Showing posts with label Elvis Presley Enterprises. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elvis Presley Enterprises. Show all posts

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Ghost Has Left The Building

Were he alive today, this would have been the human Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. The story is quite familiar: he was born in 1935 to parents Vernon and Gladys at their home in Tupelo, Mississippi, arriving 35 minutes after his stillborn twin, Jesse Garon, buried in a shoebox in an unmarked grave. The human Elvis died in 1977 at age 42, thirty-three years ago next August, leaving a sole heir, Lisa Marie, born 1968. The Elvis brand still makes tons of money—for years Forbes has ranked Elvis among the top-earning dead celebrities. In 2009, dead Elvis earned roughly $55 million. With a new “Viva Elvis!” Cirque du Soleil show opening in Las Vegas, he is projected to top that figure this year. The place Elvis once owned and called home, Graceland, is the second most visited house in America after the White House, averaging about 700,000 visitors per year. Sales of Elvis CDs and records purportedly have topped one billion. There are more than 350 “official” Elvis Presley Fan Clubs around the world.

But there is another Elvis, an Elvis whose image has come free of his body and moves around the world seemingly enjoying itself, an Elvis who, figuratively speaking, lives on, and not just in the form of impersonators. Greil Marcus calls this free-floating Elvis image “dead Elvis,” and even wrote a book about it, titled Dead Elvis (1991). Marcus called this Elvis “an emptied, triumphantly vague symbol of displaced identity” (p. 33), but it also happens to be the condition of the android, the experience of the ghost having left the building. You can find this Elvis on coffee mugs, ashtrays, crushed black velvet, ties, T-shirts, scarfs, wine labels, billboards, Pez dispensers, limited edition dinner plates, clock faces, and appropriated for album covers. You can find it all over. It’s ubiquitous. Elvis’s meteoric rise to prominence roughly coincided with the new technology of television, so in a sense Elvis has always been an image, in a way like, for instance, Princess Diana, but unlike Elvis, she didn’t actually do anything. Elvis, at least, sang and made some feature films.

The Elvis image is, in fact, the brand of a corporation known as Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE). What EPE did was to go around the world gathering up all the free-floating images of Elvis, collecting these images for its own purposes. So what is being celebrated today isn’t the birthday of Elvis, but Elvis the android, the ghost who’s left the building, a brand manufactured by EPE. Whose birthday are we, in fact, celebrating? Or rather, what?