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Crown Casino: ‘A snarling, digitised mutilation’

Author: • May 27th, 2009 •

Category: advertising, alternate worlds, architecture, audio, Australia, boredom, CCTV, consumerism, death of affect, deep time, fascism, features, hyperreality, Lead Story, leisure, micronations, occult, perception, photography, psychogeography, schizophrenia, surveillance, temporality, time travel, utopia


Soundwalk by MELANIE CHILIANIS; photography by Simon Sellars.

“The consumer society is a kind of soft police state. We think we have choice, but everything is compulsory. We have to keep buying or we fail as citizens. Consumerism creates huge unconscious needs that only fascism can satisfy. If anything, fascism is the form that consumerism takes when it opts for elective madness.”

J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come (2006).

We took a recent jaunt to Melbourne’s Crown Casino, prime Ballardian space, in order to map the coordinates of this micronational zone, this city state — consumer-driven control space. We took photos on a Nokia 6288 — photography disguised as furtive texting — while Mel Chil performed a secret sound walk. Her head bowed and her eyes averted (for soundwalkers must not allow the other senses to interfere with the keen art of listening), she strode silently behind us through the Zone, her super-powered, omidirectional microphone and optimal recording unit stuffed into her bag to note the results.

Her sound file* is below — play it loud while reading for maximum effect, for clearly the audiospatial disorientation engendered by Casino space plays a critical role in maintaining the illusion of languid disconnectedness.


* Note: you won’t see the audio player in Google Reader.

Crown Casino increases people’s perception of frequency of winning not only by having big visual displays and advertisements but also by having announcements over a loudspeaker of a poker machine jackpot winner. If every gambler who has lost everything is announced over the loudspeaker in the same way, problem gambling would be greatly reduced. Moreover, the promotion of the illusion of winning is also built into a poker machine in which a winning pay out is made with a loud noise as coins come crashing into the metal pay out tray to remind nearby players that winning is a real possibility.

Public Gambling Enquiry, Australian Vietnamese Women’s Welfare Association.

It’s a unique phenomenon… [a] metropolis … utterly devoted to leisure, something close to suspended animation. And it’s very inviting. But people lying on their backs are very vulnerable to predators.

J.G. Ballard, ‘Live in London’, 1996.

The signage declares, ‘We’re creating a new world at Crown’, a come-on none can resist. But even before entering the Casino, we were aware that we were no longer in the world of quotidian politeness. The first task was to pass through the borderzone, out on the concrete apron surrounding the complex, where brutal expediency in combat with pornographic greed meant that even bag ladies had to secure their shopping trolleys if left unattended.

But this isn’t reality, it’s not even a dream. It’s sort of a halfway house between the two.

J.G. Ballard, ‘Live in London’, 1996.

Opposite the Crown Entertainment Complex, bordering the west side, is the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Its constructivist lines slice the sky like an obsolete, forward-thinking city of the immediate retro-future to come, a take-off ramp into the ozone that seems to suggest the only way out is through an ascent to heaven, or … this way, down, deep into the east, into Crown — into half-life.

He stared at the silent aisles, working out his challenge to this eventless world. We left the liquor store and paused by a Thai restaurant, whose empty tables receded through a shadow world of flock wallpaper and gilded elephants. Next to it was an untenanted retail unit, a concrete vault like an abandoned segment of space-time.

J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights, 1996.

We enter, ‘wearing the Crown‘, instantly absorbed by the otherworldliness of the Casino. The effect is total — there are no clocks anywhere to be seen, creating a timeless zone in which the breakdown of the biological clock (the legend of old ladies urinating at poker tables, rather than missing a hand, for example) is the only indication of chronometry. Perhaps the only remaining link to temporality is the schedule of the televised horse racing. A horse — horses? — seem to haunt the interior…

There is no natural light of any kind, no windows. Mirrors take up entire walls, distending the innards of the place into infinity. The long walk between the mid-section of poker machines and blackjack tables seems to never end. Hovering alien ectoplasm, the sickly UV of Giger-style nightmares, falls into view. Magic mushrooms hang from the ceiling, glowing lysergically. We are in a bunker, are we in a bunker? Miles below the Earth’s surface, below the Earth’s surface? Drinking, gambling and watching spooling sports. Palms itchy.

