Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times

Article excerpt

Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times. By Glen Jeansonne, David Luhrssen, and Dan Sokolovic. (Santa Barbara, Calif., and other cities: Praeger, c. 2011. Pp. [xii], 232. $44.95, ISBN 978-0-313-35904-0.)

A quick visit to Google Books reveals that in the first thirty-four years after his death in 1977, the name of Elvis Presley has graced the title of at least 39,000 volumes, placing him, by one count, more than 11,000 books ahead of William Faulkner over a comparable span. Whatever these numbers lack in absolute precision, they bear unimpeachable witness not only to the enduring appeal and resonance of one of the most charismatic entertainers in the nation's history, but also to an ascendant conviction that the icons of popular culture actually give voice to the otherwise unarticulated ambitions and anxieties of the masses and are therefore not simply viable but vital subjects for scholarly inquiry. Although the authorial trio responsible for Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times do not go so far as the former University of Mississippi professor who argued that Elvis surpassed Faulkner as "a master key for the understanding of Southern culture" (quoted in James C. Cobb, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity [New York, 2005], 232), Glen Jeansonne, David Luhrssen, and Dan Sokolovic do maintain that "[family, religion, and regional identity were the foundations on which Elvis added a superstructure of personality constructed from popular culture" (p. 55).

Otherwise, however, the primary intellectual purpose of this latest addition to library shelves already groaning with Elvisiana is not entirely clear. The authors are effective in conveying the personal as well as cultural circumstances from which Elvis arose. They cite his upbringing in the more racially fluid Pentecostal religious tradition as the key factor in "his apparent lack of racial or religious bigotry," going even further to insist that "Elvis sensed an affinity with society's other outcasts that many working class Southerners of his time strenuously denied" (p. 56). The problem here, as at so many other points in this decidedly underwritten and sometimes jumbled synthesis, is that the authors frequently fail to support such claims effectively, even though evidence is ready to hand, either elsewhere in their own text or in the sources they cite. …

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