Intro Presentation (click)


2011 Las Vegas Travel Course:

How business Transforms Culture and Society

(click on course name above to go to course website)


Business 479 Seminar with Andrew Gustafson 402-669-9846

Vegas blog from 2010

  Powerpoint for the Class       

Planned Pre-Trip Schedule (Wednesdays in Feb?):

Class 1:  5pm-7pm   Meet each other, go over syllabus and expectations, Watch History of Vegas video

Class 2: 5-700    Discuss Readings (On Vegas)

1. From Desert Oasis  2. Corporations and Megaresorts

Class 3: 5-700    Discuss Readings, Overview of who we are meeting (On urban development and vegas)

3. Company Town 4. Local Politics

Class 4: (If needed) overview of our trip, last minute issues.



  1. Students will understand how business has and does transform culture and society in Las Vegas.
  2. Students will thoughtfully reflect and write on some key aspect of business’ effects on society.
  3. Students will learn about the entertainment, fashion, and hospitality industries in Vegas.
  4. Students will understand key concepts such as consumerism, commodification, hyperreality, smart growth, etc.
  5. Students will have interactions with people in business, government, and civic groups to help them understand LV.


Course Requirements:

1. Attendance at 4 classes in spring

2. Full participation in the 1 week travel course

3.  A Presentation (photostory or audio powerpoint) to be put up on our website

4. An 8 page paper dealing with something from our trip related to business’ effect on culture and society.

5. Journal from our travel course

6.  1 Book review (3-4 pages) by end of semester.  Las Vegas Bibliography  

7. Review of 2 movies (2-4 pages) related to Vegas (Casino, 21, Bugsy, etc)


Questions to consider in your journals:           

    1. What are two examples of casinos tapping into the retail business in order to supplement revenues?  (Ceasars Palace, Venetian, or MGM would be fine examples)
    2. Explain how three different casinos provide examples of ‘hyperrealty construction’
    3. What are the main facets of business/ revenue generation for casinos?  How has that changed over the years?
    4. What are some of the key values which vegas promotes and emulates?
    5. How is Joshua tree different from Las Vegas and Los Angeles?
    6. Compare Hoover Dam to any other dam you know of.
    7. Explain 8 forms of hyperreality which you saw in Vegas
    8. Is the real estate situation in Vegas improving?  What is still necessary?


Tech questions:

    1. Do you have a digital camera for the trip?
    2. Do you know how to either take reduced pixel pictures or to reduce them so that they are more manageable for e-mail and storage?
    3. Do you have a laptop computer?
    4. Do you plan to take it on the trip?
    5. Do you know how to use either photostory or powerpoint with audio?

Description: Business is not a singular institution, but is the dynamic multifaceted conglomeration of multiple interests pursuing profit through product or service distribution.  In its wake, 'business' has a profound impact on the ways we think the goals we pursue, the 'norms' we consider normal, and also helps direct our interests and so, inadvertently, directs us away from particular values, goals and interests.  Insofar as business does this, business helps construct our culture and our lives. This course will explore the ways in which hyperrealities (realities created through media/marketing or other technology) have become a regular part of our world through the internet, cellular phone, artificial values of marketing culture, and unnatural cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.   We will thoughtfully reflect philosophically on these events in society, and this will help us to reflect on those issues as we encounter the hyperreal cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as experiencing the desert, devoid of hyperreal constructions.   Our time will be spent alternately between the Las Vegas Strip, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, Los Angeles, and the Mohave Desert.

This course is a business course aimed to help us see ways in which business transforms culture and society through development.  Business has a profound impact on society, including:

  1. The space we live and play in
  2. The ways we live our lives and spend our time
  3. The rural areas as development progresses outward
  4. Our resources insofar as more people cause new challenges for resource use
  5. The ways in which we spend our time at work—involved in business
  6. The ways our government spends its time and money


But there are subtle ways business affects our lives as well through advertising, media, fashion and entertainment industries.  Through these, business has an impact on our lives in these ways:

1.   What we think is worth pursuing (our values)

  1. What we think the Good Life is
  2. What we believe we need to be happy and have success
  3. The ways that we think about our own lives, our faith, our personal activities


This course helps us see the impact of business on society and some of the struggles involved in those arenas.   For example:


  1. Meeting employees and administrators from three of the main industries in Las Vegas and Los Angeles: Gaming, Entertainment, and Fashion
  2. Meeting city administrators and other planners who wrestle with issues of growth and  development
  3. Meeting people to help us think through the environmental impact of business and development. 
  4. Philosophers, Historians, Sociologists and Artists who can help us reflect on how the cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles have been molded by their industries of gaming, entertainment, and fashion, and how these cities have a larger impact on culture and society throughout the US and even worldwide. 


Consumerism can mean simply the theory that a progressively greater consumption of goods is economically beneficial.  But sometimes it is used to refer to the materialistic tendencies of our culture—the ways in which we gain our value or happiness through purchasing products (i.e., “shopping will make it all better”, “I am what I buy”, “I Shop, therefore I am!”   It can be quite helpful for businesses to encourage us to buy things, and helping us identify a product as a means of obtaining happiness is a key way of making us want to buy more and more.


Hyperreality is an alternate reality that sometimes takes the place of actual reality.  For example, when we visit the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas, the whole place is supposed to remind you of venice, but it is much better than venice in some ways-- the water is clorinated and clean (Venice's cannals are pretty dirty), its always bright and cheery in the venetian (venice can be kind of drab and dark some days), and there is always excitement and action going on (unlike real life, which has quite a few spots of fairly boring mundane spaces).  SO the Venetian, which is immitating Venice, is in some ways even better than reality. 

Another example of hyperreality might be Disneyland, which is an imaginary world of escape where we can forget the worries of the world and pretend we are in a different better reality. 

Virtual reality games present a sort of hyperreality as well.  But even marketing and advertisement does this for us-- think of particular brands, such as "Lexus" or "Gap" or "Abercrombie and Fitch" or "FUBU" or "Addidas" or "Applebees"-- each brand wants to elicit a whole web of ideas and feelings-- all the good vibes that go along with going out to Applebees, etc (sorry, maybe you don't like Applebees) or the notion of what it is to be the sort of person who owns a lexus, or who buys all their clothes at the Gap, etc etc. 

Whether it is through the development of Casinos or Disneyland, or even builds up brand names, business creates hyperrealities which affect the way we think about life, about what is important and worthwhile.  Hypperealities aren't bad necessarily, but they do affect us and how we respond to reality, and they are often invented and sponsored directly or indirectly by business.


Commodification: Commodification often simply refers to the process of giving non-market items marketable value through associating them with particular commodities.  For example, you can’t buy love, but you can be convinced that to show love you need to purchase a card, or a ring, or flowers.  You can’t buy happiness, but you can be convinced that you need to buy a lexus or a ring or the latest technology product to gain happiness.  In this way then, business can play a role in helping us identify particular values in particular products.  Technically, commodification is process that transforms the market for a unique, branded product into a market based on undifferentiated price competition.  Commodification can be the desired outcome of an entity in the market, or it can be an unintentional outcome that no party actively sought to achieve. 



As we think through the things we see, we need to ask ourselves some questions:


  1. How does business change the ways I think about reality, and my expectations?
  2. How does business transform our living and playing spaces and so, change our lives?
  3. How does business sometimes lead us to identify ourselves and our well-being with purchasable products, and how does it encourage this practice? 



Most of these events are definite.  We may rearrange some of the schedule but this gives you a good idea of the many things we will do in our class.  There won’t be a lot of reading, but there will be discussion after and during various visits.


Welcome to Las Vegas Sign, Las Vegas, Nevada