Additionally, in Nevada, “the local governments impose licensing requirements on brothel owners and require the location of brothels to be kept off the beaten path, away from schools or churches.”
Situated in southern Nevada, Area 51, also referred to as Groom Lake, lies 90 miles north of Las Vegas. The military base measures six miles wide by ten miles long and operates as a federally governed airspace. With the Mojave Desert residing to its west, Area 51 boarders AEC Nevada Test Site, the center for nuclear weapons testing beginning in early 1945. Area 51 is part of the largest government-controlled land parcel in America, the Nevada Test and Training Range. This facility is unique to Nevada and there is no other facility like it in the continental United States. Area 51 sits just outside of the Nevada Test Site. Most of the activity inside is classified when active. The Nevada Test sites are home to over 1,949 detonations spanning across 30 test sites over the course of 47 years. The purpose of Area 51 was to advance military science and technology before any other foreign powers in the world. Everything on this site is restricted government land.
Area 51 is the primary testing location for American aerospace reconnaissance engineering. Conducting its military operations under heavy secrecy and remote surveillance, the base has been documented to have been the testing site for various innovative military aircraft technologies since the 1950’s. The Groom Lake airfield began operation in 1942 functioning as an air base during World War II and subsequent Cold War, playing a significant role in reconnaissance and weapons testing. These projects include the Lockheed U-2 spy plane, and the notorious project OXCART. Declassified information on the both the OXCART story and the Lockheed incident have since surfaced as CIA publications have emerged in recent years. These early projects, like Groom Lake, the U-2 spy plane, and A-12 OXCART spy plane were all declassified yet the name Area 51 on miliraty reports is always blacked out. Government projects have been hidden for decades all in the name of national security.
The U-2 was a specially designed reconnaissance aircraft perfected by Richard M. Bissel of the CIA. Becoming an operational piece of military equipment in 1956 and used as a primary source of intelligence gathering during the Cold War, the U-2 was revolutionary reconnaissance technology. Despite initial testing’s confirming its trackability on radar, it remained in military operation until May 1st 1960, where pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while in Soviet air space. After this travesty, significantly more resources were put into design improvement. Bissel continued to design an aircraft that would build on the imperfections of the original U-2, and concluded that increasing the aircrafts speed and maximum altitude would make it next to impossible to track on radar. The funding needed to turn the theoretical craft into reality was exceedingly expensive and getting approval would require the backing of high level military scientists and officials. After receiving government funding in 1958, the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation began conducting anti-radar studies, aerodynamic structural test and preliminary engineering designs on the revised U-2 aircraft. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation was selected as the manufacturer and given the go ahead in 1960 to produce twelve aircraft.
Thanks to timely development and its revolutionary reconnaissance ability, U-2 flights revealed information swinging the arms race in Americas favour. Intelligence was collected exposing the Soviets preparedness for intermediate attacks against Europe than a long-range attack on the United States. Knowledge of the USSR’s relative military strength was instrumental in preventing a full-scale war.
Preceded by project GUSTO, Project OXCART, was the name given to the program that would continue to develop and improve on the subsequent models of the original U-2 aircraft. Plagued with its fair share of design problems, Lockheed and its engineers primarily faced monetary limitations. Materials for the construction of the aircraft were expensive and scarce. The aircraft’s imaging system remained a highly difficult component to perfect. Once a final design was submitted for manufacturing, Lockheed’s head designer, Clarence L. Johnson, renamed Lockheed’s original U-2 design the A-12. Pilots to operate the aircraft were also a scarce commodity. Along with having to meet the strict physical criteria of under 6 feet and 175 pounds, prospects were required to present strong mental fortitude and stability to operate and harness the power that the A-12 would posses. Upon completion of the aircraft, a testing location was required to test the machines newly developed technologies. As many aircraft bases were considered during this selection process, Area 51 emerged as the most suitable due to its unrivaled security and remoteness. Construction at the newly selected airbase base commenced to implement a runway large enough to accommodate the A-12. On April 30, 1962, after numerous delays, the A-12 took to the skies for the first time. The craft was reported to have been extremely stable and highly responsive. The program ceased operations in 1968, lasting a span of ten years. Declassification of Project OXCART occurred in 2007.
Conspiracy and UFO’s in Popular Culture
Plenty of controversy exists amongst skeptics and conspiracy theorists surrounding Area 51. In popular culture and mainstream media, accounts of alien and UFO sightings have become synonymous with the military base. Countless television, radio, and movies have depicted the base as the center for extra terrestrial activity, more specifically, Area 51 and the Roswell incident. With insufficient evidence and speculatory claims, Area 51 remains an enigma to believers and skeptics alike. According to a CIA study on UFO's, declassified in 1997, the Air Force had originally been running two programs. One was called Project Saucer, later changed to Project Sign, and the other was an Air Force public relations campaign called Project Grunge. Project Sign was established to investigate Air Force UFO concerns and the other was intended to show the nation that the Air Force had no UFO concerns.The point of these projects was to convince the public that UFO's were nothing unusual or extraordinary.These projects did little to appease the public as the nuclear arms race was in full effect and fear of the end of the world was high. Although there has been no proof confirming UFO authenticity, the United States Air Force conducted a series of investigations in the late 1940’s to late 1960’s called Project Blue Book. Project Blue Book’s primary function was to research and investigate the legitimacy and potential national threat UFO’s may present. From 1947 to 1969, 618 sighting were reported in Project Blue Book, and to this day, 701 of these remain unidentified. After the termination of Project Blue Book in 1969, the United States government concluded UFO sightings did not present a threat to national security and there was no sufficient evidence indicating that the unidentified aircraft were of extra-terrestrial descent. There are several universities and professional scientific organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which have considered UFO phenomena during periodic meetings and seminars. Many of these sightings during the 1950’s and 1960’s have been linked to the U-2 and A-12 aircrafts.The U-2 was being repeatedly mistaken for a UFO Dates of UFO sightings and respective aircraft testing are consistent with one another. These public hysterias were unwelcome to analysts but it was something they had to address. CIA officers had more important issues to deal with. Given their revolutionary design and flight at unprecedented altitudes, it is apparent how they would have been perceived as ‘otherworldly” by an observer. The extra-terrestrial phenomena surrounding Area 51 has transcended into mainstream culture and is embedded in the fabric of Nevada’s culture. The National Atomic Testing Museum features an Area 51 exhibit located just northwest of Las Vegas.