The Vegas post from last Friday spawned one of my favorite comments of the many thousands that have been posted here over the years:

Vegas is what people who have never seen America, or who have never seen an America that exists past the nearest Circle K, imagine when they think of "having a good time." All the things one can do in Vegas–Eat, Drink, Gamble, Watch Sump'n Purty/Dirty–these are not recreations of substance, but of quantity. They appeal to people who literally have no idea how to have a good time, because either their culture or their income doesn't allow it. Vegas offers them plenty of what they've been *told* is a good time–or a *lot* of what they've had to made do with in order to have a good time (booze and carbs and throwing a little money away at the OTB parlor.) If "Steak" is good, "All You Can Eat Steak" is better. If pissing away a few bucks on the Lotto is good, pissing away the mortgage at the slots is better.

But what I'm aware of in Vegas is how *forced* it all seems–how the people there are actively *trying* to have a good time. Because they came all this way, and spent all this money, and yet somehow, *somehow*, it's not quite filling the emptiness inside. So they overcompensate, with "Wooo"s, and drinking-dares, and forming into roving gaggles. But you can see it in their eyes, especially when they're briefly stuck–waiting for the elevator–in line at the buffet–at one of the endless lights on the Strip's crosswalks. They're worried that everyone else seems to be having such a good time, and what's *wrong* with them?

This struck me as an excellent description of Vegas and why I find it more sad than fun. Then on Monday of this week I had the – misfortune? luck? blessing of divine providence? – to visit Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Briefly. But for far too long. And I staggered away from that experience feeling certain that the core of this comment is absolutely correct; Americans are so psychologically off kilter that many of us do not appear to know how to have fun. We follow the rest of the herd and do what Everyone describes as fun. I am unsure what conclusion is reached at this point – Do we convince ourselves that we had Fun even though we didn't, or do we conclude that Fun isn't actually fun and resolve that it's not worth the effort? – but I do know that you'll never see a more confused, disappointed, and defeated mass of humanity than you'll find wandering the streets of American tourist traps. At least Vegas has liquor everywhere.

If you've never been to Gatlinburg, you probably have. It goes by lots of different names in this country. Myrtle Beach. Wisconsin Dells. Panama City. Niagara Falls. Williamsburg, VA. Ocean City, MD. The Bourbon Street part of New Orleans or the Wharf in San Francisco. Any place that looks like a state fair (where anything can and will be deep fried or airbrushed), smells like an outdoor toilet, boasts establishments that feature the terms "Ripley's" or "Guinness Book of", promises "handcrafted" things from "natives", and where the local economy appears to be based entirely on t-shirts bearing the name of the town, the Confederate flag, Jesus, or all three. If you like watching middle aged people who have trouble walking roam aimlessly (with their sullen, miserable children) while gorging themselves on fudge, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and corn dogs, book your visit today. Otherwise, pass.

As a former Midwesterner I have taken many trips through Wisconsin Dells, to which Gatlinburg is strikingly similar (albeit without the Jesusy overtones, which the Dells replace with "Indian" kitsch). Other than Noah's Ark, which I suspect would be fun even as an adult, I was always struck by how not-fun it was. And I was not alone in that regard. My parents looked miserable. Everyone looked miserable. Everyone looked like they were about to start screaming, pointing fingers, and accusing each other of dozens of personal failings at any moment. It looked like the kind of place that pushed bad marriages into divorce and made kids realize that if this is Good Clean Fun then maybe drugs aren't so bad after all. Everybody simply went because everyone else went, and then presumably returned and told everyone at the office that it was great – the cheap buffets, the dingy motels, the tsunami of Chinese souvenirs – for fear of going against the prevailing wisdom. It's a great place to take The Kids!, thus ensuring that another generation will grow into adulthood with a warped, pull-lever-to-receive-pellet understanding of how to have fun and that another generation of Eastern European summer workers will experience America at its sweatiest and most miserable.

In closing, 45 minutes in Pigeon Forge made me want to join al Qaeda. If people honestly enjoy that place, we are beyond saving. Bring on the flood.

75 thoughts on “NPF: ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?”

  • Ever read "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" by David Foster Wallace? It speaks directly to this. He goes on a cruise where "your every need is met." At first, he's embarrassed that he isn't allowed to handle his luggage. By the end of the cruise, he's pissed that the A/C isn't just right.

    The problem with intensive "fun" is that effectively overloads your ability to enjoy it. You wind up on an escalator like some horrible addictive drug. You need more and more in order to sate your needs.

    As most people know, the secret to happiness would seem to be having your expectations and your existence roughly matching up. At these Megafunplexes your expectations can't HELP but outrun your experience.

  • Fear of going against the prevailing wisdom–and fear of admitting that they wasted a lot of time and money on a trip where they did not enjoy themselves. Like my dad always said when we went to Disney World or somewhere similar, we were going to have fun whether we wanted to or not.

  • I've had the pleasure and terrible, terrible misfortune to have spent many weeks working in Las Vegas in support of the automotive industry. I learned the only way to survive a 10-day stint there is to isolate meself from the turistas and establish a totally normal daily routine. Wake, eat, work, eat, work, eat and cocoon in the room. Water. fruits and snacks in the room at all times. No gambling, two drinks on the last night in town, save the brain cells.

    MOst others I usually had to work with were exactly the opposite… they arrive in town and jump completely in the LV mindset of drinking and gambling heavily with no sleep in the first 48 hours. By the third day they were broke, perpetually hungover and completely useless on the convention center floor or at special events. Dumbasses, but sometimes they learn, usually not so much.

