The sonic habitués of the Strip: listening in Las Vegas

posted on 03.05.2018 by Naomi Waltham-Smith

How has neoliberalism transformed the way we hear? This essay focuses on the way in which gamblers listen in the casinos of Las Vegas, examining how, in a paradigmatic example of the post-Fordist attention economy, casino capital captures the psychological and affective capacities of players. In an environment where every detail is purposefully designed to increase revenues, sound design plays a very important role in keeping players in their seats and increasing the length of time they spend playing, as well as the size and speed of bets. Against the backdrop of Bernard Stiegler’s analysis of neoliberalism as a “destruction of attention”, I draw upon two conceptual frames to analyse the modalities of listening produced on the Las Vegas Strip and to distinguish them from Adornian structural listening: (1) Martin Heidegger’s discussion of boredom and animal captivation; and (2) Félix Ravaisson’s philosophy of habit as it anticipates Catherine Malabou’s theory of plasticity.