The first shrines had begun to appear, wayside altars for passing shoppers, places of pause and reflection for those making endless journeys within the universe of the dome.

J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come, 2006.

Hanging from the ceiling, a plaster-cast altar of motorcycle fascism, its strident coat of arms larger than the machine itself. Lest the devotees become too overwhelmed and seize the handlebars, a sign warns: “Display Model Only”. Trinkets pile up on the carpet around the altar, burnt offerings of cigarette butts, an unused condom packet, coins, keys. No passing cleaner makes an effort to clean this up and it seems arranged in a perfect concentric ring. Skin hurts.

The resilient carpet is custom designed and can soak up blood, vomit and semen without leaving visible trace. A crazy man says he knows the man who made it and he makes a fortune, too. He also designs bodybags for prom queens addicted to cocaine and ultraviolent bondage. Did a crazy man really say that he knew a man? (Bringing new meaning to the game of ‘craps’, another urban legend tells of sliding compartments in the toilets that can quickly open to dispose of suicidal high-rollers who lost everything without bringing the corpse back through the main arena.) Very near by, another man looks over suspiciously at our furtive photographic activity, but then he seems distracted by what would appear to be an insect buzzing around his head. He bats at it but there is no insect anywhere to be seen. As we walk away, he seems to be madly shaking invisible bugs out of his hair. Is he shaking invisible bugs out of his hair?

The people no longer wish to be freed from their chains, preferring to use them to accessorise their designer handbags instead. Eyes pop.

The neon façades of the casinos and hotels were now so many cataracts of white lava, walls of incadescent pink and purple that seemed to set alight the surrounding jungle, turning the Strip and the downtown casino centre into an inflamed, shadowless realm through which the occasional armoured car would appear like a spectral dragon on the floor of a furnace.

J.G. Ballard, Hello America (1981).

This green-skinned hepcat appeared to us as if in a dream, doffing his cap with sleazy grace. ‘Come with me to the Food Court’, he moaned in our already twitching ears. ‘I know a mystical place — a snack bar — where they spike the Alcoholic Super Slushies with Viagra, and where cyborg men with vat-grown muscle can inflate their pecs with a bicycle pump to 150psi. It’s called Food & Booze Express City and it’s open 24/7, natch, because you know it, don’t you, man, that Dreamland never sleeps. Oh, and dig: the women are unFUCKINGbelievable’.

Crawford gazed across the peninsula at the gutted shell of the Hollinger house.
‘A year from now some hotel or casino complex will stand there. On this coast the past isn’t allowed to exist.’
‘Why not keep the house as it is?’
‘As a tribal totem? A warning to all those time-share salesmen and nightclub touts? That’s not a bad idea…’

J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights.

The final sane act of Nietzsche, that great admirer of self-serving individualism, was one of pity — to collapse to the floor and cradle a beaten horse. In this one compassionate act, he disavowed a lifetime of celebrating self-interest. At Crown, they have decapitated the horse and mounted its suffering head as a totem of gambling law: ‘Let he who is strong fill his pockets, and he who is weak empty his’.

This glowing tube filled with inanimate coin is in actuality a super-computer that runs on pure cash. Pulsing throughout that pile of super-compacted currency is a liquid charged with megawatts of electricity and data, a new breed of viscous fibre optics that draws upon the inordinate strength of abstract social wealth to create simulated neurological pathways with highly complex processing power greater than military mainframes. This super-computer runs the whole operation here at Crown Casino and it is called ‘Mr Severin’. Mr Severin’s word is law and he will not tolerate any deviance from that law at any time.