    Having said that, my wife and I were married in LV back in 1986, and we spent a few days there last summer to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Nice room at the (remodeled) Tropicana, only one night of casino crawling, but we did some realy neat-o stuff this time. We visited the Natural History Museum at UNLV and saw a spectacular display of mezo-American art and did some indian drumming… kitschy! We found the most awesome and darkest old-skool tiki bar, Frank's Tiki Lounge, and tipped a few (find it, do not miss!). Spent a few hours at an indoor mini-golf place called King Putt in Henderson… and it is ALL BLACK LIGHT inside the place, with cool music blasting, really fun. We agreed this latest visit was the most fun we'd ever had in LV (except for de honeymoon), with mostly alternative entertainment from the norm.

    Otherwise, I avoid Las Vegas like the plague.

  • Awww. Quit being so harsh on us Americans. Tourist traps are the same the world 'round. Part of the problem is that no one wants to admit that this holiday they've saved and planned for sucks.

    When I was a kid, we went to some known tourist traps, but we all were completely aware of what was coming and what to expect. So we went, reveled in the tourist trap cheese, watched people and enjoyed ourselves within the parameters of the location. We also usually sought out the non-tourist sections of wherever we were. Of course, part of our ability to enjoy it probably had to do with the fact that we lived in a tourist destination, albeit not so much of a traditional tourist trap, necessarily. I think when you live in a place that has actual tourist traps, you are able to put the whole nonsense in perspective.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    The thing is, some of these tourist traps might be fun for a day or two.
    Instead, people center their whole vacations around them, and stay there exclusively, because they were told how much "fun" the place is. And, "Dammit, we'll stay until we have some fun!"

    Our parents were part of the 'keeping-up with the Jones's' mindset.
    Today, it's,"staying a step-ahead of the Jones's."
    If they build a 4,000 sq. ft. house, you have to build a 4,200 sq. ft. one.
    If they go to Vegas for a week – you have to top them and go for 10 days.

    Whenever I ended up in one of these towns for business reasons, I looked around for OTHER things to do, places to see.
    America's a pretty country. And there's usually some interesting things to see anywhere you go if you keep an open mind.

    Or, if you're stuck in one of those places, pretend you're either a Zoologist or a Sociologist – and just watch the people. You can learn a lot about them, and yourself, by observing the human herd-mentality.
    That's why I'd lik
    e to go to a Republican National Convention – except, I'd be tarred and feathered, and then stoned to death (and not in the good sense of being "stoned," either…).

  • Xecky Gilchrist says:

    I wonder sometimes if at least some fraction of nerds and geeks are people who *do* know how to have a good time – e.g. through really dedicated study of things they like – but since it doesn't conform to the dudebro ideal of "fun" they catch a lot of shit for it.

  • Xecky Gilchrist says:

    (Oh, and if you *do* find yourself in Las Vegas, there are some genuinely cool things to do, as Oblio says. Last I was there I went by the Pinball Hall of Fame and had a good time reliving some 1970s arcade memories.

  • I think there has been some broad over-analyzation of Las Vegas these past two weeks. Most Americans are a pretty beaten down lot. Tits, booze, and a little excitement can brighten anyone's day. And if you are against tits, booze and excitement you are a fucking Commy, Nazi sympathizer or some such thing.

  • Rodeo Gonszalez says:

    This is the dumbest thing I have read in a while. You saw no problems in declaring "I do not find a small sample of the overall experience of an event/location fun, therefore everyone who does is either faking their enjoyment or if said enjoyment is genuine, then that is an example of why our country is doomed"?

  • My parents are big fans of each of the places you've mentioned. I don't think it's really about income. They have plenty of money to do "better" things. They are also people who have done more adventuresome things at earlier points in their lives.

    The appeal is all about consumerism/consumption. The gambling or the "attractions" are just excuses that bring the outlet malls and chain restaurants to the same place. The real point is to not be at home or at work and also not be investing anything other than money to the amusement process. It is comfortable, familiar and not "home".

    It is also clearly not your demographic. It's a place for young kids and old adults.

  • I'm probably going to get in trouble for this, but whatever.

    I work security at conventions – by which I mean anime, sci-fi, comics, that sort of con. I have never attended these sorts of cons as a "civilian" who pays the $30+ weekend badge price and actually does what you're supposed to do at a con, because… it just doesn't sound fun to be on the other side of the equation. People ask what you do for fun at cons, and… for me, the fun is in problem-solving and making sure everything goes smoothly. I don't think it'd be fun to pay full badge price to wander around what's effectively a targeted shopping mall and sit in on some panels.

  • Thank you so much for this piece. I could have sworn I knew when I was having fun, but apparently I was wrong. Can anyone suggest activities that have been cleared by the "right" people, so that I can finally enjoy life?

  • Four thoughts on this excellent post.

    1) I can't help but think of Richard Sennett's classic "The Fall of Public Man," in which he blasts modern society basically for producing generations of pathological narcissists. His definition: "Narcissism is an obsession with 'what this person, that event means to me.' This question about the personal relevance of other people and outside acts is posed so repetitively that a clear perception of those persons and events in themselves is obscured. This absorption in self, oddly enough, prevents gratification of self needs; it makes the person at the moment of attaining an end or connecting with another person feel that 'this isn't what I wanted.' Narcissism this has the double quality of being a voracious absorption in self needs and the block to their fulfillment."

    One clearly sees this sort of narcissistic behavior in all these public spectacles. They all have in common the denial/destruction of a truly public/communicative world in favor of the promotion of private pleasures and fulfillments. Not that there's anything wrong with that in and of itself, but it is easy to see how that can easily become pathological.

