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It’s disconcerting to enter souvenir shops in other countries (this time, Malta) and find depictions of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley on cheap trinkets. There’s nothing else, usually, of America evident in such shops and, really, there shouldn’t be. They are after all souvenir shops for the locale. But apparently Marilyn and Elvis sell worldwide.

For whatever reasons Marilyn’s and Elvis’s pictures are available on cigarette lighters, plates and cups, T-shirts, and more. The question for me is why?

I’ll guess. It’s because this woman and man, nearly always portrayed in their late 20s at the zenith of their physical attractiveness, represent a personal presentation and/or sex appeal everyone else yearns for. People want to live vicariously through these celebrities.

OK, but stranger still, both iconic personalities are long dead, and sadly, met their end too young via drug overdose. Yet people still buy products emblazoned with their images rather than, say, currently globally known celebrities like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.

Maybe people buy Marilyn and Elvis partly because they’re dead, their youth forever frozen in time. Their foibles and failures are all known and they aren’t around to create further embarrassment. And the fact that they came to their end sadly adds poignancy to their reputations, kind of like John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and political Camelot.

Or maybe Marilyn and Elvis simply attained a certain cult celebrity status during their lives and commoners simply want to associate themselves with entertainment royalty. I don’t know. And I still don’t get it.

Of all the things I consider admirable about America—I won’t take shots at Marilyn or Elvis; I like their movies and music too—it wouldn’t be celebrities. I’d recommend something else for export. Or if it’s people we export, than I’d wish for people of substance, people whose lives and work made a mark. Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower come to mind. So do Helen Keller and Shirley Temple Black.

But it’s the nature of popular culture to latch onto the young, rich, and famous no matter their actual impact or importance. So I guess we’re stuck with Marilyn and Elvis.

Based on this, the rest of the world won’t really learn much about America’s values and contributions. But I guess at least the world will think we're good looking.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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