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If the imminent threats of atomic annihilation and communist domination weren’t enough of a concern during the 1950s, Americans had to grapple with a diabolical menace from
Girls screamed in front of their television sets. Boys slicked their hair and tried to grow sideburns. Kids everywhere started caterwauling and swiveling their hips.
Darn you, Elvis Presley.
A war of words was fought 60 years ago in the pages of the Beacon Journal as Presley’s admirers and detractors wrote letters to the editor in defense (or opposition) to the rising
king of rock ’n’ roll.
“Young girls are silly and panic stricken over this knock-kneed hillbilly,” one writer complained.
“One day Elvis Presley will be forgotten while they gripe at some other singer of the next generation,” another asserted.
“If the married men would take a cue from Elvis Presley — Love Me Tender — by loving their wives tender and true, we would have a better world,” a devoted fan rebutted.
In one typical note of opposition, Lee Schroeder groused: “I would like to voice my opinion concerning rock and roll. How can anyone in his right mind admit he actually enjoys this
noise and nonsense? The final insult to the musical ear is something called Elvis Presley. It is time to throw in the sponge when someone from the hills can put on shoes, gyrate
and utter groans and moans to the wail of a group of silly females and then draw down a fabulous salary of six figures.”
In ardent defense, Linda B. Huber replied: “Why does everyone try to run Elvis Presley in the ground? I am a great fan of his and I think he’s the most. All of us teens admire him
greatly and really dig his cool songs. Frank Sinatra was the rage when most of our parents were teenagers. This is no different. Why don’t some of you selfish adults let us have
In January 1957, University of Akron students decided to settle the question once and for all with a Forensic Union public debate titled Resolved: That Elvis Presley Is a Menace to
The debate, which took place in Kolbe Hall’s green room Jan. 10, two days after Presley’s 22nd birthday, covered such points as:
• Was Presley a product of the times?
• Was Presley an expression of freedom or license?
• Was he a reflection of what happening among youths?
• Did he leave children on the path of unrighteousness?
In announcing the forum, Professor Frank Alusow, faculty adviser, noted: “This is well worth discussing since Presley is the center of controversy in newspapers and magazines.”
Students Paul Tussing and Stefanie Novak argued in the affirmative — that Presley was a menace — while Bill Fisher and Teenie Shahmouradian upheld the negative. Dave Davis
served as chairman.
In opening remarks, Tussing and Novak derided Presley as “indecent, sensuous, vulgar and detrimental,” blaming him for an increase in juvenile delinquency and a decline in
morals and manners.
Not so fast, Presley’s defenders retorted. All that hip-swiveling was merely an indication that the Mississippi-born singer was an exhibitionist, not a vulgarian.
Shahmouradian recalled reading stories that Presley was a “home-loving, church-going young man” who was deeply devoted to his parents, Gladys and Vernon. He gave his
mother a new Cadillac and bought a $35,000 home for his family.
“This type of person can’t be called a menace,” she said.
On the contrary, Tussing said he had witnessed a teenage girl flail around on the floor and scream hysterically when Presley performed on television.
“He is imperiling the morals and behavior of minors,” Tussing insisted.
Presley represented “nothing more than the epitome of what American stands for — the freedom to like and dislike,” Fisher said.
“And as for myself, I don’t like him either.”
That’s right. Even though Fisher and Shahmouradian were arguing that Presley wasn’t a threat to American society, they weren’t too crazy about him either.
They must have been persuasive, though, because the motion to declare Presley a menace was rejected.
“Despite the defeat of the motion, Elvis ‘The Pelvis’ emerged from the debate with little more than a moral victory,” Beacon Journal reporter Paul Spindler wrote. “Both negative and
affirmative team members said they ‘can’t stand’ his hillbilly-like singing nor his bump-and-grind contortions.”
|WAS ELVIS PRESLEY A MENACE TO SOCIETY
January 15, 2017 - By Mark J. Price for the Beacon Journal / Elvis Express Radio