Elvis Presley – source based work
The main reason why sources A and B differ is Elvis Presley’s controversial appearance on the Milton Berle Show, which happened between the two dates, and was the first time Elvis ever appeared on television. This is why source B comments on his movements on stage, whereas source A does not – source B is mainly reacting to Elvis’ suggestive dancing and animal-like movement onstage, which prompted a very negative reaction primarily from the older generation and parents. Source A and B also differ because they are aimed at different social groups.
Source A consists of part of an article from a popular music industry magazine, which would probably have been read by younger people who, with the arrival of Elvis Presley; were just beginning to like different types of music than their parents. Young people in the 1950s had more money to spend on themselves then any previous generation (the average teenager was estimated to have between $10 to $15 a week to spend, compared with just $1 to $2 in the early 1940s), so companies responded with more products specifically aimed at them.
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Source B on the hand is extracts from newspapers, therefore probably targeting older people than would have read the Billboard. This difference in target groups is reflected in the opinions formed about Elvis in the extracts. Part of the reason source A is so positive about Elvis is that he was a figure popular with the younger generation, whereas adults found his persona and behaviour onstage to be vulgar and far too sexual and suggestive for young innocents.
His thrusting hips and tight trousers delighted teenagers and horrified parents, who were worried about the influence this was having on their children. Another reason for adults disliking Elvis Presley for his influence on the young was that he was the singer who best represented the latest development in popular music at the time, ‘rock and roll’. This was a new type of music, which spread across USA and Europe, which had a strong beat that could be danced to and featured the electric guitar as prominent instrument.
Many adults hated the new music and young people felt that it belong entirely to them. Rock and roll was a mixture of white ‘country and western’ and black ‘rhythm and blues’. Many parents did not like the fact that rock and roll was partly rooted in ‘black’ blues music, as this was often associated with what they considered immoral behaviour. In summary, the Billboard printed an article that stresses the positive aspects of Elvis’ impact because teenagers, who loved Elvis Presley and were his main audience, were the people most likely to want to read such an article, and therefore buy the magazine.
The language used is also specifically aimed at young people, for example the use of the word ‘hot’. The newspapers quoted in source B would be likely to read by older people, so this is why they are so critical of Elvis. The newspapers may also have put forward those opinions on Elvis because they are reacting to the threat in 1955 of the new media of television. The articles may be sensationalising Elvis Presley and the crudeness of his personal appearance on the Milton Berle Show to try and discourage people from watching TV in general.
They would have wanted to do this as TV sets would be causing less to people to read the papers, so making TV unpopular with adults might win back adult readers. TV was such a threat because it mainly rose to popularity during the 1950s, when the USA’s prosperous economy made electronic gadgets available for the working class. By 1952 half of American homes had a television set.
For example, after Elvis’ coast-to-coast TV appearance on Jackie Gleason’s Stage Show in 1956, hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the success of Heartbreak Hotel was phenomenal: Number One in the USA charts for seven weeks and number two in Britain. This demonstrates the popularity of TV and its ability to reach a huge, wide-ranging audience. Source C states that “If his entertainment could be confined to records, it might not be too bad an influence on the young, but unfortunately Presley makes personal appearances. This backs up my point that both the newspapers and their older readers are reacting to Elvis’ appearance on television on 5 June. One aspect of middle-class suburban life was the rapid growth of church congregations. Reasons for this included the threat of the Cold War to the United States of America from atheist Communists, which led some people, including the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, to encourage parents to take their children to church as a defence against Communism.
There was also the fact that joining such organisations helped replace the friendships and sense of community left behind when people moved to the suburbs. By 1960 more than 65% of adults were regular churchgoers, compared with less than 50% in 1940. This meant that quite a large part of society in 1956 was religious, meaning a bigger audience for a Catholic magazine such as ‘America’, and reasons for adults to dislike Elvis Presley on religious grounds. A way in which the sources B and C agree is that they worried (or making parents worry) about Elvis’ influence on the young.
Source D shows that Roy Orbison (also a musician, but more middle-of-the road than Elvis’ rock and roll) who would normally be expected to be supportive of a fellow up and coming singer, thought Elvis was “shocking” and a “punk kid” even though he could sing well. However, Orbison was trying to make a name for himself at the time, and would have been overshadowed by the impact of Elvis, so he may have been giving these particular views or exaggerating Elvis’ actions on stage in a purposeful attempt to discredit him, which, with Elvis out of the way, would help him achieve a better audience for his music.
Source D helps to explain why B is so outraged and shocked by Elvis, as clearly Roy Orbison personifies the type of middle-of-the road music people were used to up until Elvis’ arrival on the music scene, and the fact that he himself finds it outrageous shows just how atypical and different Elvis’ personal style and music must have seemed at the time.
Source A and Source B differ because A is mainly informing people about the popularity of his music and his singing ability, but is also positive because it is aimed at teenagers who, unlike adults, were delighted by Elvis (his music and his performing). B, C and D on the other hand are mainly about Elvis’ behaviour and the fact that he is on TV, because the people writing these articles are concerned about his influence on the young (and on the music business, in the case of Roy Orbison).