A Society of Elvis Impersonators
January 7, 2012 § 9 Comments
I have always found Elvis impersonators somewhat disconcerting. While I have always had a fondness for the King, I’ve never understood what satisfaction could be drawn from transforming, on a daily basis, into someone other than who you really are. What confused me more was the strange allure that these impersonators seem to have for others.
Upon further reflection, however, I think I am beginning to understand. We live in a society where the bulk of our citizenry live their lives pretending to be something they are not; aspiring to emulate the “kings” of society, i.e. the rich, famous, and powerful. Sadly, this deceptive way of life is, quite simply, a grand stage show that has gradually overtaken our country. People of relatively modest means are now boasting homes that heretofore had been the abodes of the affluent. Lawns in suburban neighborhoods are now meant to emulate the gardens of large estates. With the additions of designer clothing, unaffordable automobiles, expensive vacations, and fine dining, what we have is a citizenry that impersonates kings—all done on credit, of course.
In the true form of Elvis impersonators, we are not truly impersonating the kings of our society. Much as the Elvis impersonators rarely impersonate the drug-addicted, fat, dysfunctional version of the King, we tend to emulate the stage presences of our own social kings without the flaws, the personal dramas and struggles they may have faced, or the ethical shortcuts they may have taken; essentially, without an understanding of those elements that make them fallible, yet real human beings. We effect this impersonation after viewing their lives from our own very narrow telephoto lens. As a result, despite our best efforts, our impersonation is never really quite accurate.
We train our children to be impersonators as well, injecting them into activities that are designed to help them emulate these self created models of wealth, power, and prestige. We delude ourselves into believing that we are enabling them to develop their talents and life skills, but what we are actually doing is teaching them to imitate the behaviors that we believe will elevate them to royal status. In the process, we risk masking the unique talents and abilities that our “commoner” children may actually possess. Most troubling is that we dub this impersonation The American Dream, and identify ourselves with the aspiration to live our lives defined by a culture of copycat kings.
But America was never meant to be defined by counterfeit lives. The American dream was never about emulating someone else’s life. It was never about allowing snapshots of other people’s lives to define our personal and cultural aspirations. It had long been about following our own personal dreams, finding a place where we could define ourselves, and creating a better life for our children. These days, that life can simply be found and photocopied directly from our high definition televisions, where skilled manipulators provide us with the blueprints for our dreams.
As a society of veritable Elvis impersonators, we can no longer remember who we are; choosing instead to live a faux life defined by our synthetic appearance and inherited aspirations. We have become a society of fakes, so intent on emulating the kings that we cannot even figure out who we are. Of all that this new American dream has wrought, that is the most troubling.
With each individual who succumbed to mimicry, a bit of talent and soul escaped us as their talent and creativity were squandered. In the aggregate, we lost much of the character of our nation by creating a faux reality. We lost artists and poets who became television personalities in order to achieve fame. We lost healers and teachers who became executives in order to achieve wealth. We lost journalists, clergymen, historians, philosophers and intellectuals, all in an effort to achieve the money, power, and status of the social kings. We ignored our own innate talents, abilities, and inclinations in our attempt to live someone else’s life.
We lost what makes a society rich, varied, and great.
Undoubtedly, some impersonators have been enriched by their mimicry. Some have indeed become social kings; trapped by success, and floundering to understand their unhappiness. Much like the Elvis impersonators, each leaves behind only the vestiges of their parody: the black bouffant hairstyle, bushy sideburns, and garish sequined clothing that defined them. They leave behind their version of Graceland, and an emptiness that defines the vapid spoils of living a charade. For those never crowned, there is no royal history, for they were never kings. Their gravestones mark a fictitious identity and claim that they were once alive, but few ever knew who they really were since their core never came to life. Few people ever learn the true names and identities of Elvis impersonators.
In the end, the culture is left with an eerie silence; a feeling that something inexplicable was lost. It is something that no one will ever be able trace or recapture.
It is an American nightmare.
so, so, true!!
Im surrounded every day with the same mimicry you speak of Mr. G. College kids, coming from families of wealth, driving $70,000 Land Rovers and Mercedes Benzes. These people pretend they are gangsters, dressed like they belong in some slum street gang.
