‘The Old West in Modern Splendor’: Frontier folklore and the selling of Las Vegas

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Las Vegas is customarily seen as a postmodern city of fantasy and simulation, a place where history and geography scarcely matter. In this article I argue instead that Las Vegas might be usefully described as a frontier city. When civic boosters sought to first sell their town as a tourist paradise it was the iconography of the American West that captivated public interest. In a place that invented theming, the frontier represented the original blueprint. Even when Las Vegas moved away from a western aesthetic, it continued to subscribe to a frontier mantra. Its culture of gambling resonated with ideas of individualism, risk, freedom and adventuring, while the constant reinvention of the city pointed towards a vertical frontier to match Frederick Jackson Turner's horizontal rubric.

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