Response 1 – The Smiling Star: Laybur (1.1)

By Amanda Booher

Zi Ye’s homage to Laybur, her smiling star, employs a narrative style that is simultaneously traditional and rather unexpected, as compared to the more standard (critical, post-structural) TheJUMP fare.  Considered independently, the rhetorical choices here run the risk of being overwrought and stereotypical. Yet this linear narrative exemplifies what might be the best of the uncommon genre deemed by Zi Ye’s professor as “the best-friend love story.” Zi Ye’s project, then, suggests that “traditional” can still be fresh and insightful.

In certain ways, this video reads like a dramatic picture book: the story is simply, clearly stated, and illustrated with lovely images. The chronological narrative develops along expected emotional trajectories, from a stable, familiar, happy beginning, through two difficult periods of transition (the first, Zi’s last summer in China; the second, Zi’s beginning college in the US), to a resolution both wistful and hopeful. Overall, the images are more literal representations than interpretations, and some seem almost childish in their simplicity. The background music is also a bit expected: a piano twinkles in rhythmic intervals while the melody gently swells with emotion through orchestral string sections; later, guitars are plucked in sweetly sorrowful minor keys.

Independently, the elements of this video might be considered sappy or even melodramatic. Yet when combined, an authenticity emerges. This is due in no small part to the original contributions of the author—her pictures and her text. First the images: most are actual pictures of Laybur, taken by Zi, and they are delightfully candid. They are untouched and unposed, and often even silly; the sincerity is a testament to the depth of this friendship. The movement between the images also works well. Zi employs a variety of transitions, enough to keep the viewer’s interest, but not so much that they become an overused trick (a frequent mistake made by novice composers).

Zi’s carefully scripted text is the second vital element in this composition. Zi’s writing reveals a poet’s heart: she seemingly effortlessly employs rhetorical elements of repetition and figurative language. Again, this is potentially dangerous territory—metaphors of love, romantic or platonic, too often fall into the rhetoric of the clichéd greeting card. Part of what saves this is a factor that could be perceived as a weakness: Zi’s first language is not English. Thus, her writing shows idiosyncrasies common to non-native English speakers, including using non-standard verb structures and idioms. For example, Zi tells Laybur, “You are the colorful key into my life.” When expressing her sadness, Zi says, “It was so pity.” While phrases like these mark the author as an ESL student, they also cause the native English speaker to pause, to consider the emotions these phrases express. They do not read as clichés, but honest, creative insights.

One final aspect brings new interest to this seemingly traditional story: the genre of “best-friend love story.” In US culture, romantic/sexual love reigns supreme; while teenaged and adult friendships are certainly valued, they are rarely celebrated with such affection, and almost never considered through the lens of (non-sexual) romance. At best, such expression may be considered childish. A more common narrative, particularly for young adults, shows friend relationships as full of strife, sarcasm, and disenchantment. But here, Zi’s story captures a depth and complexity of the transition into adulthood, into independence. Perhaps what’s most refreshing for me is this complexity, devoid of cynicism. She composes a lovely story, recalling many sweet memories of her relationship with her best-friend. The narrative also offers an explanation and apology for a difficult moment in the relationship: Zi’s leaving China without saying goodbye. By the end, Zi resolves the tension as much as is realistically possible: she begins adapting to her new life, recognizing the significant change for her and for her friendship with Laybur. Zi concludes by telling her best friend, “No matter where we go, we are always together.” It is a happy ending only in this recognition of change, with sadness for a time that has passed.

The purpose of this video is not dramatic irony, critical insight, or snarky commentary. These are valuable, commendable purposes, and multimodal composition is well-suited to such goals. But we need not abandon traditional, linear narratives in pursuit of these poststructuralist perspectives. What Zi offers is a refreshing, poetic representation of a difficult, transitional time. Instead of a story of dissonance, it is one of connection and fluidity: thematically, visually, musically, and, again, emotionally. We ought not forget that multimodal composition offers opportunities for these stories, too.