Las Vegas is an unlikely ASMR city. Tourists travel to Vegas to surrender their inhibitions and noisily indulge in a buffet of material delights, not to bask in the quiet euphoria triggered by a whispered tone. On the Las Vegas strip, excess is a standard, and a pastiche of gaudy attractions clamor for tourists’ attention. But the Coronavirus shutdown has made it impossible to yield to the city’s carnal come-on.The Strip has dimmed its lights. Travelers are marooned at home, cloistered with their anxiety. Circumstances have conspired to necessitate a soothing tool.
Despite the crisis, the Bonanza Gift Shop—the world’s biggest gift shop, as the sign proclaims—is still intact. Its souvenirs’ surfaces still glitter; Its objects still vibrate with the charge of memory and fantasy. These souvenirs have stories to tell. This ASMR travel guide gives them the ability to speak in their own voices, to titillate the ears of would-be tourists, to simulate the sensual pleasure of a shopping experience. This audio companion allows the traveler to rest his feet and unfurrow his brow. “Let your ears do the walking,” the objects buzz, “you’re not missing anything.”
The tracks in this audio guide vary in tone and approach, like the objects they iconize. Tracks like “Lady Magnet Bottle Opener” and “Glittered Dice Shot Glass” reflect the gendered expectations of a sexed-up destination. “Vehicle” imbues a ludicrous plastic product with the thrill of escape and the bravado of the retro Strip. “Frog Plush” weaves existing Las Vegas mythology into an unlikely new tapestry. “Pig Plush” and “Las Vegas Shot Glass” employ verbal repetition to mesmerize and destabilize meaning, illuminating the absurdity at the core of time and toys.
No matter how tacky, how seemingly nonsensical, souvenirs are more than kitsch. They’re symbols of the way we view ourselves and representations of the way we understand the world. Aesthetic and political sensibilities vibrate beneath their surface, to be challenged or reinscribed. Cities, like their souvenirs, shape and are shaped by the people who interact with them. This audio guide invites the listener to engage in unexpected ways with a select crop of American symbols, and to consider idiosyncratic insights into a city provisionally staked on stories. – Erin K Drew