The Truth, Mainly - 09/08/1997

Hard work pays off with reason for phobia: The King was a fink
by Leon Satterfield

I know it's not the kind of thing to be talking about so soon after the 20th anniversary of his death, but I've got a confession: I'm an Elvisphobe.

My phobia has evolved over the years. Just when I think I've figured out the reason I can't stand Elvis, it changes.

Back in the Fifties, when Elvis and I were both in our early twenties, I didn't like him because pretty girls squealed at him. It seemed indecent and exploitive—especially since pretty girls didn't squeal at me.

I didn't like that little lip curl he had either. I thought maybe he was sneering at me because I had no squealable talent.

And he had this very un-Baptist way of moving his hips. "Elvis the Pelvis," we wittily called him at beery meetings of Baptists Who Are Backsliding.

But when the Sixties came along, I learned that disliking a singer for the way he moved his hips made me a retrograde Puritan, one of The Other, not a part of The Movement. I was a badly-conflicted young man during the whole decade: I knew I didn't like Elvis, but I couldn't come up with a Sixties-compatible reason. Thinking about it filled me with angst.

Then in the Seventies, I decided I didn't like Elvis because he was trying to hillbillyize black culture. I wasn't sure what I meant by that but nobody pushed you to explain yourself in the Seventies.

"It's not that Elvis has pretty girls squealing at him or that he curls his lip in a sneering fashion while wiggling his hips that makes him so declasse ," I'd explain to my pubescent children. "It's that he's hillbillyizing black culture."

"Yeah, yeah," they'd say, rolling their eyes and never asking me to explain myself.

But in the Eighties, I found out it's bad form to put the knock on hillbillies, so I had to look around for another reason to not like Elvis. That's when I found out about the deep fat-fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches.

"I forbid you," I'd tell my children, by then in college, "to enjoy the music of anyone who ever ate deep fat-fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches."

"Yeah, yeah," they'd say, still not asking for an explanation.

Things changed in the Nineties though: my Elvisphobia became quiescent at approximately the same time my raging hormones subsided to an obscene gurgle.

"It doesn't really matter that pretty girls don't squeal over me," I'd say to my wife as I crawled into bed. "Does it?"

"Snrk?" she'd say. "Glomf?"

I was even starting to get some perspective on Elvis. I was mildly amused by the Flying Elvi, the ten Elvis impersonators who sky dive out of airplanes. And by the Playhouse on the Square in Memphis which has preserved Elvis' bun prints from when he watched westerns in Row J, Seat 11.

But I lost my perspective last month when, at a six-day international conference on Elvis, an Oxford-educated professor said Elvis "so thoroughly transformed his limited humanity as to be a global possession of the human psyche."

I was reminded anew that I've never liked people who are global possessions of the human psyche. But I'd forgotten why.

Then I read an Elvis story in the Aug. 17 NY Times. And where there had been only dimness and shadow there was now clarity and light. The essence of the story was that Elvis was a brown-noser, a wannabe FBI informer. As I read the story, an involuntary witticism popped out of my mouth: The King was a Fink. Heh heh.

I should have known about his finkhood when he asked Richard Nixon back in 1970 to make him "a Federal Agent at Large" because he had been studying commies and druggies. Nixon gave him a badge.

And now the Times says that a month later Elvis went to the FBI and told the G-men he wore funny clothes and long hair as "merely tools of his trade…[which] afforded him access to and rapport with many people, particularly on college campuses, who considered themselves 'anti-establishment.'" He'd be "delighted to be of assistance" to J. Edgar Hoover, in Elvis' mind "the greatest living American."

He also said, according to his FBI file, that "the Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with young people by their filthy unkempt appearance and suggestive music…."

At last—here was a Sixties-compatible rationale for my Elvisphobia. And having had my sensibilities established in the Sixties—I was a late bloomer—it's the rationale I've adopted as my final position.

So forget the gyrating hips, the sneer. the hillbillyizing of black culture, the deep fat-fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches. The real reason for my Elvisphobia is that the King was a Fink. Heh heh.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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