Elvis Assemblages: The Doing, Undoing, and Re-Doing of America's King.
by Melanie Janus — The George Washington University
August 12, 2011 – 00:00
Surrounding Elvis Presley is a powerful, nearly impenetrable, mythology that grips fans and neophytes. I will explore the assemblages of Elvis: how he exemplified a queer/feminine masculinity in his early period which was replaced by a “masculine” Elvis, and whose presence is posthumously perpetuated by a gendered impersonation community.
It is vital that I provide theoretical framework. “Assemblages”, is borrowing from the Deleuzian “Theory of Assemblages” which posits that any social entity (Elvis) is best analyzed through its components rather than its entirety.
“Queer” is not gay, but rather an identity without an essence.
Early Elvis dually queers masculinity and femininity. Taking makeup lessons from his mother and dance lessons from Wanda Jackson, Elvis mimicked to the world, a young, vibrant, and sexual feminine masculinity previously not seen. But is he embraced for his feminine masculinity or his androgyny? By 1968 there is a cataclysmic shift; where he once mimicked female dances, he now oozes masculinity: dressed in full-bodied leather, shooting guns, and speaking against his own fanbase, the Elvis who changed the world through rebellion is now the friend of Nixon. No longer was he the lithe, pretty-boy who titillates, but is the performer who ambles in costume.
Though there are thousands of male Elvis impersonators, the queer impersonators are the most compelling. “In Pursuit of Elvis” is Pelling’s collection where she positions herself as Elvis. She compellingly distances herself from the recognizable signifiers of Elvis “the icon”; yet holds on to the power that his name and identity generates. The result is a bastardization of the familiar Elvis, the impersonation culture, and the non- Elvis elements. Only females impersonate early Elvis; males embody the later Elvis. Hopkins observes, "Any male able perform early Elvis would already be a star."
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