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Originally published Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 5:10 AM

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The List: Elvis, Jonathan Franzen, author spotlight

A documentary featuring Elvis Presley’s closest friends, and Jonathan Franzen on “What’s wrong with the modern world.”

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‘The Elvis Mob’

This fascinating 2004 BBC documentary looks at the retinue — known as the “Memphis Mafia” — of friends, relatives and hangers-on that surrounded Elvis Presley from nearly the time he became famous to the moment he was found dead in his Graceland bathroom. A story of male-bonding, fame, womanizing, drug use, loyalty and codependency, the film finds a proxy intimacy with Elvis that is at once revealing and discomforting. As “Mafia” member Lamar Fike says in the film, “Everybody likes to have a big wing over them that you don’t get cold, rain doesn’t fall on you. Everybody likes that. We had it.” Whether he’s talking about them as the wing for Elvis or vice versa is where the narrative lives.

Jonathan Franzen’s ‘What’s wrong with the modern world’

An essay inspired by his latest book, “The Kraus Project,” Franzen’s trenchant and personal piece from The Guardian considers Austrian thinker Karl Kraus’ thoughts on newspapers in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and how they related to our own technological situation today. A brief sample:

“To me the most impressive thing about Kraus as a thinker may be how early and clearly he recognized the divergence of technological progress from moral and spiritual progress. A succeeding century of the former, involving scientific advances that would have seemed miraculous not long ago, has resulted in high-resolution smartphone videos of dudes dropping Mentos into liter bottles of Diet Pepsi and shouting “Whoa!” Technovisionaries of the 1990s promised that the Internet would usher in a new world of peace, love, and understanding, and Twitter executives are still banging the utopianism drum, claiming foundational credit for the Arab Spring. To listen to them, you’d think it was inconceivable that Eastern Europe could liberate itself from the Soviets without the benefit of cellphones, or that a bunch of Americans revolted against the British and produced the US constitution without 4G capability.”

How can you not want to read more of that? Find it online at theguardian.com/us.

Brian Thomas Gallagher, assistant features editor

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