Fans, Faith, and Image
Choice Outstanding Title
It doesn't matter how you remember him—rockabilly rebel, all-American boy, B-movie idol, patriotic G.I., or Las Vegas superstar. Elvis Presley is the most enduring image in American popular culture. This book explains why.
“An intelligent cultural analysis of one of this century’s most revered, reviled, and reviewed fan phenomena.”
“An exuberantly detailed and illustrated study that succeeds in demonstrating the complexity of Elvis culture and absolutely compels us to take the fundamental question about popular culture (Why Elvis?) to heart.”
—American StudiesSee all reviews...
“A welcome addition to the growing body of work that explores America’s star-saturated culture and its effects. For Doss, Elvis has become an important catalyst for diverse Americans’ understandings of themselves, their relationships to others, and their experience of the modern world.”
“The book itself is a remarkable Presley artifact.”
—New York Times Book Review
“‘Elvis lives,’ and so does popular culture—ever so vibrantly.”
—Michael Kammen in the Chronicle of Higher Education
“A fascinating account of the re-creation of Elvis, before and after his death, into a multifaceted icon for his thousands of adoring fans. Doss has delved deep into the meaning of Elvis and come up with fresh new insights into American dreams and desires. A great read!”
—Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound
“As fine a study of fandom as any I’ve seen, Elvis Culture offers a lively account of why and how Elvis is still everywhere—as patron saint and as passion, workingman and wigger, commodity and goof. A thoroughly knowledgeable and deeply sympathetic book.”
—Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class
“One of the best books on Elvis that I've ever read. A stellar piece of cultural criticism, Elvis Culture is not only a very smart book, it’s an exceptionally readable one as well: a difficult feat that Doss pulls off with style and wit.”
—Gilbert B. Rodman, author of Elvis after Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend
“Doss’s memorable book never succumbs to either slavish admiration or slapdash censure. It adds to our understanding of how the love we bear our cultural icons is as complex and life enhancing as those icons themselves.”
—David Sanjek, Director, BMI Archives, and coauthor of American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century
“Doss reveals with remarkable clarity the complexities and contradictions of fandom and the strategies through which a wide variety of Americans use the stuff of commercial mass culture to make their lives meaningful. A significant and persuasively argued book.”
—Barry Shank, author of Dissonant Identities: The Rock ‘n'’Roll Scene in Austin, Texas
“Doss offers rich insights into the culture and logic of fandom. Asking how fans use the image of Elvis in their own lives, she unearths the contradictory meanings about sex, race, class, and religion that Elvis has come to embody after death.”
—Lynn Spigel, author of Make Room for TVSee fewer reviews...
Other authors have explored Elvis's life and music, but Erika Doss now examines his multifaceted image as the key to understanding the adulation that has survived his death. She has talked with fans and joined their clubs, studied their creations and made pilgrimages to Graceland, all to explore what these images mean to those who gaze upon them, make them, and collect them.
In researching Elvis Culture, Doss discovered that the visual image of Elvis endures because it was so carefully constructed from the start. Sifting through the visual glut of Elvisiana, she looks at how fans collect, arrange, and display Elvis paraphernalia, make Elvis artwork, and participate in the annual August rituals of Elvis Week. By engaging in these acts, she explains, they continually reinvent Elvis to mesh with their own personal and social preferences and to keep his memory alive.
Doss examines Elvis in specific contexts: as a religious icon honored in household shrines, as a focus of sexual fantasy for women and men (both straight and gay), as an inspiration for countless impersonators, and as an emblem of whiteness held in disdain by many blacks—despite his having crossed racial lines with his music. She also looks at how Elvis has become a sanitized, legally protected image controlled by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., which bans the sale of black velvet paintings and licenses his likeness around the world.
As engrossing as it is informative, Elvis Culture strikingly demonstrates the power of pictures in our visual culture and reveals much about American attitudes toward religion, sex, race, and celebrity—as well as about the construction of American identity in the late twentieth century.