"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 July 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

The Sheltering Sky


[This is a picture of a guy standing in front of the New York skyline. I haven't been to NYC in years, so I'm not 100% sure it's NYC. It could be Chicago or Tokyo.]

In a culture bred of manifest

destiny, on a sprawling piece of

land that we by golly had to

kick some native ass to get,

where has always mattered.

Travel - whether to a natural or

a cultural wilderness - can

signal willful degeneracy,

confusion, rejection, or maybe

just a search for something

unspecified but plainly

understood to be better; we go

somewhere we aren't from, and

that's who we become. Kerouac

went on the road, and so did

Humbert Humbert; Kit and Port

were travelers, while Tunner was -

a sly, knowing slur - a

tourist; Larry Darrell packed it

all up and headed off to India;

George Willard boarded the train

at Winesburg station and ended

the story. (Everett Ruess bought

a sturdy pair of shoes and

walked across the desert to his

likely death.)


Now, however, the world beyond

the horizon and the challenges

it represents have become

something equally American: a

retail experience. And getting

there has become precisely as

difficult, not to mention

precisely as meaningful, as

shooting over to Urban

Outfitters. The latest example

of the new and still expanding

farrago of the pseudogeography

infesting the United States can

be found in - brace yourself -

suburban Los Angeles.


[This is a photo of a paw. Actually, a cartoon of a logo of a paw print.]

Housed in a Chino mall, the new

American Wilderness Experience

is, as The Wall Street Journal

describes it, "a man-made nature

preserve that will be home to

160 wild [!] animals ...

combining a restaurant and a

boutique with an animal 'gated

attraction.'" For 10 US dollars,

visitors can tour re-creations

of California "deserts, forests,

mountains, valleys, and

seashores." (And you thought

that deserts and forests

included mountains and valleys!

As if! Better get down to the

mall for a serious study

session!) Sadly,

the shopping mall attraction

won't include a re-creation of

the truest California landscape,

the shopping mall. But maybe

somebody's working on that one.


The corporate parent of American

Wilderness Experience, New

York-based Ogden Corp., has

eight of the stores in the

works, representing an

investment of $100 million. What

makes them think that there's a

demand for faux forests and

ersatz Elysium? As the Journal

reported: "Ogden reasons that

modern consumers yearn to get

back to nature but don't have

the time. The average Grand

Canyon visit lasts 22 minutes,

[Ogden executive] Mr. Stern

notes. At American Wilderness,

he calculates the average visit

at about an hour, not including

eating and shopping." Just wait

until they factor in finding a

parking place.


[This is a photograph of The New York New York Hotel, in Las Vegas, complete with a replica of the Statue of Liberty. T. Jay stayed there once; it is the destiny of all Suck production people so I know my time will come.]

Natural wilderness isn't the only

place we've recently repackaged

in bite-size form, of course.

Las Vegas is the cultural center

of retail realty reality, with a

shrunk-down Paris and

teensy-weensy Venice coming soon

and a neat little New York

already open for business.

Caesar's Palace now adjoins a

rococo shopping plaza with a

fake sky so realistic it's

almost like the real sky it



The Journal sheds a little light

on all of this, quoting one of

those rent-an-expert consultants

that journalists call when they

know what they want to say but

need someone else to say it for

them so they can still be, you

know, objective and stuff. "What

we know," the consultant opines,

"is the public wants experiences

more than they want



[This is a cartoon of some flower-like, colorful psychodelia. I suppose it represents San Francisco. Today is my third day doing Suck prod. I kinda like it!]

The public wants experiences.

Previously understood to be

something that just kind of

happened as a part of life -

love, loss, vocation, avocation,

exploration, getting drunk off

your ass and smoking things that

Mom and Dad said not to, failing

and learning, and reading

smartass social commentary while

you're supposed to be working -

"experiences" are now understood

to reside exclusively in the

commercial domain, like potato

chips or new cars. Movies and

television have taught us that

life is highlights, and we're

anxious to join with media in

leaving the transitions and the

travel on the cutting-room

floor. Spend 22 minutes at the

Grand Canyon, and you'll see a

big ditch, some nice rocks, and

a chipmunk or two. (Plus, for

whatever reason, an

extraordinary number of

Germans.) Spend an hour at

American Wilderness Experience

and you'll see 160 different

kinds of animals. The value

added to the retail version is

the condensing: Enough with the

quest, already - let's get to

the part where we get the

fucking grail, you know?


It's no accident that fake

wilderness appears in the same

culture already being sold on

Prozac and Olestra; each centers

on the promise that pleasure can

be severed from effort and

consequence. And it can. The

result, though, ends up feeling

a lot like the episode of The

Twilight Zone about the gambler

who dies and goes to a casino

where he never loses: Oh, but

sir, this is the other place....


At least they take plastic.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers

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