Saturday, June 06, 2009

Day 1 - Memphis - 23:15

"Enter the Blingdom"
-Graceland Banner

During this trip my goal is to come up with one Quote of the Day that either summed up the day or was particularly representative of an anomaly we encountered. In our sociology course we've been learning a lot about recognizing the intentional structure of buildings, design of advertising, choice in personal hairstyle, etc., and looking at what the sponsoring individual or institution might be communicating through its configuration. So how does Graceland want to be perceived when they put up a banner proclaiming: "Enter the Blingdom, Welcome to Graceland." According to Merriam Webster, "bling" wasn't even invented until 1999.

It makes sense that they would use a young, hip word to describe themselves. After all, besides our group I saw virtually no other customers in our age range. Many were over 50 or 60, and a few were in their 30-40's. Graceland makes up a great part of Memphis' tourism industry ( fact, more people come to see Graceland than they do to see the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.) and tourism makes up a great part of Memphis' industry (along with Autozone, FedEx, & International Paper). If the tourism industry here is going to survive another generation, Graceland needs to rebrand itself and target a younger crowd, which they seem to have realized. I'll be interested to see how things turn out there.

On a completely different subject, I wanted to describe to you how our day started off in the wee hours of Saturday morning. But I think this video says it all:

We headed out at 10:30 to Memphis' infamous Peabody Hotel to watch the "March of the Ducks." I had been hearing all morning how so-and-so's grandparents drove 100 miles out of their way to see this legendary event; and when I learned that the ducks at the Peabody had their own private elevator (to get from their "Duck Palace" on the roof to the 1st floor fountain) I excitedly anticipated a huge flock of ducks to half-waddle half-fly down the red carpet--literally, the ducks had their own red carpet--to their fountain paradise in the middle of the hotel lobby......something similar to the Running of the Bulls in Spain. But I found the ceremony to be anti-climactic, to say the least. The Duck Master made it very obvious (by his dress, choice of words, and mannerisms) that the main purpose of this slightly odd tradition is to bring people into the hotel and into the downtown area where the throngs will gather daily at 11am and 5pm for 45 seconds to watch 5 ducks sprint down a 30 foot runway/red carpet and into a shallow fountain, and then go on to spend money at the hotel and surrounding businesses (which are not currently thriving; they seem to be barely surviving).

At 2:30 we headed over to Graceland for an audio-guided tour. I wasn't particularly enthralled to visit this universal wedding destination; and I have to admit that I haven't actually listened to an entire Elvis hit, but I will say that I enjoyed the tour more than I thought I would. The tour actually lead us through his home, which remains decorated as he had it at the time of his death. I must say it was quite ridiculous. One thing that really stood out to me was how much of his life was lived out in performance mode. Apparently Elvis accepted visitors everywhere accept upstairs. Lisa Marie says in the audio guide that he would not descend the staircase without "jingling" because of all the jewels he would have on. In other words, Elvis didn't come downstairs--in his own house--unless he was completely made up. His only privacy consisted of a few rooms upstairs.

It's hard to feel sorry for the guy, though, because he decorated his home with mirrors everywhere; there were several in almost every room, and in more than one room the ceiling and parts of the walls were masked in mirrors. This guy liked to look at himself. Perhaps he enjoyed being in performance mode. Or perhaps he was too scared to get out of that mode and face reality? It makes you wonder.

We wrapped up the night with a driving tour of several Memphis neighborhoods and observed the ever-present black and white neighborhood segregation, something I've never experienced before in America.

It is wayyy too late right now to try to sociologically analyze any of this, so we'll give it another try tomorrow. And on your next trip to Memphis, don't forget to visit Elvis' home and grave, and enter the blingdom.


  1. Went to Graceland - Wish we could have spent more time in the town... Being from Ca. I was really stunned seeing the black/white issues that still linger today! I thought everyone celebrated MLK day? Ca kids get the day off, but not true for Alabama and probably other states i suppose?? Wow was that a surprise for me...

  2. MLK Day is a national holiday. I think it's observed in all 50 states.

  3. MLK day is recognized as a paid day off for all state employees and observed in public schools in ALL 50 states, including Alabama. It is a 'Legal Federal Holiday.'


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