The King: New Documentary Analogizes Decline of America, Elvis Presley

The King: New Documentary Analogizes Decline of America, Elvis Presley

The rise and fall of Elvis Presley more or less coincided with American middle class prosperity. He burst onto the scene into the 1950s, quickly rose to prominence, and by the 1970s he was gone forever.

That’s pretty much the same life span, and time line of the so-called American Dream- the idea of self-determination and success achieved through hard work. This idea of Elvis Presley as a general metaphor for America at large is the central thesis of Eugene Jarecki’s new film “The King,” which takes Elvis’ 1963 Rolls-Royce on a musical road trip across America.

While the film is extremely informative, interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking, the general premise is a stretch to say the least. Even during the movie itself, the director is told “it’s a stretch.” A crew member tells Jarecki “I don’t know where you’re going with this, I’m not sure you even know.”

That’s what is so odd about “The King,” I can’t find any issues with any information that is presented. I agree with all its suppositions and conclusions. I’m on board with the general point of view, but I still don’t buy the overall hypothesis that the rise and fall of Elvis is the right metaphor for the country he left behind.

This doc is like a series of elite tweets, but not really an article; or a lot of fantastic chapters, but not an actual book. A diverse cast of Americans, both famous and non, join the road trip/ideological and historical journey, and here some of the highlights from a few of the more memorable commentators-


Alec Baldwin:

Hearing him say “I don’t know when this will be released, but Trump is definitely not going to win” is powerful. The world’s most famous Trump impersonator points out how Elvis Presley had everything and that you can have a list of 19 major things going for you, but if the 20th is missing, it will be your Achilles heel. 

It’s a reference to Presley’s anxiety, insomnia and pill addiction.

Chuck D:

He blasted Elvis Presley on his legendary track with Public Enemy “Fight the Power,” and he explains those lyrics in full. Cultural appropriation is a hot topic lately, as the extremist political correct crowd, the professionally outraged sort keep citing this idea when they’re trying to force a celebrity into apologizing.

Of course, you can’t believe in the idea of America as a melting pot and believe that cultural appropriation is an awful thing at the same time. The term has been pointlessly muddied and needlessly complicated, but Chuck D summates it perfectly.

“I think culture is culture, and it’s to be shared. If you see a black person playing classical piano, you can’t say because he doesn’t have ‘German roots’ that he can’t play that classical piano. If a person can do the twist and the stanky leg, and it’s Justin Timberlake, I think that’s cool.”

I wish everybody would “get it” the way that he does.


Ethan Hawke:

comes the closest to really nailing down the thesis- Elvis Presley, whenever presented with a major life choice, took the money over everything else, valuing capitalism first and foremost over all other values. America’s only true -isms especially so in the 40 years since Elvis passed away are corporatism and consumerism.

You can trace most of America’s biggest issues right now to concept of making everything available for sale.

Van Jones:

points out how the entire world is watching the disastrous decline of America due to a series of really terrible ideas, one of which is the deregulation of the banks, because of the misnomer that the bankers are oppressed. Both Jones and Chuck D point out how Elvis Presley made his mark by directly lifting “black music,” but never ever did anything to give back to the black community

Mike Myers:

By far the best and funniest pundit in the film. He had numerous hilarious and spot on insights, but perhaps this passage is the most memorable: “you may be asking yourself why is Mike Myers in this movie. I’m here to present the Canadian immigrant view of America and Elvis.”

“It’s like Canada and America were born of the same mother, which is Britain, except you guys went off to Hollywood and became a movie star while we stayed home with mom.”

Dan Rather:

“New York was the epicenter of capitalism, so Elvis had to be overwhelmed with the realization that ‘yes, you have talent, yes you are different, but it’s about the money. It’s about the money.”

Jarecki did a good job with two portrayals- the dire state of the American Dream and the Horatio Alger story of Elvis Presley, but they’re not exactly the same story. Instead of doing both stories well, he could have done one story, either of two, at level of supreme excellence.

THE KING opens tomorrow at The Music Box Theatre located at 3733 North Southport Ave, with a special appearance from Jarecki on opening night. For tickets and further information, please visit this link

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago, is currently a regular contributor to SB Nation, WGN CLTV and Chicago Now.

Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Sound Cloud and YouTube. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to any and all of his.

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: History, Media

Leave a comment