Expert: Fandom Intensifies Elvis Memory, Influence 40 Years After His Death

A photograph promoting the film Jailhouse Rock starring singer Elvis Presley. (Wikimedia Commons)

Elvis Presley revolutionized rock and roll and is one of the 20th century’s most important cultural icons. With the advent of Elvis Week August 11, one UT expert examines how the intense devotion of Elvis fans has kept his memory alive and extended his influence four decades after his death.

Elvis Week 2017, August 11–19, will mark the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s passing. Fans and curious observers from across the United States and around the globe will converge on Memphis and Graceland, Elvis’s home and resting place. 

Derek Alderman, UT professor of geography, is a cultural and historical geographer interested in public memory, popular culture, and heritage tourism in the South. He suggests that Elvis fans are social actors and memory agents. As an expression of their devotion to Elvis, they identify with, visit, and even protect places associated with his life. They turn these locations into meaningful places, inscribing their values, views, and memories on them.

Alderman

One of the most powerful ways that fans attach meaning to and reshape Elvis-related locations is to engage in the practice of pilgrimage, Alderman said. The best-known and most public Elvis pilgrimage site is Graceland.

Graceland provides a context for fans and other visitors to write and rewrite the memory of Elvis on their own terms—particularly on the fieldstone wall in front of the mansion, Alderman said.

Alderman has co-authored an essay about the graffiti Graceland visitors leave on the wall in front of the estate. The wall was initially constructed as a barrier to protect Elvis from his fans. It has become a location where visitors regularly congregate to perform and write and read messages to Elvis, providing a sense of communion and community surrounding their musical idol.

CONTACT:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)

Derek Alderman (865-974-0406, dalderma@utk.edu)