New ‘Elvis’ Movie Shows How Social Media Killed Celebrity Talent
Director Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is the target of much scorn online. NPR calls the film “dizzyingly absurd”, Mashable calls it “bizarre, dark and confusing”, and The Daily Beast writes that it is “noisy exhaustion”. [and] terribly boring. Luhrmann’s creation is also being criticized for not lambasting the king of rock ‘n roll for his “appropriation of black culture”, and according to Rolling Stone, Gen Z users TikTok – the epitome of cultural expertise – “call him”.
When I heard that a new Elvis movie was in the works, I thought, “Elvis? Really? Why Elvis, of all? For me, trying to reincarnate the animal magnetism of Elvis on screen is like telling someone how good fresh Italian gelato is by describing it in words. You can not.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film. Not because star Austin Butler captures the King’s charisma – I agree with critics who say Butler nailed the voice and dance moves but ‘not the soul or sex appeal of Elvis Presley – but because it reminded me of what it is to be captivated by a celebrity who exudes the authentic, the irresistible I do not know what.
An early scene in the film shows a young Elvis taking the stage for one of his first performances. He is nervous and slow to come to life. But when he does, the crowd goes wild, with 1950s Puritan housewives in hats and gloves deranged and worried that their daughters, screaming and fainting to “Elvis the Basin,” are possessed by an agent of Satan. or something like that.
By today’s standards, in which Miley Cyrus twerking on Robin Thicke in a flesh-colored plastic bikini with a foam finger is now considered one of her most docile performances, Elvis is hardly provocative. But at the time, and what Luhrmann illustrates, Elvis was doing something innovative and daring. He was initially censored on television and his performances edited to comply with Federal Communications Commission rules. Nonetheless, as ClassicRockHistory.com notes, “Elvis Presley’s talent, work ethic, drive, and appeal outweighed the censor’s ability to curb Elvis’ train.”
Hollywood clones afraid to speak
These days, however, the worst thing you can do for your career in Hollywood is to question the status quo, and there’s no such thing as “trumping the censors.” Rather than shoot for stardom, you’re simply canceled for daring to stand up to the establishment. Your voice is cut off and your career is over. Look what happened to Gina Carano, Antonio Sabato Jr. and many other stars who were silenced because they were different. And so we end up with a Hollywood made up of uninteresting and uninspired plastic clones who are afraid to think, speak or behave on their own.
It makes sense: if you’re afraid to make up your own mind and truly express yourself, how artistic and creative can you really be? To be a star now, you can hardly be relevant without social media, the zeitgeist of the modern conformist age where actions and opinions are scrutinized and echo through eternity. If you had a thought or did something and didn’t post anything online, did it really happen?
famous for doing nothing
Jennifer Aniston recently came under fire for blaming the internet for shaping “a new culture about people getting famous. This stuff of people who get famous for doing nothing. I mean – Paris Hilton, Monica Lewinsky, everyone… You’re famous on TikTok. You are famous on YouTube. You are famous on Instagram. It’s a bit like it dilutes the work of our actor.
Aniston, whose parents were actors, has been attacked for being a “nepotism baby”. But many people have also come to his defense, pointing out that in the 90s you “actually had to have talent”. I was struck by the truth while watching another blockbuster movie in theaters recently. My brother and I both found “Top Gun: Maverick” entertaining, but we had the same reaction: the actors playing the young guns – Hangman and Rooster – were so lame, especially compared to the fun bravado held effortlessly by Maverick, Iceman, and Goose in the original film.
Young guys just don’t have the swagger or the imagination to make their characters memorable. They’re handsome and capable, but like Butler’s Elvis, they seem to be more impersonators than movie stars with their own cool factor. Think James Dean in “Giant”, Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”, John Wayne in “True Grit” or Humphrey Bogart in “Key Largo”. The reason Old Hollywood is so revered is that its members have had the audacity to provide the public with dynamic personalities to admire.
It didn’t help that I watched “Elvis” and “Maverick” around the same time I rewatched the 1989 “Lonesome Dove” miniseries, in which even minor characters are stars at full share. The way Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones use speech patterns and mannerisms to make their characters charming, real, and unforgettable is masterful. But it takes a certain audacity that I don’t see in new players and “influencers” who fit the cookie-cutter mold but lack lasting flavor.
Deroy Murdock is right when he writes that the movie “Elvis” “highlights two key aspects of American exceptionalism: the eternal quest for success and this country’s endless paths to personal reinvention”. In a world where “the quest for success” in Hollywood simply involves posting salacious selfies, and where canceling culture makes “personal reinvention” largely impossible, this film is a fun reminder that at one time it Not so long ago, characters could be larger than life, it paid to have style, and celebrities were worth celebrating.
Teresa Mull is associate editor of Spectator World and writes from the Pennsylvania Wilds.