    2) I am further reminded of Corey Robin's discussion of Burke's conception of the 'sublime' in his book "The Reactionary Mind." Basically, because I'm too lazy to find the quotes, Burke sought extreme pleasures, fears, and the like, because the sublime alone was capable of shocking man awake. Later in the book, Corey Robin writes this revealing passage: "Even as [Burke] wrote of the sublime effects of pain and danger, he was careful to insist that should those pains and dangers "press too nearly"… that is, should they become realities rather than fatasies… their sublimity would disappear… Sublimity of whatever kind and source depends on obscurity; get too close to anything, whether an object or experience, see and feel its full extent, and it loses its mystery and aura."

    I would like to suggest that there may be something that speaks directly to the conservative/reactionary experience that is mirrored in Vegas – the constant and ever-disappointing search for sublimity.

    3) Your quote "It looked like the kind of place that… made kids realize that if this is Good Clean Fun then maybe drugs aren't so bad after all" is really to the point. I laughed, then realized it was totally freaking true. In my childhood experience, anyway. Most children are smart and creative enough to know that there must be something, anything, better than that shit show, and unfortunately many of them find drugs rather than some more constructive form of world-building.

    4) What all this may mean is that there is in fact a Vegas-Narcissism-Conservatism nexus that we have only begun to address. One can certainly see similarities between the narcissistic lust for sublime pleasure that prevents its own fulfillment and the conservative lust for cleansing sublime political phenomena that forever disappoint and prove the unworthiness and shabbiness of the American experience.

    And it is this musing that lends new credence to Hunter S. Thompson's manic pronouncement that the American Dream had, in fact, been fulfilled at the nightmarish Circus Circus in Vegas. Somewhere in that garish abomination in the middle of the desert lies a real glimpse into the heart of America's vain striving inward towards the unattainable. That Thompson was fixated on both Nixon and America's desperate decadence shows he understood the connection. That he found their unholy vortex in Vegas shows that, like all great journalists, he knew where to look for his target.

    And that's all I have to say about that.

  • Let's all take a deep breath and think about this. Anyone who's going to Vegas (or Disney World or Universal or Myrtle Beach or Panama City) and expects anything other than what is there is aching for disappointment.

    Apparently that's a lot of people given these comments.

    I haven't been to Vegas only because my wife isn't interested and I prefer her company to all else. But I'd like to go. I have visited many of the other places talked about. I very much enjoy Niagara and Buffalo. Adding to the list: Old Orchard Beach, ME. Salisbury Beach, NH. Provincetown, MA. The list goes on.

    Like any Zen experience you must enjoy it for what it is and not what you want it to be. If you don't like hot dogs or all you can eat or aging-yet-not-quite-dead Elvis Presley imitations then don't go to these places. They are not for you.

    But Vegas and the other places are just like the gladiators and the romans, minus the ugly blood and guts. It's Hammer Films. It's Grand Guignol. It's absurdism. It's Andy Warhol. It's Ringling Brothers. It's Picasso drawing a cartoon on a check so it will never be cashed. It's everything we like to think is large writ small and everything small writ large.

    What's not to enjoy?

    Now, if you go there thinking this has anything to do with real life you have problems.

  • As someone who went to the Dells often, but never to a waterpark, it strikes me how much these types of places have changed in the last 30 years. Niagara Falls, Wisconsin Dells, Gatlinburg all seem to be the type of place which is near beautiful outdoor scenery, which is a great home-base if you have kids. No need to bring all the camping gear half-way across the country – we'll just get a cheap hotel room and grab some diner food every night. You don't need much more than that, because you'll be hiking or rafting or enjoying a natural wonder of the world all day. The Ripley's Museum will be okay if it rains.

    What I'm struck by now is that tourists go to these places for the "rain day" activities and never set foot in the State or National Parks that these towns are next to.

  • I'll tee up to be eviscerated, too but here goes…
    I like Ocean City MD. I grew up in Maryland, enjoy the beach, enjoy swimming, body surfing, boogie boarding, building sand things, all of that. I enjoyed it even more when I went down with friends, which we seemed to every time we went. I like mini-golf, it's fun. I like that you can spend all day reading a book, sleeping, jumping in ocean water to cool off and doing simple water sports that take no talent and then repeating that process. I would do it a lot more if I could afford to a lot more. My high school girlfriend ended up making a lifestyle out of it, plus learning a water sport that does take talent (surfing). Trust me she's not faking it, not for 16+ years long after it makes you cool (she's 34 now).
    The difference between that and Vegas is that a lot of Vegas is enjoyable because the customer service kisses your a$$ so impressively, which by extension kind of makes it a douchey activity to enjoy. By extension, the beach is just liking water for whatever reason, and I don't get why I'm a bad person if I like it. I'm sorry it's not cool or cultural, but I legitimately enjoyed it, not because I had to. I didn't grow up to be conservative and maybe I'm too dumb to get why, but I always had fun there.

  • This reminds me of your stupid column on radiohead a few months back. Are you ever going to realize that just because people enjoy something you don't, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with them?

  • As soon as you realize that moral relativism is a sign of intellectual laziness, and some things are objectively terrible regardless of how much "people" like them.

  • It looked like the kind of place that pushed bad marriages into divorce and made kids realize that if this is Good Clean Fun then maybe drugs aren't so bad after all.