A lake of neon signs formed a shimmering corona, miles of strip-lighting raced along the porticos of the casinos, zipped up the illuminated curtain-walling of the hotels and spilled over into mushy cascades. Under the ultramarine sky, so dark now that the tone had left their faces, the spectacle of this sometime gambling capital seemed as unreal as an electrographic dream.

J.G. Ballard, Hello America.

We became touched by a presence that was almost entirely indescribable except in rhyming couplets of ever-increasing incredulity, ridiculous-sounding as we mouthed them aloud, like cod Shakespeare. An alien intelligence reaching deep into our souls to finger our pathetic humanity with a cold machinic rationalism that was actually a little bit naughty and a little bit nice. A mystical vision appeared — for we were in the circuit, now — a monolith slowly, slowly descending from the ceiling. White light grew and grew. In the zone.

‘Remember, Richard, consumerism is a redemptive ideology. At its best, it tries to aestheticize violence, though sadly it doesn’t always succeed.’

‘Every shopping mall and retail park turning into a local soviet. A popular uprising that starts at the nearest Tesco. It’s possible. There’s a hunger for violence, that’s why sport obsesses the whole country. Everyone’s suffocating — too many barcode readers, too many CCTV cameras and double yellow lines. That second bomb really got them going.’

J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come.

While their wives indulged in the more passive pursuits of bingo and fruit machines, the mankind gathered in their pit to drink, watch high-volume, biff-and-bash contact sports and back their armchair punditry with hard cash. The more they drank, the more they lost. The more they lost, the more they drank. A gloom began to permeate the air, so much so that condensation seemed to drip from the walls like Amityville house blood, and one sensed that sporadic, remorseless violence might break out at any moment. On the sport screen, some rugby players tore off their clothes and compared biceps and for a moment it seemed the crowd might follow suit. Only one measure could prevent this — a variety show. Mr Severin: call on Elvissey!

Completely Elvis: The Elvises are in the building! Their uncanny sound and appearance will make you feel as if you are watching the King himself. Amazing musicianship elevates the entertaining and genuine portrayals of the famous songs we all know and love. The incredible authenticity of the show takes you on a ride that is unprecedented. Costumes, charisma and charm are coupled with the songs that made Elvis the undisputed ‘King of Rock and Roll’. This combination of artists is not like any ever seen in Australia before.

Crown Casino, 2009.

This man, this fat, tubular, tubercular man – his impersonation was no longer of Elvis, but of a thousand other Elvis impersonators. A discount simulacrum. His women had feathers up their bums and on their heads, and these vixens liked to conga-line to within an inch of some men’s lives. Beer boiling in the glass.

“The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich”

Hunter S. Thompson.

Projected above our heads, 20 feet high, on the big sports screen: the manifestation of schizoid hyperactivity.

Fleeting impressions, an illusion of meaning floating over a sea of undefined emotions. We’re talking about a virtual politics unconnected to any reality, one which redefines reality as itself. The public willingly colludes in its own deception.

J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come.

The horse equine reporter man reads the racehorse results, stutters in vertical hold, image flickers and splits straight down the middle to finally reveal the really real reality underneath. A snarling, digitised mutilation. Mr Severin has had a breakdown — someone, somewhere in here has won far too much cash. The system cannot cope, gets stuck in an infinity loop, cracks and breaks. The noise of clinking coin and tolling fruit-machine bells seems to increase to unbearable levels. But that is the great release, for we have pierced the veil, seen beyond, out into the desertified Racecourse of the Real. No gears and pulleys behind the mask, Phil K Dick-style, but a roiling, raging black void of utter nothingness.

Headaches and a necessary evacuation followed.

One day there would be another Metro-Centre and another desperate and deranged dream. Marchers would drill and wheel while another cable announcer sang out the beat. In time, unless the sane woke and rallied themselves, an even fiercer republic would open the doors and spin the turnstiles of its beckoning paradise.

J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come.

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13 Responses »

  1. […] http://www.ballardian.com/crown-casino-a-snarling-digitised-mutilation […]

  2. Very creative … I’m appreciatively shaking the bugs from my hair … One of these days you’re going to adopt the simulacrum-suit of a fictioneer and then we’ll all have to watch out … One concern only — the exact nature of the ‘necessary evacuation’?

