The King and the Media
Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, is an American Pop Culture Icon who influenced his audience with his commanding voice, dazzling sex appeal, and complete media saturation. In the 1950's, Elvis devoted his career to singing. In the sixties, however, he dedicated his time towards making movies. As many critics agree, Elvis had poor acting skills in his films, generally showing apathy and dull facial expressions. Yet, through the saturation of entertainment media, Elvis was able to inspire a generation of youth to "take action" in Ameirican society from his "poor actions". Moreover, film in the age of mass media neturalized Elvis' "bad acting" by redirecting the audience's attention toward his dynamic singing and sexual physicque, heavily appealing to the social trends of the 1960's.
While Elvis fans would disagree, The King did not possess an extraordinary musical talent. The vast majority of his songs, in fact, were not written by him. And there is nothing complicated about his songs: most are based on a simple three chord structure. The lyrics to his songs oftentimes were sappy, cliched, or both; and not given to interpretation or insight. As for his guitar playing, he knew only how to play three basic chords (which most likely had an influence on how he wrote songs). The one musical asset he did have was his soulful, passionate voice. By singing emotionally, which appealed to the youth, Elvis was able to successfully accumulate a large following that allowed him to make his transition into the film medium.
In the decade of the 60's, Elvis starred in over 34 motion pictures, averaging more than 3 films released per year. In these films, Elvis generally had the lead role, allowing the center of attention to fall on his shoulders. Unfortunately, Elvis had poor acting skills, usually displaying bland facial expressions or lethargy. According to the "New Yorker" magazine, Elvis' acting talents were thin: "Thicklipped, droopy-eyed, and indefatigably sullen, Mr. Presley, whose talents are meager but whose earnings are gross" (Raaphorst). Thankfully, Elvis had extraordinary singing talents to make up for his poor acting skills. Knowing his strengths, Elvis and his producers began placing songs into his movies to gain a greater acceptance from his audience. "Stastically, he holds records for the most Top Forty hits (107), the most Top Ten hits (38), the most consecutive #1 hits (10) and the most weeks at #1 (80)" (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation). Furthermore, Elvis' producers began to advertise for his movies by soliciting his singing skills. For example, on the cover of "Jail House Rock", the producer wrote "HIS FIRST BIG DRAMATIC SINGING ROLE", dramatizing the significance of Presley's voice.
During the 1960's, people were no longer content with just hearing their favorite artist; given the technological advances, they could now see what their idols wore, how they acted and what kinds of cars they drove. This visualtity had a more powerful influence and was a more convenient medium to society than radio (or the aural culture) ever was. Seeing that this was a more efficient way to increase Elvis' popularity, his producers began to saturate visual culture with the image of The King. Advantageously, combining both aural and visual culture enabled Elvis' rebellious attitude and "cool" lifestyle to become a part of mainstream society. In the film "Jailhouse Rock," for instance, Elvis' rebellious nature emerges in various scenes such as when he refuses to follow the established custom of "tipping." Many such customs, values and societal norms that Elvis displayed were soon adopted by the American youth culture in years to come.
Owing to heavy media saturation, there was much focus on Elvis' sexual physique; he received much praise and acceptance from the "delinquent youth" when exposing his naked chest in several films. Surely, Elvis influenced the "raging youth" of the 60's to "act up" when stating controversial and rebellious lines in different films, particularly in "Jailhouse Rock": "That ain't tactics, honey . . . That's just the beast in me!" (Raaphorst). By combining poor acting, an attractive singing style, an appealing sexual physique and a rebellious attitude, Elvis was able to inspire a generation of youth to "act up" and "take action" in the active and liberated decade of the 1960's.
In a time of liberation and uprising, Elvis successfully used both aural and visual mediums to help him become the american pop culture icon that he was and is still today. By combining an attractive visual (such as his sexual physique and liberated body movements) and appealing vocal talent, Elvis was able to successfully entertain the American youth during the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Despite shortcomings, such as his poor acting and meager instrumental talents, Elvis Presley became the undisputed "King of Rock 'n Roll". Even after his death over twenty years ago, Elvis' retains one of the largest followings among American celebrities, and continues to strongly influence the Entertainment Capital of the World -- Las Vegas, Nevada.
Long live the King!
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