(h/t Jessica R)
Looking at this wonderful photo makes me think of the earlier post I wrote about how destabilizing it was for the culture when girls lost their minds about Elvis Presley. It seemed like the end of the world. That demographic, teenage girls, has always been dismissed (still is: look at the sneers about Twilight or Taylor Swift), despite the fact that, in terms of buying power, teenage girls are the most important demographic in the world. Not only that, but they are LOYAL. You capture the sexual/emotional imagination of a teenage girl when you are a young star, and you have that girl for life. (For example, if Lance Kerwin made a comeback, I would be buying tickets.) If this young woman is still alive today, she would be in her 70s. What do you want to bet that she still loves Elvis? Maybe not to this degree, but she still has his box sets, I’m thinkin’. She was his core demographic. I could get angry (and I do get angry) about the contempt with which young girls are treated in our culture, how their tastes are sneered at and scorned (why does it BOTHER people that young girls, collectively, have decided to love Justin Bieber, or Twilight? It’s treated like a national emergency. The same is not true for the taste of boys. Witness the reverence with which comic-book movies are treated today.). In the case of Elvis, it is even more outrageous because they were the ones who MADE him. He always had male fans, too, but it was the screaming girls who put him on the map. Elvis knew that. He respected that. He stuck up for those girls in interviews (check out that link I linked to: the entire interview at the bottom of that post is filled with fear that girls are out of control, and the interviewer is trying to get Elvis to take responsibility for it – it’s prurient.) Of course, at the heart of all of this, is sex. Women aren’t supposed to want sex like men do. Or, if they do, they are supposed to want it only in the context of a loving monogamous relationship. To have an entire generation of women suddenly start screaming in orgasmic fervor in public, fantasies launched in their heads of making out in 56 Cadillac Eldorados, or whatever it was they were imagining … was completely foreign to our culture (or, at that time, it was seen so, everyone having forgotten, apparently, the mania in response to Rudolph Valentino, and, a generation later, Frank Sinatra). The modern world, with its technology, and silver screen gods and goddesses, had changed the game. The contempt with which girls are shown is reflected in the press. Most people writing about music were men. Many of them were quite knowledgeable (although more were not) about the roots of Elvis’ music, the blues and gospel and country, and many respected the melding of such influences. The whole “girls find him sexy” thing was treated as a freak show, a DISTRACTION from the real power of Elvis’ music. This is another way that men try to dominate the conversation. Not ALL of them, but far too many of them. They want to control how we talk about Elvis. They are put off, somehow, by the fact that Elvis inspires such sexual mania. Maybe they are jealous, and yet can’t acknowledge it. Elvis was such a powerful figure that he exists almost solely in the imagination, even when he was here amongst the living. He was a Fantasy Figure. The fact that middle-aged women would flock to Vegas year after year and stampede the stage throwing off their bras was, again, treated like a freak show, and also an unnecessary distraction – when, to my mind, that was the whole shebang. That was what Elvis offered, freely, happily, and without public complaint. They wanted to see him, and he obliged. Not only did he oblige, but he had jumpsuits designed to highlight his physique and make him as otherworldly and superhero-ish as possible.
In other words, in the 70s, he consciously tried to BECOME the fantasy. In the 50s, it was instinctive. He stepped onstage, wiggled his leg out of nervousness, at his first show in Memphis in 1954, and the girls writhed in heat. He was smart: “Huh, they like it when I do that. Let me see if they like it when I do THIS.” They did. Elvis, sequestered from the press in many ways (rarely interviewed, rarely profiled), skipped right over the head of the critics from the get-go, and went straight to his audience. They liked to “jump around” when they saw him, so he did what he could to make them jump around. He didn’t see any harm in it. The irony is that Elvis was pretty conventional, in his own attitudes about gender, and was fairly conservative politically. But as I’ve said before, you don’t need to be a Northeast liberal progressive to know that sex feels good and that there’s no harm in letting off some steam.
And so this girl, in her insane bedroom, in the zone of her fantasies, was scorned and ignored by the press, which is fascinating when you think about it. At the time, nobody thought to actually talk to those fans and figure out what they were thinking. We don’t have much first-hand reactions from fans. None of that really matters, because girls love what they’re gonna love, and they don’t need permission to love it, and they will just keep on loving Twilight, whether you all make fun of them or not.
Girls and their fantasies are indestructible. It is one of the most powerful energy forces on the planet and Elvis tapped into the Mother Lode.