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June 23, 2008

The Via Media...in Vegas, baby!

This summer, the Episcopal/Anglican church is holding its every-10-years-lets-review-ourselves Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, while a separate conservative group of mostly African and South American Anglicans are meeting on their own in Jerusalem as a protest against the western church's acceptance of homosexual pastors. These separatists feel the need to fight against the serious problem (as they see it) of homosexuality before it takes their church over.

Because, really, what is faith without sex?

And what is Vegas without faith?

As I wander in boiling Sodom (a lovely 107 degrees outside, but who goes outside?) looking at the overweight casino men praying on a good hand, and at the sparkly hookers adorning those men, I find myself wondering yet again about why people need what they do, and about what awful things can spring from expressing those needs.

On a scale of visual awfulness, the local art in Vegas is fairly high up there. There are on display showgirl fantasies in soft oils, bright digitally enhanced blobs of color printed on canvas, over-bright photographs of Strip kitsch, and shiny copper paint on boards that express the artist's "abstract meanings". The hotel art is mostly color blobs or forms generated in what I imagine is the Vegas Discount Abstract Hotel Art Factory (Free Gold Leaf with Bulk Framing Orders!) The restaurant art can be sensuous (cleavage, ass, ripe red peppers that look like cleavage...or ass), making dinner a mental cacophony of Freudian half-theories. One attempt to enhance the accessibility of "real" art here, the Guggenheim extension at the Venetian, closed due to lack of interest more than a month ago.

So, one is left to people watch and to wonder about needs and what they get you into. The need to express oneself as an artist in such a completely imaginary place seems to result in rather cheesy, rather conservative artwork. The expression of other needs - - to gamble, smoke, screw, drink, what have you - - all take place in a city that is cleaned, pressed, repaired and repainted each day in readiness for the next night's happenings, so one can never actually see the results very clearly. And that is the power of conserving the norm, of maintaining a public "middle way" in Vegas. Seeing it in action it is truly remarkable. It is Westworld, it is Victorian England, and there are no consequences. You just go on and do what you do, whatever that need may be, and we will work to maintain the slot-machined-filled communal order that allows each to his own. The placid subject matter of the art will not offend, either.

In Canterbury, they will be wringing through what they believe regarding homosexuality, and in Jerusalem the offended Anglican separatists will be shouting out against it - - but participating in both meetings will be gay pastors, and polygamous pastors, and adulterous pastors. Silent pastors. It seems the separatists are forcing the church to act in alignment with specific thoughts about sexuality, and the sacred.

Yet Anglicans have built the modern church on the idea of the via media, the idea that public lives and actions should conform to the church standards, but that conformity of thought is not required. Over time, of course, one infects and informs the other...resulting now in a stated need that the church narrow itself to align with historically/socially accepted norms, that participants in the church all think the "right" way. And so it is in Vegas - - with all the shiny and color and hypnotic casino bells (and belles), everyone winds up thinking Vegas, and praying in the same way everyone else does, sooner or later.