About a year ago, the folks around Winnemucca, a city of 7,400 in northern Nevada near the Oregon line, had an invasion of Mormon crickets. The ugly creatures were swarming everywhere, coating structures and yuckily eating their brethren run over by cars. For a couple weeks, a big mess all around.
Don’t remember reading about what I might call the Winnemucca Wipeout? Then you should ponder why the entire world is hearing about the Grasshopper Grossout now winding down in Las Vegas. I have a theory about this.
The video nearby–with spooky music and a grasshopper closeup resembling Godzilla proportions–was put online by The Hindu. That’s the second-largest English language newspaper in far-away India (with a circulation five times greater than all Nevada dailies combined). There are scores of breathless other clips posted by foreign media outlets, all with horror-movie-like images.
The print media hasn’t been much better. The Guardian, out of London, ran online with a blown-up photo of not one but two seemingly giant grasshoppers stalking–or so it appeared from the caption–the offices of the Las Vegas Sun.
I won’t even bother to detail the coverage in the U.S., which has been even more insane. And ridiculous, since experts say this is simply a phenomenon of nature caused by an unusually wet year around Las Vegas that isn’t causing any damage and is ending.
Last month, I wrote about the crazy media coverage of the case of a hearse traveling in a two-person-minimum carpool lane in Las Vegas stopped by cops and its driver ticketed because his passenger was dead (a body under transport). I pointed out that this has happened before in other places, with far less notice. I opined:
I think the main reason this story is getting all this pickup is that it happened in Las Vegas. It’s the town that openly promotes itself as the place where anything goes. So really stupid stuff gets magnified.
But the motivation behind the grasshopper coverage is, I think, a little different. In my judgment it has to do more with Las Vegas’s unofficial nickname–Sin City–and the Bible, specifically the book of Exodus.
That Biblical narrative famously contains the traditional account of the 10 calamities that God inflicted on Egypt to persuade the evil Pharaoh to allow the Jews under Moses to escape their slavery by leaving the country. The eighth was an infestation of locusts–a species of grasshopper–that, in the quoted words of Moses, “will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen [and] devour what little you have left … including every tree that is growing in your fields.”
Subconsciously, at least, I think editors are playing to their audiences by implying a divine punishment of a casino-and-other-vice laden area with the sexually provocative slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” It certainly makes for a good yarn.
As someone New To Las Vegas who grew up on the wet East Coast, where lots of bugs fly through the air, I can attest there were a lot of grasshoppers here this summer, but not much swarming. Bug experts say these critters are not the kind that eat everything, as the Pharaoh encountered 3,500 years ago. Anyway, sitting as it does in the arid Mojave Desert, Las Vegas has few crops under cultivation, almost no trees and not even much grass. So even ravenous grasshoppers aren’t going to last very long here.
In case you wonder, Mormon crickets are so named because they threatened the second harvest of Brigham Young’s followers in 1848 after settling Salt Lake City until an army of seagulls came to the rescue by eating the insects in what the LDS church still celebrates as the “Miracle of the Gulls.” Now Winnemucca, an old town on the Transcontinental Railroad that was named for an Indian chief, has casinos. And unlike Las Vegas, prostitution is actually legal there, although there currently are no brothels. So if Mormon crickets again visit Winnemucca some day, maybe the world media should take religious notice.
But I wouldn’t count on it. It’s far more fun to beat up on the original Sin City.