Sunday, July 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Will High Roller observation wheel become the defining icon of Las Vegas? (07-26-2012)
- Caesars gets key permit for Vegas Strip wheel (07-25-2012)
- Developers begin next construction phase for SkyVue’s 500-foot wheel (05-22-2012)
- Foundation poured for towering wheel near Mandalay Bay (03-01-2012)
- More columns by J. Patrick Coolican
Journalists and public relations professionals — also referred to in newsrooms as “flacks,” “hacks” and “corporate shills” — are in a constant tussle about language.
(I use the terms lovingly, of course — we’ll all be in PR eventually.)
It’s not “torture”; it’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It’s not a “used car”; it’s “pre-owned.” Even though it will weaken the Clean Air Act, we’re calling it the “Clear Skies Initiative.”
Las Vegas marketers achieved one of the all-time euphemism scores when they magically turned gambling into gaming.
Journalists play a balancing act between good common sense and recognizing that people are allowed a certain freedom to refer to themselves, their products and their policies as they wish.
That brings me to the injunction against “Ferris wheel.” Desert Land LLC and Desert Oasis Investments LLC are building the SkyVue Las Vegas Super Wheel on the south Strip, and Caesars Entertainment is building the High Roller as part of the new LINQ project. (Note that Caesars puts LINQ in all capital letters, which conveys its importance.)
But don’t call them Ferris wheels. Caesars is particularly adamant about this.
That is why I’m calling them Ferris wheels. Have you heard about the giant new Ferris wheels coming to Las Vegas? Gonna be killer. (By that I mean cool, not dangerous.)
Why are they so opposed to us calling them Ferris wheels? Oh, they tell us, they’re so much more than Ferris wheels. The SkyVue Ferris wheel will be 500 feet tall. Caesars’ High Roller Ferris wheel will be 550 feet, even taller than the London Eye, which is another Ferris wheel.
According to the Associated Press, the High Roller Ferris wheel “would have 28 air-conditioned bubble-like cabins capable of accommodating 40 people each. At capacity, more than 1,100 people at a time would see broad panoramas of marquee-lit resorts during a 30-minute revolution.”
(Let’s hope gambling and smoking will be allowed in the “bubble-like” cabins. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a true Vegas experience.)
I think the real aversion to calling them what they are — which is Ferris wheels — is that Ferris wheels evoke a less glamorous image. We think of a rickety ride run by some methed-out carnie at a county fair. In my hometown back East, this event is called Old Home Day, notable, as a friend memorably put it, for its drunken, tattooed bikers and little kids with broken limbs. Plus, fried dough and a Huey Lewis cover band.
I acknowledge that the glamorous Ferris wheels under construction on the Strip sound different than the Ferris wheel of our youth. But this need to distance themselves from the Ferris wheel label is snobby elitism on the part of these companies. I’m guessing a lot of Americans experienced all the important things in life — the first kiss, first shot of Jack Daniel’s, first puff on a joint — on a Ferris wheel.
Moreover, the attack on the Ferris wheel name is an attack on a famous Nevadan. That’s right, the inventor of the Ferris wheel is a Nevadan, more or less, and we’re now denying him his legacy on behalf of a corporate branding campaign.
Here’s Guy Rocha, the retired state archivist: “George W. G. Ferris Jr. was 5 years old when his family moved from Galesburg, Ill., to Carson Valley, Nevada Territory, in the summer of 1864. One story goes that his inspiration for the Ferris wheel came from his fascination with the operation of the large undershot water wheel near the Cradlebaugh Bridge on the Carson River — others say the big water wheel near the Mexican Mill.”
Ferris, Rocha writes, was a successful civil engineer back East when he came up with the idea for the Ferris wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
“When the 264-foot-high Ferris wheel finally opened on June 21, it was an overwhelming success and the fair’s primary attraction. During the 19 weeks it operated, the Ferris wheel carried 1,453,611 paying customers. Its gross take was $726,805.50.”
The wheel was used in other expositions, but Ferris died in 1896 at age 37.
Hmmm. That’s my age. I tried to think of a good euphemism for “died,” but they don’t work very well.
Here’s hoping that after I get “downsized“ and “right-sized” and “synergized” out of journalism, Caesars will hire me to operate its Ferris wheel.