  • I grew up in a tourist town (Whitefish, Montana) and as a result, I hate all pseudo Western shiny bullshit towns that sell overpriced designer trout pizza and all the art galleries have "Native American" art done by white East coasters who moved to Montana after watching A River Runs Through It or reading On the Road. I hate Jackson Hole, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Sun Valley and on and on and on and yet people rave about how "pretty" and "authentic" and "fresh" those towns are. But they're not. They're all so fake, so shallow, so annoying. There's nothing fresh about them because they're all someone who never grew up in the West's idea of what the West is distilled through the filter of Hollywood and Louis L'amour novels.

    But I love, love, love the dirty of Bourbon Street (I lived in Louisiana for 7 years while earning my doctorate). Vegas is boring if you don't gamble and can't afford the shows, but it's still worth a day. The Dells are like Wall Drug in SoDak, so disappointing after the build up (I live in Milwaukee now).

  • "It goes by lots of different names in this country. Myrtle Beach. Wisconsin Dells. Panama City. Niagara Falls."

    Niagara Falls!

    Slowly I turned…..step by step…..inch by inch…..

  • Ed: thank you for the compliment/callback of/to my comment. Said comment and your own outstanding entry (Shane nailed the line that made me yell to my wife that she had to hear this) appear to have enraged all the right people. To them I say this: Recognize that yes, we are saying that you're an asshole for enjoying objectively craptastic stuff. Because, and stay with me here, you *are* an asshole for enjoying objectively captastic stuff. But–and hang on, because this is key–so am I. So is Ed. So is everyone. We all of us enjoy stuff that we really, really should not–INTERVENTION and COPS! I adore them! And I'm a horrible person for doing so! And I'm OK with that! Yes, there's something wrong with liking Vegas and Radiohead. But it's not any more wrong than liking the shit that we like. Feel free to point out that the shit that we like is shit, it if makes you feel better–I will own up to it cheerfully. But in any case, just own your assholery like the rest of us; your blood pressure/stomach lining will thank you for it.

  • Desperation to have fun is everywhere. Every bar. Every movie. Every tourist attraction. And it's related to the hatred of hipsters. Yes, hipsters have the same soulless pretentious douchenozzles as every other subgrouping, but the idea that they have fun being an underemployed photographer/dj/craft artist with expensive thrift store fashion and fixie bikes is too much. It makes people question their own priorities and find themselves lacking.

    Or they say "at least he's not a goth."

  • I'm reminded a bit of the family reunion: anyone who spends even one second at a family reunion asking why some family members don't visit should be stripped naked, have zipties placed at wrists and ankles, be put in a ditch and then covered with a combo coating of rabid mole rats and barbecue sauce.

    People can be a pain in the ass everywhere. Did you know Burning Man is too big now? It's not as exclusive as it was when it was half the size? Well, kill yourself then so there aren't as many people determined to make sure I share your shitty cathartic moment of Zenlessness. And if I decide to see Jane's Addiction this Summer, it won't matter to anyone but myself that I first saw them for $5 in some basement place, so I'll just let everyone else enjoy the show on their own terms, just like me.

  • I can't reflect on my family's annual Myrtle Beach vacations without remembering the signs reading "WE HAVE BIG JOHNSON SHIRTS!" That might be where it all went wrong for me.

    Vegas is amazing if you spend your time there in museums and pawn shops.

  • tourists go to these places for the "rain day" activities and never set foot in the State or National Parks that these towns are next to.

    In Myrtle Beach for a convention and despairing of my plight, I resolved to spend the day exploring the nearby state park. It was roaring with mosquitoes and flesh-eating flies. I retreated to a beer-and-chowder establishment next to a miniature golf course.

  • I call this McCulture: that is, the tendency on the part of many Americans to want to make their culture as hygienic, artificial, plastic, and soulless as a McDonald's restaurant. One example of this is the faux "Olde English pub" and other such "theme bars"…..

  • So I hate Vegas. But I still have a great time every time I go. I have to go to Vegas because they have conventions there I must attend. But the people (at the bicycle show, for instance) are still my people. And that's where I focus.
    Most people haven't figured out how to rise about the trappings of where they are and just enjoy the people they're with.
    Alcohol helps, too. Don't let me sound too preachy… alcohol helps.

  • I make my own culture and bring it with me in Tupperware to maintain freshness says:

    Best part of Pigeon Forge? Indoor skydiving. Also, the Lodge Factory Outlet store in Sevierville (just outside PF). If you need a 17-qt dutch oven for less than a hundred bucks, look no further.

  • I lived in Williamsburg for about a year. It really is a nice place, with stuff to do beyond being a dumb tourist. It's really up to the individual to pursue history, antiquity, the research thereof, etc. The best part was exploring when the tourists weren't flooding the area, so go figure.

  • J Dryden, how does the line go? something like I don't think that word means what you think it means. I don't know what your definition of asshole is, but I'm sorry enjoying radiohead or Myrtle Beach does not make you an asshole. The problem is not in hating tourist traps, or telling people that you think Vegas sucks, the problem comes when you make the leap that anyone that likes those things are somehow a lesser human being for liking those things. Hating on people, deriding people for their innocuous entertainment choices, deciding people aren't smart enough to know whether they are having fun, or acting superior because you don't like something that others do which does not effect you in any tangible way, are the actions of an asshole. So, yes, in this case, both you and Ed are assholes.
    The fact that the Vegas post wasn't bad enough when it came to denigrating people because of their choice of vacation destinations, I find it interesting that the author decided to double down on his original piece of shit Las Vegas post by slamming everyone that goes to any such place. Including doubling down on the Stupid fat slob meme. (If you like watching middle aged people who have trouble walking roam aimlessly (with their sullen, miserable children) while gorging themselves on fudge, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and corn dogs)
    I was also struck by the absurdity, or would it be ridiculousness, of Ed's declaration that he was "always " struck by how not fun it was. Since you've been to the Dells multiple times, I imagine that included going as a child. Are we to believe that as a youngster you actually noticed anything other than your own tiny little world, and formed such adult ideas as; nobody seems to be enjoying themselves? Or maybe you were already a teen when you first went. Then I imagine your thought process was something like, This sucks; see, nobody is having fun. Perhaps this recollection is what informs your opinion today. If that is the case, allow me to offer you my congratulations on the evolution of your thought process all the way to that of adolescent boy.
    Because honestly that is the way you are acting. Like a pissy little high schooler that judges anything they don't care for as stupid, and worse anyone that enjoys those things are lame or gay or perhaps they are just stupid fat slobs.
    Because really is there anything more repugnant than people that have decided that they know what true fun is, and everyone else must be faking having fun. Who in that scenario do you suppose doesn't get how to have fun?
    So may I reiterate the point I made in the Vegas post, You are an asshole go fuck yourself. (noting of course that if you were able to do that you probably wouldn't have time to write a blog)

