"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)



"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






Elvis fans: "The Following"

(another article in EIN's series of trying to undertand the question..."Why Elvis?")

Many words have been written over the years to describe Elvis' fans. Often they are steteotyped as being lower class women in rural areas. But how true is this broad assumption? Do Elvis fans conform to a general socioeconomic type that allows them to be 'profiled'? And what are Elvis' fans as a "group"?

Patsy Hammontree from the University of Tennessee conducted a study of Elvis' fan base and commented in Audience Amplitude: The Cultural Phenomenon of Elvis Presley (published in Elvis Images and Fancies - Jac L. Tharpe editor):

"There is a general misconception that only undereducated women on a lower socioeconomic level constitute the Elvis Presley audience. Rather, his audience is comprised of an incredibly variegated group of people from all economic and social levels.

Chronologically, the spectrum stretches from age five to eighty-five. And large numbers of men - including construction workers and physicians - admire Elvis. It is virtually inpossible to draw a 'profile' of the Elvis Presley fan because of such diversity, a factor which also precludes any standardized label being applicable to the mass audience. Elvis' popularity was international. He had millions of followers in both Europe and Asia. There are Presley fan clubseven in the Middle East. Someone said boys and girls were wearing Elvis Presley T-shirts in the jungles of Thailand. The diversity of even a sampling attests to the Presley cultural phenomenon. In truth, the man takes on mythic and archetypal dimensions such that for some fans only Christ is greater."

Professor Hammontree's observations are more than credible. Elvis fans include your next-door neighbor, dentists, doctors, truck drivers, many politicians - consider the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi and former US president, Bill Clinton - and royalty - England's Princess Anne, and the King and Queen of Thailand who visited Elvis on one of his movie sets.

Hammontree goes on to comment:

"The Elvis following is often inappropriately referred to as a cult. Concisely speaking, a cult is a group comprised of disaffected persons unified in their values who look to a leader for guidance or remain nostalgically attached to a lost leader...But Elvis Presley neither proselytized nor persuaded, and there is considerable variety in the social and moral values of his followers. In fact, it is not easy to find an appropriate label for these millions who express degrees of interest in Elvis...He gave meaning to their lives in numerous ways, no matter what ages they were. They form a group so vast, diverse and dedicated that no concept has the magnitude to encompass them."

The "Elvis as cult" concept has been written about for many years. While theoretically, Professor Hammontree is correct in her analysis, EIN would argue that perhaps the definition of "cult" needs to be re-examined in the light of strong psychological drivers which shape "how" many Elvis "followers" internally view his impact on them. The elements of "guidance", "nostalgia", "unified in values" and "implied guidance" may be taking on new meaning as they relate to and function around Elvis Presley and his fans.

The diversity of Elvis fans is a fact that most media outlets fail to grasp. Rather they pigeonhole and stereotype fans based on an unusual or extreme few.

Patsy Hammontree identified an interesting point in her study, that of Elvis' impact on children. She said:

"One striking aspect of the Presley phenomenon is the attraction he held for children...Surprizingly, many of these youngsters did not inherit a predisposition to Elvis devotion from their parents. Some were spontaneous in their intense feeling for him - much to the bewilderment of their parents."

As one example of Professor Hammontree's finding, L. Christine Hayes commented in her book, Magii from the Blue Star, about the seven year-old boy who, when asked in 1984 by CNN Cable News who is hero was, replied, "Elvis Pwesley." When asked why, the boy said, "Because Elvis is an angel and is going to take care of the world." Neither of the boys parents were Elvis fans.

Another example. One little four year-old boy, looking at Elvis thru binoculars at a concert said to his father, "Daddy, Elvis is singing just for me...he is looking right at me!"

Consider also the similarity of incidents observed at Elvis concerts with incidents at religious events. Eric Culver, classical trombonist and studio musician occasionally toured with Elvis. He observed fans' behavior and commented that the most appalling aspects of the concerts was seeing parents, mothers and fathers alike, hoist frightened children into the air at the front of the stage - urging them to reach out for the scarves Elvis was giving away.

I particularly liked this passage in Professor Hammontree's paper. It concerned the frustrations of a non-Elvis fan (the husband), married to a fanatical Elvis fan:

"Preceding a concert in 1975, the man's wife received eleven phone calls in the course of one afternoon, all from the same woman who was passing on each fragment of information regarding Elvis' plans for the particular concert tour. As the family sat down to dinner the phone rang again. The husband looked at hios wife and said, 'That will be Christine. Elvis has probably farted and she wants to you to know about it while the scent is still in the air.' "

Perhaps Professor Hammontree was right when she closed her dissertation by saying:

"The universality of his appeal means he somehow provided a transcendant figure for millions of people. is 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."

(Spotlight/Article, Source: Patesy Hammontree in Elvis Images and Fancies, edited by Jac L. Tharpe/EIN)


Click to read: Elvis - Sightings & Faith: Making Sense of the Seemingly Absurd


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Paul Simpson
Ed Bonja (Part 2)
Ed Bonja
Ernst Jorgensen
Phil Aitcheson (Presley Commission)
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Elvis Odd Spot (updated 17 Nov 2004)