Monday, February 18th, 2019

Sin city: Las Vegas and the culture of surveillance

Krysteana Scribner | The Free Press

Posted on October 27, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Sydney Donovan

With high-stakes gambling, legal brothels and quick and dirty Elvis-themed marriages, sin is a word often attached to the city of Las Vegas. However, one USM professor uses the word as an acronym with a more complex meaning: Security Information Network.

In the first series of English department lectures, professor Jane Kuenz spoke to a small audience last week on a  combination of two chapters in her upcoming book “Strip Cultures: Finding America in Las Vegas,” to which she acted as a collective author. The book studies an iconic site in order to learn about a cultural phenomenon and social practices.

The presentation took place at Glickman Library as Kuenz began by talking about how the mash up of the chapters were designed to illustrate the two complementary modes of surveillance: the overt variety of cameras, and the less obvious passive form of surveillance of data collecting and how both modes depend upon the digital infrastructure.

When asked what inspired Kuenz to tackle the subject of surveillance, she explained that her prior study of American literature and culture has given her the insight to see things that may have not been noticed before, declaring that we live in a time where we are in constant visibility.

“Anyone paying even cursory attention to what’s going on in the news, science, politics, film and TV, and what used to be called ‘everyday life’ understands that surveillance is the given of our time,” said Kuenz.

During her presentation, Kuenz also discussed how certain attractions on the Las Vegas strip make surveillance seem fun and even normal. The combination of safety and expertise tempts the customers of a few of the strip’s attractions: The Gun Store and CSI: The Experience, which are both attractions in Las Vegas that exploit our fears of surveillance. CSI: The Experience captures the fascination with the technologies that conceive of security in terms of access to the control of information in a world where personal identity in itself is figured as the secret accumulation of data encoded in systems where it can be measured, compared, and aggregated, while the Gun Store fantasizes about shooting the criminals of CSI.

Kuenz explained that students and faculty alike should be more aware of specific kind of changes that have been taking place, especially with new technologies.

“The point of using a place like Las Vegas isn’t that it’s so different from the rest of the country but that the same cultural phenomena are at large there,” said Kuenz.

It is easy to forget that we can be tracked on our cell phones, or by cameras, but Kuenz believes that everybody should become aware of how present surveillance actually is.

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