  • 16shellsfroma30aught6 says:

    Vegas was a lot more fun when I was a little kid and all the colors and activity was kind of exciting. As I have no interest in drinking until I can't see straight, setting fire to my already meager recreational budget or paying women to wave their lady parts in my face, it's lost its appeal in a big way.

    This is one of the best blogs on the internet, but having read for four years now, while I've never met Ed personally I think I can safely say he's one of those elitist assholes who hates anything popular. We all know one or two. If that's what it takes to help them feel smarter than most people, well, typically they are smarter than most people. Ed's hate-hard on for the whole of pop culture probably makes the blog funnier. Makes for a unique writing voice in any case.

  • Galtlinburg is, certifiably and without rival, the syphillitic asshole of the universe.
    But you left out the surreal part: At the edge of town it ends in one of the most beautiful forests. It's like an invisible wall has been erected to keep out the waves of shit. When you go into the national park you see dazed people walking around like they got lost somewhere between things that were breaded and fried and want to find some way out of this bright green monstrosity they've heard is called nature.

  • Omar has Gatlinburg exactly right… Use it for its air conditioning, hot tubs, cold brews and calorie dense food after you spend the entire day hiking through miles of wilderness losing track of how many waterfalls you've encountered. Anyone who actually spends the daylight hours there is doing it wrong.

  • You're leaving out the most egregious–the soul sucking, rapacious Mouse of Orlando, whose minions guilt middle class parents into pouring wheelbarrows full of cash into its gaping maw. As empty a family experience as can be had. Parents cheated out of their money, children cheated out of a quality famly experience.

  • I'll show you fun! I got two police dogs, a bite suit, and scrawny redneck neighbor kid. You can watch that shit for hours or until the bite suit is gone.

  • All the fun and truly interesting shit in the world is free and right outside anybody's door anytime – the always changing sky, a tree, a bug.

    Even Paris (like my t-shirt says) – just another bullshit town.

  • I love it when people come here and get all up in Ed's grill about being judgemental and elitist and mean. Especially when they include something along the lines of "If you don't like it, then just ignore it!"

    Physician, heal thyself! Or (alternatively) Arsehole, go fuck thyself!

    Only US funpark town I've visited is Niagara Falls, and Ed's description works for me. Yeah, the Falls were pretty amazing, and for a short time
    the kitsch value was high. But it got fairly depressing fairly quickly.

    Alsoadditionallytooaswell, I'm a Radiohead fan, and I had a great time arguing with Ed, Dryden and the rest over that post, but if you're still bitching about it now YOU ARE AN ARSEHOLE AND YOU ARE ALSO THE REASON PEOPLE HATE RADIOHEAD FANS. That post was not "a few months back", it was very nearly two fucking years ago. On a blog updated damn near daily. Get the fuck over it.

  • shit the bed. this is honestly one of the best blogs i've come across. not only does the posted vegas comment resonate profusely, but the commenters in this thread really have their shit together. who reads the comments on a blog? i can hardly ever stand them. here, i read them all. seriously. i heard about this place from john cole at he was right. this place is legit. kudos to the lot of you.

  • oh…except that weird shit at the end with radiohead references. that crap is lame. everyone else, kudos.

  • I haven't been in years, but it seemed mostly harmless to me – particularly in the fall when the leaves are turning and it's decorated for the holidays. It didn't hurt that the aquarium was better than I expected. But then I'm fond of unreal places and have no difficulty finding my own fun.

  • What Ed said about Pigeon Forge resonated with me. We went to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg with friends a couple of years ago. They love it so much that they've purchased a timeshare there. Do they spend time in the forest? No – they love the Ripley's, the Titanic museum, the science museum, etc. My impression of Pigeon Forge was that a Ripley's blew up inside a Cracker Barrel. Gatlinburg was much nicer if you ventured off the main strip – which we managed to get our friends to do after a few days. We went to a pottery shop that is owned by relatives of a friend. The potters have a piece in the Smithsonian. Our friends enjoyed that, too. (Much more than we enjoyed PF.) What we figured out is that we have different standards of "fun" than our friends, but we still love 'em.

  • Wow, I've never disagreed with you ever before on anything, but you dare insult Wisconsin Dells?!? It's on, brother!

    Every year all the boys in my class would take several trips to the Dells over the summertime. We would all get back to school in September proudly wearing all the Noah's Ark wristbands that we had accumulated over the course of the summer, which we would take great pains to keep from falling off over the intervening weeks or months. Social status was not in a small way influenced by how many times one had attended NA, and who had had the guts to ride the scariest rides, like The Plunge or (my personal favorite but now defunct) the Aqua Monster. Easily my fondest childhood memories were intertwined with the Dells and Noah's Ark.

