Cultural Influence, Intolerance and Political Correctness!
Dr Gary Enders)
In this thought-provoking essay, Dr Enders addresses the complex,
multi-layered impact of Elvis and the growth in the Elvis
world of increasing intolerance.
argues that unless we fully appreciate all elements in the
Elvis jigsaw puzzle we will fail to appreciate the full extent
of Elvis's influence in society, and by inference, we will
unwittingly be engaging in a form of Elvis 'political correctness'.
fans come in all ages, all sizes, all races and all religions.
The diverse, eclectic nature of the Elvis fan masks a deeper
impact of the artist. When alive, the young Elvis was much more
than just a musical superstar. He was instrumental in opening
the door for an affluent younger generation, allowing them to
have both an economic and political voice. He influenced how
both males and females dressed, how they wore their hair and
how they talked.
Leonard Bernstein perceptively observed Elvis Presley was the single,
most influential cultural force of the 20th century.
in the new millennium, Elvis' pervasiveness in our bitterly complex
and divisive society, twenty-six years after his mortal death cannot
be explained simply by his music. If such a simplistic rationale
or argument were sustainable, our culture would be filled on a regular
and on-going basis by iconic images of The Beatles, Marilyn, James
Dean and Jimi Hendrix. Certainly images of these deceased artists
appear irregularly, but in their frequency none comes close to matching
the almost fixed daily regularity of the Elvis name, likeness or
symbol in society.
begs the question: why Elvis?
many fans relate to Elvis solely on the level of his music, others,
many others, are drawn to him on more than one level. This rich,
multi-layered text that is Elvis Aaron Presley transcends musical,
social, cultural and religious barriers. For many fans their relationship
to Elvis provides a rich narrative centered around meaning in their
life. For this reason, their attraction moves well beyond Elvis'
music into a neo-spiritual realm. The media regularly highlights
the more obsessed fans whose homes have a room turned into a shrine,
however this is not representative of the usual fan.
how and why Elvis gives meaning to people is difficult to answer,
in a similar way as it is difficult to explain the concept of an
abstract concept like charisma. Nevertheless, the effect is not
only real, but vitally important. For the effect often impacts how
people go about their daily lives, how they dress, how they talk
and what they do.
impact of Elvis is often nothing less than a key psychological driver
in the lives of many of his fans! Elvis' multi-layered impact on
society and ability to provide meaning in people's lives explains
why his followers join fan clubs, why there are so many Elvis tribute
artists, why Elvis is regularly seen in the local supermarket, why
there is a proliferation of Elvis Internet sites and why Elvis isn't
going to go away!
is a tendency, even within Elvis circles, to brutally dismiss the
more obsessive fans and also those who get caught up (lost) in the
conspiracy theories surrounding his death or faithfully follow the
local Elvis tribute artist from venue to venue. But in dismissing
these very real elements of the Elvis phenomenon one misses out
on fully appreciating Elvis' power over and influence on people!
one-dimensional view about Elvis is fatally flawed and in some ways
is a 'slap in the face' to the incredible influence he had, and
continues to have. Fans who are quick to dismiss the stranger elements
of the Elvis world may safely remain within their own personal comfort
zone, but unwittingly, not only do they dismiss the so-perceived
'oddball' element within the Elvis world, but by inference, Elvis
himself. In effect, those who are dismissive are engaging in a form
of Elvis 'political correctness'.
late 1970s, Professor Patsy Hammontree commented in her stimulating
work: Audience Amplitude (The Cultural Phenomenon of Elvis Presley):
'The universality of his appeal means he has somehow provided a transcendent
figure for millions of people. His was an archetypal appeal to the
collective unconscious. Fans cannot say specifically what drew them
to him. They simply know that they were powerfully attracted, and
knowing it is adequate for most of them. The result is both a worldwide
community and a worldwide communion.' I suspect that Professor Hammontree's
contention in her final sentence, is today, less and less the case.
than dismissing the more unusual aspects of the Elvis phenomenon
it is time we openly embraced them.
was a time when tolerance was a valued given in the Elvis
world but it appears the enlightened days of 'live and let
live' have passed, and a dark age of intolerance and denial
there to be effective communion, our attitudes must change. Otherwise
we will continue to experience an increase in the number of 'splinter
group' fan clubs (a phenomenon worthy of study itself), the amplitude
of ill will on the numerous Elvis message boards will worsen and
our ability to appreciate what the eclectically diverse person that
is Elvis Presley meant will be sorely weakened. There was a time
when being an Elvis follower was done for altruistic reasons. By
the new millennium a decidedly egoistic philosophy had assumed dominance,
if not control.
I wrote in an earlier paper: Elvis: Coming Back from the Dark Age:
"Falsehoods in the Elvis community are many. Regardless of overt
elements of a sense of community in Elvisdom, underlying is a covert,
black streak of intolerance and egocentrism that threatens to forever
relegate a serious and real issue, the socio-cultural importance
of Elvis Presley, to the marginal fringes of public and academic
would Elvis make of all this, if he were still alive? I suspect
he would view it with considerable discomfort and dismay.
Coming Back from the Dark Age, Dr. Gary Enders (privately published
In Hollywood Celluloid Sell-Out, Gerry McLafferty, Robert Hale,
London, 1989, ISBN: 0709037299
To Read A Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia: Language,
History, Theory, James Monaco, Oxford University Press; 3rd edition,
2000, ISBN: 019503869X
Cool The Movies of the 1960s, Ethan Mordden, Alfred A. Knopf,
New York, 1990, ISBN: 0394571576
Elvis Film (Study Materials), Nigel Patterson, The Brain Gym,
Canberra College, 2002
Rough Guide to Elvis, Paul Simpson, Rough Guides, 2002, ISBN:
Elvis: Southern Roots vs Star Image, Susan Doll, Garland Publishing
Inc., New York, 1998, ISBN: 0815331649
article originally appeared in May 2003 as a paper in "The
First Online Symposium on Elvis Aron Presley"
Gary Enders passed away in late 2003 following a protracted battle