The construction of a media persona
The fact of performing as a tragic persona did not necessarily lead Ruan Lingyu to suicide; however, we must take seriously the impact this persona had on Ruan Lingyu’s private life. Another aspect that needs to be explored is how the Lianhua Company built Ruan Lingyu’s public persona and how this media persona interact both with the picture persona and the real woman.
The Lianhua Film Company had a real policy about how to advertise its movie star (see, on that topic, Anne Kerlan-Stephens « The making of modern icons: three actresses of the Lianhua Film Company », European Journal of East Asian Studies 6.1 (2007) and all the Visual Itineraries about Wang Renmei, Li Lili and Chen Yanyan on the website Common People and Artist). In fact, the Company was founded with a very clear goal: the revival of national cinema. It meant an economical revival but also a cultural revival. Films had to become agent of education, support for the spreading of a national culture both modern and respectful of China traditional values. In this regard, actors and actresses had to be highly respected as professional dedicated to the development of the national industry and promoters of a national identity. This was at least the goal but Lianhua had to do with what she had. In the case of Ruan Lingyu, she had to do with a talented young woman whose private life was far from being morally acceptable. The building of her movie persona and, parallel to it, the diffusion of Ruan Lingyu’s media image, can be seen not only as a recipe for success but also as a strategy to hide a private life too discordant with the Company’s moral values.
In the following visual narrative, I chose photos that are most representative of the building of Ruan Lingyu media image in the Lianhua magazine. Photos and their caption show how different images of the actress were presented to the public. These photos are organized along several themes.
- 1. The Star
- 2. A simple, natural Ruan Lingyu: this is how she will be first remembered after her death.
- 3. The Professional: a professional actress, the movie world and the company is her a family
- 4. The Performer: even tragedy is part of the performance
- 5. The Mother: the loving, caring mother exists, and Ruan Lingyu in fact did have a daughter, Xiao Yu, but this aspect of her lofe is shown only in the context of film
- 6. The Screen Couple: when Ruan Lingyu is shown with another man, it is agin in the context of a film, always with actors with whom she makes the “perfect”, idealized screen couple.
From these photos we can see how Lianhua controlled very strictly the media exposure of Ruan Lingyu; as a result, at least visually, the young woman did not have an existence separated from the picture and movie persona. There was no space for another, more real, Ruan Lingyu, in Lianhua’s strategy.
Lianhua also often brought some anecdotes about her. However, anecdotes are all about Ruan Lingyu’s film career, never about her private life; photos too are never coming from the private sphere. If in general Lianhua was reluctant to show its actresses in their private environment, the total absence of photos from Ruan Lingyu’s intimacy is still striking. It becomes even more striking when one sees how, once she was dead, the company showed photos from Ruan Ling Yu private environment (see essay four).
- 7. There were two significant photos published by Lianhua: one to announce the death of the actress and one to accompany the coffin. Both photos are associated with films (the first one with The Peach Girl, the second one with New Women). The company itself chose to show its star as a production of the moviedom and only that. Ruan Lingyu public identity, such as it was built by Lianhua was an identity that existed only in connection with the films, the imaginary world of movies. The real woman was buried, before she died, under the many images produced by the film company in its magazine as well as in its films.
Last update Sunday 6 June 2010 by G. Foliot