The Reflected City
Photo & Text by Cat Simril Ishikawa
Watching Part 2 of Joanna Lumley’s Japan show last night, most of which took place in Tokyo and featured Joanna admiring its forest of neon, I was reminded of the trip I’d made in early February to Las Vegas.
The signs are much denser in Tokyo and they don’t seem as programmed. I don’t know if people consciously choose different colors of neon than their neighbor’s display. It doesn’t look like it. In Vegas, I’m sure every color is chosen, the placement of each light and its reflective possibilities has been thoroughly planned.
Just as inside the casinos with their endlessly flashing slot machines, the lights are there for a purpose, to lure you in. As I have no interest in gambling, I had never compared the two indoor and outdoor lighting displays, but this time I was paying attention.
The windows are not only dressed to grab your attention, as are all department store windows, both windows and sidewalks are polished to magnify the grab. The streets across the vastness of Las Vegas Blvd feature clear plastic walls which allow you to see the lights on the strip and magnify them in reflection.
Granville Blvd in old Vancouver was also a sea of neon, but I know that only from old pictures. Vegas has a neon museum, a collection of neon signs from long-vanished hotels, but the new ones are even better lit. Walking the Strip at night is like being embraced by lights. In the daytime, the buildings reflect the patterns of the buildings across the street, and once you go indoors, the aesthetic onslaught is just as intense.
The light reflections are intentional. It took me seven trips to Vegas to notice to what an extent that’s true, but just like Disneyland’s vast planning, the reflections you see in Vegas are the reflections you are supposed to see. You are being marketed to, but you don’t have to enter the market. Because you are being led to a store doesn’t mean you have to buy anything. If the images are delicious, you can fill yourselves with them without subtractions from your wallet, or your soul. Is all the beauty there to appeal to convention goers, make gamblers feel less glum about their losses or to separate the winners from their lucky gains in expensive stores? It doesn’t matter. The visual pleasure of arranged flowers doesn’t depend on the beauty of the individual flowers so much as adding a new dimension to their beauty. Arranged reflections can be just as enlightening.