Sequins, Studs, Beads, and All

Among those interesting but not exactly timeless questions Americans have the luxury of asking themselves, one of the most persistent is, "What was the meaning of Elvis?" The most astonishing answer to that question I have ever read came from Dave Marsh, the relentlessly serious rock critic who found parallels between Presley and Abraham Lincoln (each "had a unique ability to personalize his moment in history"), thereby demonstrating that only in the world of pop-culture analysis could two American icons simultaneously be reduced to absurdity by the act of comparing them.

Rock critics need no help in going off the deep end, but in the case of Elvis, they may only be following fans, many of whom have already taken the plunge. It says something about both the phenomenon of Elvis Presley and the nature of American marketing that there is now available a book called I Am Elvis: A Guide to Elvis Impersonators. The urge is to ask, "a guide for whom?" but the answer is obvious enough: this is a book for Elvis fanatics about the subject of Elvis fanatics. The marketing of Elvis Presley has finally lapped itself, starting with books that explored every aspect of his life and ending with "guides" of those who are obsessed with every aspect of his life. In what must be a unique case of pop-culture cannibalism, the audience for the Presley product has become its own product, Elvis consumers having...

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