Las Vegas Forever

April 28th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

A USPS imposter stamp has people debating what qualifies as a patriotic symbol.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

As a one-time (and likely near-future) resident of Las Vegas, I have said before that there are few cities so American. What other metropolis has the audacity to mash together the world’s most famous icons to such loopy effect: the Eiffel Tower, a giant pyramid and various bits and pieces of Venice AND Rome? And now Celine Dion is back with her “Celine Effect,” which The Daily Beast put it, “… she’s being touted as a one-woman stimulus bill—worth at least $114 million a year and thousands of jobs."

What more could we want? How about a United States Postal Service-issued “Forever” stamp depicting the fiberglass and Styrofoam Statue of Liberty that presides over Las Vegas’ New York-New York Hotel & Casino? Done. Well, except that that stamp was an accident, and the USPS had meant to model it after the real Statue of Liberty. 

The mix-up was exposed in the latest issue of Linns Stamp News, a magazine for stamp enthusiasts. Faux Liberty has a slightly different hairstyle, more sharply defined eyes than the original and a rectangular patch in her center spike. But, USPS spokesman Roy Betts told The New York Times, “We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway.” He did concede that the post office regrets the error and is “re-examining our processes to prevent this situation from happening in the future.” Three billion of the stamps have been printed, and they’re staying on the market. 

I, for one, think it’s great. Yes, I realize that Styrofoam Liberty doesn’t carry the same weight for Americans as that gift from the French that sits in the real New York Harbor (nor does it likely have the same literal weight; you could probably pop Styrofoam right off her post and parade her down the strip without much effort). But as author JR Moehringer writes in a Smithsonian article about his time living in Las Vegas (as he was writing Andre Agassi’s memoir), “Vegas is America. No matter what you read about Vegas, no matter where you read it, this assertion invariably pops up, as sure as a face card in the hole when the dealer’s showing an ace.” It typified the American boom, he says, and now epitomizes the bust. If the boom was caused by the housing bubble, “Vegas was bubble-icious.” And yet, after what Americans have seen their money put through, can the rest of the nation claim any virtue over Sin City? 

The reaction to the stamp gaff, so far, has been mixed. “As if further proof were needed that New York is not the center of the universe,” the Times story led, while respondents to an article in TIME Magazine that lamented how “the huddled masses would be sorely disappointed” mostly railed on the incompetence of the USPS itself (one noting that several years ago, it selected the Grand Canyon as the image for Wyoming).

But what’s so wrong about keeping Las Vegas’ Lady Liberty in circulation, rather than wasting resources to reprint an image that it took a philatelist to recognize in the first place? Doesn’t resourcefulness typify the spirit of America, too? Weigh in here: Should America’s accidental stamp stay or go?