    Yeah, there are tourist traps around but if you know what you're doing you stay away from that stuff. Any sign that says "Fudge" or "Moccasins" should translate to "Go Away".

  • As a world traveller I would caution people about searching too much for "authenticity," especially in the US. When you are from the US, you are LIVING American authenticity. Outside the US it's a different story. Most tourists in Moscow tend to see Red Square, the Kremlin, and maybe the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and old Arbat(which are in walking distance of the former two). If someone told me they want to see "authentic" Russia I would tell them, "No, no you don't." I've seen "authentic Russia", just outside of Moscow, break the will of Americans who had previously been working in villages in Southeast Asia.

    It seems to me when people talk about wanting "authenticity" they want to see people in developing countries behaving in a backward manner. They get upset to see the streets lined with electronics stores, discoteques, and so on. It's like they want these people to throw away their knock-off iPads and MP3 players, change into traditional dress, and do some kind of dance or chant so that Pwecious little snowflake from Wispennsylkantucky, travelling on her parents' dime, can have a life-changing personal experience. How DARE these people modernize and try to enjoy the same things I enjoy, despite the fact that I constantly claim otherwise!

  • I don't see mass-market tourism as a peculiarly American phenomenon, and anyone who has ever stepped over the threshold of Notre Dame de Paris and walked past the vending machines will know what I mean. There's almost no experience or location that capitalism can't traduce.

    And ersatz 'authenticity' is not just a feature of the tourist products marketed at the masses. I'd bet there's not a major tourist destination on earth that doesn't have resorts that are essentially plastic. Places like Cancun and Sharm el Sheikh and Dubai thrive on the kind of tourist who only wants to see a local when they want a drink/ food/ their room cleaned. Ditto for the golf resorts all over the south of Spain.

    I like pretty low-key vacations, that involve wandering around cities, eating, reading books and newspapers at street cafes/ in parks, looking at art, and listening to music. I know that at least some of my tastes are a product of my class, though, and it feels a little bit superior to be framing mine as 'more fun'. I'm not better than the people who go to the Louvre to hit the Mona Lisa/ Venus de Milo twofer and then go to the gift shop, or who took the Da Vinci Code tour.

    I think that a lot of our tourism, in a global sense, is environmentally unsustainable and culturally appropriative/imperialist. We've collectively turned some parts of the world into all-you-can-eat buffets of human misery, and if I never have to overhear another conversation on a plane about some guy's sex tour of Thailand, that would make me pretty happy.

    I guess, if I have a point, I want the experience of going to other places to be fun for the person who goes and for the person who makes them welcome, whatever that looks like up, to the point that it's harmful.

  • When I was a little kid, we went on vacation to northern Wisconsin with my grandparents, and generally my grandfather was driving his white over pink '58 Olds when we got to the leg past the Dells. I'd always beg to stop, and he'd growl, "You seen one, you seen 'em all!" as we roared past. He was totally uninterested when I protested I hadn't seen one yet.

    I didn't fully understand what he meant until I had kids of my own and was finally browbeaten into stopping at the Dellst. It wasn't the worst experience I've ever had, but it was certainly in the top 3. What saved it from being the worst was the trip on one of the Ducks, which I found lots of fun and fairly informative.

    As a grandfather myself now, I feel fully qualified to growl to my grandchildren as we hurtle past the Dells headed north that "You seen one, you seen 'em all."

  • I wonder how much of the issue has to do with the fact that Americans get one week of paid annual leave a year — if you're lucky to even get that. Even then most Americans try to avoid taking their annual leave. Why? You then appear as being not dedicated to the cause, or worse a slacker. You know what happens to slackers don't you? They're the first ones on the culling line when times get tough, or are passed over for promotions.

    Think about it, if you really want to go any where, you're going to spend at least the first week overcoming jetlag. Woo hoo!

    Even if you don't go any where, you're going to need at least a week to just get over being stressed.

    On average there's at least a week required to just to get over the jitters of "I'VE GOTTA BE DOING SOMETHING!!! NO! REALLY!! SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME DO NOTHING, AND I'M GOING TO GET SACKED BECAUSE I'M DOING NOTHING!!" Then maybe you can become exhausted, because wow! I'm relaxed! Then you can just chill.

    Instead, most people try to pack everything in to their one week a year.

    So many people would want to maximise their time off. The "we're going to have fun even if it kills us" mentality.

    If you think about it, all of these places have that same kind of "crap" for sale. Whether the weekend markets are in Portland, the Rocks Markets, Paris, Hong Kong or Thamaga. There's some kind of hand carved animal, local faire, or clothing available. To the outsider/tourist this is, "Oh! Ah! What the natives do!" In reality yes there are some markets that the locals actually go to, to get stuff as part of their weekly shop. However, it's closer to what Arslan says. I reckon this about sums up many things:

    @Ed: "As soon as you realize that moral relativism is a sign of intellectual laziness, and some things are objectively terrible regardless of how much "people" like them.

    Ah, and that is the 64¢ question isn't it? This is the question that Christians keep asking—though many put it as clumsily as Rick [NSFW]. Where is zero? What is the origin point for us to start referencing off of? As someone who has just finished studying GIS, which tries to establish "absolutes" so absolutes can be determined. It also must allow for subjective understanding. This is partly why a GPS system is fantastic for establishing X,Y values, but crap for Z. Where exactly does "sea level" start? It changes hourly, daily, and annually.