People want what they cant have, even when what they have is clearly better. They listen to music representing the low lives of our current time and pretend as if they came from there too, while driving their $70,000 cars.
I think people have forgotten who they actually are. These peoples “Kings” are the very problem with society today. Every individual needs to ask themselves every once in a while, “Is this who I really am? Am I an elvis Impersonator?”
Thanks Mr. G for this enlightening message to the people.
Sadly, I can’t imagine any “impersonator” really believes that they are impersonating anyone. They are convinced they “are who they are,” which is simply lie to ones self.
I agree with you–Sadly, I don’t think that any “impersonator” really believes that they are impersonating anyone. That makes it sadder. Imagine trying to sing and think you should be able to sing–but can’t? Must make the feeling even worse.
I agree with what you say about Elvis Impersonators, and there is plenty of evidence to support your case (The Kardashians, the “Real Wives of New Jersey”, the “Real Wives of Beverly Hills”.) However, I read this entry as more of a fable to warn us of dangers than an accurate description of the real world.
We have evolutionary tendencies – we are exquisitely sensitive to status in groups and 75% of our conversations are gossip – and these were life and death skills in a more primitive time…and so they go on, for better or worse (mostly better, I think).
Further, a huge number of the TV shows we watch are about people of status -doctors, lawyers, detectives – are actually “soap operas”. Our house’s favorites: Gray’s Anatomy, Harry’s Law, House, CSI New York,
Body of Proof (this set in Phila.) are mainly about the couplings and un-couplings of the characters and their joys and tragedies. These soap operas provide the “catharsis” of the Greek Tragedies as described by Nietsche in the “Birth of Tragedy. The catharsis comes from emotionally releasing our own anxieties about our sufferings as we see that even the rich and famous have the same troubles we do.
As to the real world, the Economics of Happiness tells us that people in the United States are, on average, a pretty happy population: surveys have the vast majority of people saying they are happy or very happy in America, compared to the misery self-reported in most of the former Soviet Block countries. (I am NOT making a political statement here. The unhappiness here clearly comes from below poverty level incomes.)
So, I welcome and applaud your warnings.
I’d like to see one of your blogs about positive advice: HOW to love and HOW to become less material.
Jesus, by the way, preached this constantly by calling for each person to do “metanoia”, that is the secret to happiness. Most English versions translate this as “repent” but that is terribly wrong. The literal translation of “metanoia” is “change your mind”.
That is, my friend, what I believe you want your readers to do!
We need to help them change their minds!
So, so true. What a beautiful way to describe this phenomenon.
We need to raise our children to be the budding flower they are meant to be, not the one we want them to be. We need to encourage them to find what ignites them and not put our parental agendas upon them. It starts here. Parents can’t be swept away with all this mimicry/impersonation and external superficiality. The greatest gift we can give our kids is to help them discover who they are and what makes them come alive.
Yes, but all we seem to get are more parents that advocate impersonation. They forget that their kids may be not be great athletes or dancers but are great in other areas that haven’t manifested. It’s sad–they are only trying to help
Your blog entries seem to always generate a debate within my own head (a good thing!). Yes I see your point about mimicry and how some people lead inauthentic lives based on impersonating others. Yet I have also seen many instances of people who attempt to emulate truly GREAT individuals — Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. While not a hero in the same way as Dr. King, Elvis himself was a phenomenal talent and completely changed the landscape of popular music. Is it such a bad thing if people are inspired enough by Elvis to still sing his songs and wear his costumes?
I think materialistic attitudes and behavior can be damaging (particularly if they stem from “keeping up with the Joneses”), and so I agree with you on that sentiment. But going after Elvis impersonators seems a bit mean-spirited.
I love the debate, Mark!
The Elvis impersonators are used as a metaphor, not to be taken literally!!!!! I could have used impersonators as a category, but not with the same effect because they are all so different. I have nothing against Elvis impersonators, though I really don’t see the allure. Just a metaphor, honestly!
And I agree–many people try to emulate the lifestyles and values of great individuals–which is a good thing, if that’s what they stand for as well.