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Desert Companion

Media: Harpers

Alas, the prudes are still standing.

Something about the December cover of Harper’s — “Loving Las Vegas: What the Prudes Get Wrong About Sin City”— made us think the story would not only address what the prudes get wrong about Sin City, but would do it big, in a topic-grappling, prude-refuting way. After all, it’s the cover story, which suggests gravity. It’s by an acclaimed writer, novelist Colson Whitehead. And it’s in the unimpeachably serious Harper’s. Well, we thought, it’s totes time one of these brainy journals published a deep, analytical defense of Vegas! Get those prudes, Harper’s!

Then we read it. Took, like, 11 minutes. So, not that big. It’s an amiable account of a postcollegiate road trip Whitehead took with some friends in 1991, only a portion of which unfolded here. These are pretty much the core sentences that respond to the issue of what the prudes get wrong about Sin City:

“We go to casinos to tell the everyday world that we will not submit.”

“No, casinos are not out to destroy you.”

“Celebrate the gift of a place that allows you to be someone else for a time.”

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Alas, the prudes are still standing. These are 101-level Vegas insights, probably not news even to the tweediest Harper’s reader. But the real hitch is the way “what the prudes get wrong” cynically upsells the Vegas angle — the editors must believe it imparts a counterintuitive sexiness (brainy journal sticks up for Vegas!) to a rather slight Vegas story. Plenty of magazines do that; Vegas is always a good bet for making something “exotic.” We just didn’t expect it from Harper’s.