Elvis Culture

Fans, Faith, and Image

Erika Doss

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.”

Publishers Weekly

“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 Studies
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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.

About the Author

Erika Doss is chair of the Department of American Studies program at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities.

Additional Titles in the CultureAmerica Series