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.