Derek Hirst is William Eliot Smith Professor of History Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis, where he taught 42 years before his retirement in 2017. Hirst is author of a number of books on British history. For several years he taught an undergraduate class on the 1530s, largely from Thomas Cromwell’s papers in their online print versions.
The real Elvis is American, remember, and America is a consumer society. The desires we project, the stuff we buy—that is what feels real to us. It lets us have any Elvis we want. He left plenty of kitsch in his wake, plenty of pseudo-religion, plenty of Elvis jokes—but he was not, is not, a joke. He lived our contradictions, released our inhibitions, and lost himself in the process.