This summer the Elvis specialist Ernst Jogenson was back with a long-awaited, special remastered 3 CD box set and 500 page book about Elvis’s Sun years from the Sony Elvis collector’s label, Follow That Dream. Limited to 3000 copies, ‘Elvis Presley: A Boy from Tupelo’ featured a range or remastered Sun studio and live radio performances, as well as an unreleased track called Little Mama.
As a fan researcher, what I find really interesting is the extent to which avid Elvis collectors have been uploading videos of themselves unwrapping the box set once it arrived at their houses in the post. While mass culture critics might see the unwrapping of the box set as the latest manifestation of commodity fetishism, it is also a strange integration of participatory culture and elite consumerism. The fans who unwrap the box set get to display their cultural capital and act as consumer guides, recommending the set to other as a way to get closer to understanding Elvis. It reminds me of the record shop cultures of old, where expert collectors would discuss their greatest treasures in a way that marketed them as special wares. The videos are also a way for fans to put themselves in the picture as a trace of Elvis comes in to their domestic space (and, uploaded, that space simultaneously goes public).
Elsewhere I have argued that Elvis fans pursue a practice called ‘boosting’ in which they seek to publicize the large size of Elvis’s fan base. This process of boosting can occur as much through consumption (say, floating a record on the charts) as it can occur in opposition to it (protesting decisions not to release less profitable material). The public box set unwrappers are not so much boosting the fan base as expressing their dedication, verifying the lengths that fans will go to and the love they have for Elvis. They let us in on, not so much the new music that they hear, but on their own sense of excitement. As such, these videos are evidently by fans for fans. Since not everyone can afford the £100 price tag associated with the box set, the videos are, furthermore, a window on the demographics of elite end of the Elvis collecting.