An Advertiser’s Dream: The Construction of the "Consumptionist" Cinematic Persona of Mercedes Gleitze
Abstract: Mercedes Gleitze was a British endurance swimmer who garnered huge public interest in the 1920s and 1930s. Celebrated for her athletic endeavours and philanthropic work, she was one of the first sportswomen to endorse a range of products, and most famously became a “poster girl” for Rolex. At a time when Edward Bernays was developing the psychoanalytic theories of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to expand the fields of advertising and public relations, the media became increasingly interested in celebrities and the products they promoted. This article will examine the way the media covered Gleitze’s attempts to break world records and how coverage of her in the press and newsreels expanded beyond her athletic prowess to delve into her personal life and financial affairs. It will also consider how Gleitze became a symbol of expanding consumerism and explore how the tensions between her “new woman” status and her commodified persona were framed in the cinema. The article will also offer a consideration of how newsreels, a resource that has been underutilised by film scholars and historians, can help to inflect debates about contemporary popular culture, shifting female identities and burgeoning consumerism.