    >Sighs< Didn't want to do this but:
    "Wait, how is that word spelled again? I think its H-Y-P O go fuck yourself!!!"
    What? Hypoglycaemia? Hypochondria? Hypothermia? Hypodermic needle? That's probably the closest match as it's a penetrative instrument.

    Instead of turning your frustrations with literacy into aggression towards myself and others perhaps you could enrol at the Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.

    Oh wait. I had to read through a fair number of ad hominem attacks until I finally came to this:
    "Then, finally, I was criticizing the people that proclaimed to everybody how superior, and intelligent they were because they didn't participate in something they didn't enjoy. It reminds me of Ted Nugent, and how he brags about how he has never done drugs. No, he just gets his jolly's by killing shit and engaging in statutory rape."

    So you actually had a point to make? Unfortunately, you lost any credibility with your ad hominem attacks, and came across as a douche.

    Therefore IFF (If and only if) you had come straight to the final concluding sentence people would have: A) Taken you seriously B) had given pause to thought that maybe we are being judgemental douches.

    Instead, you continue to choose to prove yourself a douche.

  • Omar,

    You leave out the irony of Gatlinburg, that more and more of that beautiful forest is being carved up so that the fat slobs who go there can "escape to the country".

  • There's a good bit in Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, a kind of travelogue of him and a buddy trying to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail, where they've been on the trail for a week or so and are dying to return to civilization. So they go to the nearest town: Gatlinburg. Bryson narrates walking down the main drag and interacting with people in a diner in a way that perfectly captures what Ed's talking about. Bryson's hiking buddy doesn't really like hiking, and he can't wait to get out of Gatlinburg and back in the woods after a meal and a shower.

    Radiohead has made a lot of dreck, but they have a fair number of great songs too.

  • Tourist traps are the sort of thing you outgrow about the same time you quit hoping Mom's making frosting for dinner. Go to Mouse World: Cinderella's Castle, the central landmark of the whole experience, is hollow. That is perfection, right there.

    I read my daughter Anne Sexton, but the fairy tales didn't take. My daughter takes her children to Mouse World every chance she gets.

  • Xynzee Oh wait. I had to read through a fair number of ad hominem attacks until I finally came to this:

    Jeebus Xynzee do you not get the concept of making ad hominem attacks to people that were guilty of the exact same kind of attacks to illustrate to them how shitty they were being? I call it the reverse golden rule, treating someone the way that they are treating others. For the flying spaghetti monster's sake, I actually pointed this out in one of my comments on the Vegas post, and you still don't seem to get it.

    And by the way I thought that stopping in the middle of spelling the word Hypocrite and using the O first as part of the spelling of the word then transitioning and combining it with the phrase O go fuck yourself was actually pretty funny

  • I don't know that this is going to change anyone's mind about anything, but re: the statement quoted below, maybe the commenter is reading a bit too much into things, and there's a much simpler explanation–people just hate waiting for elevators, or in buffet lines, or at crosswalks. Who likes waiting around for things, amirite? So maybe people's frustration at waiting in the buffet line doesn't necessarily mean that people are experiencing existential angst.

    "you can see it in their eyes, especially when they're briefly stuck–waiting for the elevator–in line at the buffet–at one of the endless lights on the Strip's crosswalks. They're worried that everyone else seems to be having such a good time, and what's *wrong* with them?"

    On a more general front, let me also suggest that maybe people are a little bit more complex than the post(s) or most of the comments would have you believe. I half-heartedly defended Vegas last week because even though I know a lot of it is crap, I have fun when I go there. Like others, I was surprised to learn that I actually *wasn't* having fun in Vegas, but hey, the things you learn when you're reading the internet.

    Anyway, I'm writing this from vacation. I'm on a sustainable farm in Hawaii, with goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, ducks, and my wife, daughter, and sister (not all the same person, three separate individuals–this isn't Chinatown). Today I walked around in tide pools, snorkeled, and went to a place called the "End of the World". There were wild goats at the End of the World, and also baby goats. Who knew. Good for me, I know, but the point is, I can't imagine a vacation experience that's more different from my last Vegas trip, and although I may not be intellectually capable of understanding when I'm having a good time, in my head, at least, I'm having a pretty fucking good time.

    So maybe people aren't as stupid as Blog Ed or most of the commenting masses here seem to believe, and maybe at least some of us can appreciate different places for the different things that they have to offer, and maybe people who like Vegas aren't all mindless drones who don't understand how to have a good time, or what *is* an approved, appropriate good time, or even when we're having a good time.

    Bottom line, and maybe this is all the hippie organic goodness around me that's talking, but people, please, try not to be so judgmental. Mahalo?

  • I know pulling out a David Foster Wallace quote is sort of the liberal version of Godwin's Law these days, but he wrote a fucking amazing essay on this topic and the Maine Lobster Fest about 10 years ago.

    Here is the relevant bit:

    "As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it

  • Not sure why, but it looks like my comment got chewed up in the interwebs. Sorry for the double posting comment spam.

    Here is the rest of the DFW quote:

    "As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way—hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing."

    Here is the article link, the quote is from the end notes.

  • These sort of places have, for me, always been simply facilitators. the only fun I ever have is hanging out with my family and friends. If I can convince my family and friends to hang out with me in Pidgeon Forge, we really don't care if we are shooting pellets at a paper star to win a Lynyrd Skynyrd mirror – we only want to share the experience so we can make fun of each other later for wanting a Lynyrd Skynerd mirror and blowing $15 trying to shoot a paper star with a pellet gun.