  3. Fantastic, Simon.

    The green-skinned ‘hep cat’ makes me feel strangely nauseous. He’s like something out of a Lynch film, a sickly clown paying too much attention from some corner of a childhood night…

    And those lights look like calcified jellyfish suspended in pink neon blubber…

    Is the aim of the casino to reduce you to a twitching wreck on the floor, with just enough energy to reach a fistfull of money up to a table? Every picture makes me feel ill.

    The photo of the guy with the microphone reminds me of something i can’t quite place … Videodrome, or American Psycho…..

  4. Such a terrific combination! Was on my head too, but greek casinos are more of a down-to-earth approach (haven’t been to the northern Chalkidiki peninsula one, though…). This is great stuff, Dr Sellars! I am now putting the finishing touches on the greek translation of Miracles of Life and I was wondering if you’d be interested in contributing a one-or-two page foreword on it. If interested, drop me a line… All the best!

  5. Good to see some HST-style underground reporting from the Ballardosphere, Simon.

    Like you, I believe there’s much of interest to take out of “Kingdom Come” … and some day I may even get around to writing something about it!

  6. Great stuff! Now I’m seriously jealous of Melbourne. The UK super-casinos have been ditched and we have nothing near as frightening and inspiring to visit at night.

  7. Simon
    You missed the babies left in the carkpark and the rivers of urine beneath the gaming tables that the punters wont leave. My 11 year old informed me last week that she had been to Crown Casino , she went on a school excursion that took in the Immigration Museum and Crown Casino. Time to worry!

    regards Brent

  8. Thanks all. Credit also to Steven from Melb Psy, who was my collaborator on this piece, and to Mel for sound of course.

    Greg, Steven wrote the ‘necessary evacuation’ line. I’m thinking that it is, of course, of the bowels…

    Ian, that schizoid split face is actually what popped up on the giant sports screen – I haven’t altered it in any way. And yes, it is very Videodrome…

    Iraklis, thanks! I have sent you an email.

    Mike H, half a chapter of my thesis was on Kingdom Come. Would love to see what you come up with.

    Mike B, ‘inspiring’ is the word! I went there again last night to see if it matched up to my memories of the last visit (which formed the basis for the article, and was quite some time ago), and it was as freaky as ever, because it’s not really a Vegas-style supercasino, but more a brash little town, sealed off at the borders, rubbing rudely against Melbourne.

    Brent, yes, you’re right… I forgot about those stories. Also the pigeons that got fried when they turned on the huge gas flares outside at the opening of the place. Re: your daughter’s excursion. What did they teach the kids about it? I’d be interested to know.

  9. halfway through this i looked away to make some notes. the soundtrack was playing loud, and for a minute i thought i was missing part of a film.
    i spent a weekend in vegas once, stayed at circus-circus and just wandered around making notes, some of it went into a mss i’m still hustling.
    but this, sound, image and word combo is a real knockout. well done.

  10. To ‘Parky’: I’ve deleted your comments. If you have anything to say to me, do it via the contact link on this site, and without the grubby comments directed at my colleagues.

  11. […] Crown Casino: A snarling, digitised mutilation contains my contribution, field recordings. On Ballardian. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Chris Watson – Weather […]

  12. Thank you, Johnny!

  13. Great stuff, Simon and co.!

    Another thing that always comes to my mind when considering Crown is the insane, INSANE, security. All the entries are barred by a gaggle of swaggering security drones, aggressively seeking to make eye contact, to examine ID, to dominate visitors physically and mentally. It’s as bad as at an airport, which adds to the ‘voyage’/nation state/otherworldly feeling of being in the Crown “complex”.

    Another thing about the carpet is that it is deliberately designed to appear strewn with riches, at least to the subconscious mind: coins, rings, doubloons. A friend of mine says it is difficult to find a coin on the carpet if you’ve dropped one…

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