Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Las Vegas Runs on Luck

1 Comment

Can a city be a myth?  Originally, I thought Las Vegas would be an excellent myth.  Denotatively, it’s a city.  Connotatively, it represents glamor, sin, misogyny, wealth, and legions of other contradictory values.  But I think what Las Vegas perpetuates above all, what its business revolves around, is the myth of luck.

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Look at the famous sign at the entrance of the strip; we see bright lights, vibrant colors, and a sign with the bold words “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada.”  This connotes many things that I’ve already mentioned (oh, and the Hangover for those up to date on popular culture), but above all it connotes gambling.  Gambling depends on the sustained myth of luck that our culture has forgotten was socially constructed.  “In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically; it abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences,” Barthes writes (Red, 269).  Luck is the perfect example.  It’s so incredibly deeply ingrained into us as a natural belief that we use it as if it were the natural explanation for things.  

How often do people claim that they “just got lucky,” or wish you “good luck”?  Luck has so many uses in society that we don’t realize that it’s used, falsely, as a justification for everything from economic advancement (I’m so lucky to work here) to natural disasters (those people in Haiti were so unlucky).  It simplifies, reducing complex occurrences to a single “natural” concept that has taken on rampant use in our culture.  To separate luck out of our ideology requires prying, which is ironic considering there’s a somewhat common statement about not believing in luck.  

Storey, putting words into Barthes mouth, claims that myths “defend the prevailing structures of power” by “actively promoting the values and interests of dominant groups in society” (Blue, 119).  Luck is often evoked as an explanation for economic disparities; some people are just unlucky, and some people are very lucky and there’s not much we can do about it.  Or so we’re led to believe.  Luck acts as a nearly subconscious enforcer of class that justifies the existence of those in power by, in a way, absolving them of blame (I recognize that this is an over-simplified analysis, and that in reality many other things are attributed to why some people are in power and others aren’t).  This works, perhaps more effectively, on a smaller scale.  Think of an audition with two equally talented female singers.  One is conventionally attractive, the other one not.  The attractive one gets the part, and both recognize the reason was her appearance.  However, the attractive girl evokes luck: “I just got lucky” she claims in order to absolver her conscience of the lack of fairness that went into the audition.  

Sorry for the tangent, but I think it was an apt example (also it’s late).  I also think of the ways luck has incorporated itself into our idioms.  “Get lucky” can mean anything from having sex (often it’s appropriated by men and pertains to casual sex with a girl) to winning in a game of chance.  The term as applied by men to sex implies winning, as if sex was in fact an act of competition during which the man dominated the woman.  This ties back to defending the dominant groups in society, in which men reign.  

Finally, I’ll come full circle and tie luck directly back into Las Vegas’s flashy signage.  Luck creates the business of Las Vegas, quite directly.  Gambling is an act of chance, for the most part, and luck as a social construct creates the incentive to participate in such a risky act.  By claiming that lucky people can win money by spending their own, casinos use the myth of luck to create their consumer base.  Ultimately, luck helps enforce a dominant capitalistic ideology in such a way that we really don’t ever think about it doing so.  Such is the power of myth.  

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One thought on “Las Vegas Runs on Luck

  1. I really like this idea of luck as a mythology — but how do we get to luck *from that image*? How do we get from the first level of signification to the second? Need to unpack this a bit more.

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