  • Las Vegas has been the poor man's Hawaii for two decades, possibly more. I can only testify as one who observes and reports on conventions and similar waking nightmares. When _Tron_ was in theaters, AI and expert systems conferences inexplicably found their way to the most isolated of the Freak States, the one below and to the left of Alaska. If you'd suggested to a bank president that he should discuss networking and encryption in a crappy theme hotel in the middle of the Great American Desert, he'd have kicked you in the nuts and then pointed at you and laughed.

    Now it's the 21st century and 70% of LV people would relocate if they could. The most absurd Wallace and Grommit satire of over-supplied housing starts is still running with the pedal to the floor, while real estate goes (ahem) unsold. There are parts of the city where taxi drivers flatly refuse to take paying passengers, possibly by law, definitely because they don't want to be fired. A surprisingly large population of the middle class lives literally underground, beneath manholes, like C.H.U.D. who dry-clean showgirl costumes.

    Nobody would believe how much of the city is run by Mormons who barely keep one nostril above the water line and don't actually like Nevada that much.

    If the water were turned off, LV would be Mad Max territory in two weeks. The same goes for electricity. (Both catastrophes would switch off Los Angeles just as surely, except people could and would flee to the nearest stable ecology regardless of capacity. Fun and games!)

    I understand Las Vegas has some really cool amusement parks and theme eateries, but who really gives a shit?

  • We had a visitor from Germany 20 or so years ago. He wanted to see the "Ponderosa Ranch" (a TV's-Bonanza-themed attraction in the Tahoe area) and wouldn't be talked out of it. So we took him. It was a schlocky tourist trap that I would have experienced as a violation under normal circumstances, but there was something about this guy's apparently genuine enthusiasm for it. It became a silly lark. I condescended to go with it. It's a happy memory.

    Several years later, we were visiting friends in Kelowna, BC. They took us to the "Capilano Suspension Bridge" in Vancouver, an enterprise that could only have been inspired by the business model of the Duke and Dauphin from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was an anti-diversion

  • (continued, as comment was cut off)

    … It was an anti-diversion — a slow-motion theft — worse than an indignity, a touristic turning out. Why, oh why, was this mass of grinning rubes not forming into a seething, riotous mob? Is there no tar? Are there no feathers?

  • XjmuellerXjmueller says:

    I've been to the Dells, Niagra Falls, LV, and Gatlinburg. My wife is an east TN native and took me to Gatlinburg shortly after we met. As a Chicago native, all I could say was that it looked like the Dells, but with mountains. It's Generica.

    My take is if you like that sort of thing, have at it. If you live in Chicago and have a young family, but not much money, the Dells are a good vacation destination. For adults not willing to go to a strange city (NYC, Savannah, Seattle, Chicago, etc) to explore on their own, the relative safety and generic nature of Vegas, or any similar destination, is a comfortable choice.

  • @Margarita

    I'm quite afraid of heights. I got up my courage and walked across the Capilano Suspension Bridge (for those that haven't seen it think Indiana Jones).

    I then realized that the only way back was to go across it – again. I was not happy.

  • @Bears:

    What we're coming to is as Ed pointed out that there's a problem with "moral relativism".

    Are all things equal even if they do perceptively harm others? Eg. Ted's enjoying shooting things v. someone blowing the family house on a craps table. Saying, they knew the risks, made a choice and they lost doesn't quite cut it.

    Are all things acceptable? Just because someone enjoys something does not mean that it's good thing. For example there's a reality show here in Aus, called "RPA". It documents patients at one of the larger teaching/research hospitals in Aus. Is there a voyeuristic appeal? Certainly. What makes it different from shows like "Extreme Makeover"? Probably the handling of the subject matter. One is handled with considerably less sensationalism.

    What's the difference between "Real World" and "Big Brother". One seems to promote and encourage rather disgusting human behaviours. Today I found out about this:
    From what I can tell from anecdotal reports this is a horrible show and I don't think society will be improved by it. Just because someone can turn a dollar off it doesn't mean that it's good. The Apostle Paul states: 1 Cor 10:23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

    As a trite example, would you rather live next door to Al Bundy or Jay Pritchett? Whilst both in their own ways are oafish, the Jay Pritchett character ultimately aims towards a higher standard. I'd rather have a Jay Pritchett in my world over a Snooki.

  • I enjoyed this post for what it was: an Ed rant. I learned not to take his tastes seriously when I found out that he hated Genesis. Sometimes just reading someone slag on something is entertaining, even if you don't entirely agree with their opinion.

    As is usually the case with the best blogs, the commenters provide even more entertainment value. I'd read this blog even if there were no comments, but the reactions to the articles, and the reactions to the reactions, just keep the reading goodness coming.

  • It's a reasonable rant, but not particularly original. People have been bitching about tourists since forever. I'm sure I read an old Roman screed by some satirist about some tourists who go to Greece and wind up having forced fun in a tourist trap. So much for the cradle of culture. Then there were the Jerusalem natives bitching about the "stations of the cross" tourists who have to work down their checklist and relive The Passion, the whole ganza megilla. I think that was translated from the Samarian. Lord knows the Sumerians used to joke about the farmers coming into town to get drunk, get laid, gawk at the temples, and cheated out of their savings. We get our word clown from colonus or farmer which is roughly what the Romans called them.

    Japan had a long history of pilgrimages, and pilgrims are just tourists coming with their church group. Needless to say, they got ripped off ruthlessly, saw the cheesiest stuff in town and bought tacky souvenirs. Chaucer supposedly wrote a sequel to his Canterbury Tales in which his pilgrims actually made it to Canterbury and did the usual tourist things there, but there were so many books like that already his patron wasn't all that keen on it. I think they found a manuscript in the 60s and turned it into If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium.

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