The Ryan Gosling Meme Has Jumped the Shark

Three things happened in Ryan Gosling meta-commentary news this week:

1.) The Ryan Gosling Tumblr-sphere expanded to include “Biostatistics Ryan Gosling.”  Add it to the pre-existing blogroll of “Medieval History Ryan Gosling,” “Public History Ryan Gosling,” “Feminist Ryan Gosling,” and dozens more discipline-specific Gozes to which I have not even been made aware.

2.) Inside Higher Ed published a (brief) thinkpiece on the phenomenon.

3.) Well-known media theorist Nancy Baym tweeted “What’s up with this Ryan Gosling tumblr meme thing?

4.) My friend Rebecca, pop culture enthusiast and American Studies dissertator, posited “Don’t you think this whole thing has jumped the shark?  You need to write about it quick.”

I have to agree.  Biostatistics Ryan Gosling is Jumping the Ryan Gosling Tumblr Shark.  Not because I don’t like Biology, but because it lacks the very thing that made the original Ryan Gosling Tumblr (Hey Girl) work so well: you could actually imagine Ryan Gosling saying the very phrases that adoring bloggers were photoshopping into his mouth.

To be more precise: The reason “Hey Girl” works is because Ryan Gosling’s image supports it. You can imagine The Goz saying things like….

…because his image is that of a considerate, intelligent, somewhat quirky yet somehow also adorable and amusing man. (For the specifics of Gosling’s image, see my earlier post on “Why You Love the Goz“). His picture personality may dictate otherwise (read: he plays a lot of assholes and weirdos), but somehow the weight of his extratextual image is enough to convince most of America that he’s really Noah Calhoun (of Notebook fame) transplanted off the screen and into the 21st century.

What’s more, the very notion that Ryan Gosling COULD SAY THESE THINGS is reinforced by clips of him being adorable WHILE SAYING THESE THINGS. He knows about the Tumblr; he finds it quite funny (and somewhat absurd); he laughs at himself and his image which, in reality, just reinforces his image. He gets the joke! The Hotness just multiples!

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And Feminist Ryan Gosling is “Hey Girl” taken to its natural (feminist) conclusion. Ryan Gosling’s image goes to grad school! But here’s the thing: Ryan Gosling’s image wouldn’t go to get his PhD in Biology. Or Public History. His image has evidenced no interest in biology other than hanging out with those ducks in The Notebook. Ryan Gosling’s image would either sell out and become a lawyer (see, for example, many of his picture personalities) or pursue an altruistic career in the humanities (see Half Nelson), more specifically, English and/or Gender Studies. And I’m not just saying that because I have a Ph.D. in the humanities: if I were interested in making The Goz be part of my cohort, then I’d be arguing that Ryan Gosling Film Studies is awesome, which I’m not. See below).

But Feminist Ryan Gosling is doing more than just placing feminist theory next to well-chosen pictures. It’s combining rigorous feminist theory with something that’s not quite so rigorous — it couples the theoretical stances we believe in with the negotiated way we live them.

Take this image, for example.  Yes! I believe that the hegemonic relationship between the state and the prison industrial complex is bullshit, and needs to be eradicated.  But I also want someone to hold me!  (And in my personal fantasy space, that person could be Ryan Gosling.  It couldn’t be, say, Brad Pitt, because his image doesn’t seem like it would want to go to gender studies grad school.  Architectural school, sure).

Or here.  Yes, gender is a construct.  To live that idea everyday — that’s tough (necessary) work.  To emphasize it to your students, to your parents, to your kids, to your peers — seriously, that’s tough, because you’re pushing against a whole heavy load of ideology.  But again, the idea is paired with the idea that everyone, including those who make theory in personal praxis, enjoy and hunger for human touch and intimacy.

Apart from the fit with Gosling’s image, there’s also an element of pleasure and play at work. As Danielle Henderson, creator of Feminist Ryan Gosling, explains,

Feminists are apparently not supposed to have a sense of humor. I think people are really liking the fact that this site is intelligent while simultaneously silly, and obviously self-referential. A lot of my followers are women’s studies majors, or people who have taken women’s studies classes, and love seeing inside jokes presented in this way. For example, if you’re a women’s studies major, you’ve probably read “The Yellow Wallpaper” at least 18 times. Now matter how much you like that story, it gets a little ridiculous.

There’s a lot of “snark” (hate that word), and a lot of intellectual examination of pop culture going on with most popular feminist sites, but not a lot of fun. I think I’m having fun with feminism, but not making fun of feminism. People recognize and respond to that crucial difference.

That element of play has far less to do with Ryan Gosling’s image and far more to do with feminism‘s image.  But again, it only really works because the feminism can actually work with Gosling’s image.  Would it work with Will Smith?  With Tom Cruise?  With Daniel Craig or Jackie Chan or Channing Tatum?  You need a very specific constellation of star attributes in order to make it seem plausible that the person in that picture could potentially read, understand, and repeat the theory contained therein.  You need an image as inflected with feminism as The Goz’s.

(Note: I realize that part of this process is self-fulfilling and tautological: Gosling’s image seems feminist so feminist theory can be ascribed to him, which, in turn, makes his image seem even more feminist.  Star image formation is complicated shit).

As I was writing this post, several of my friends alerted me to “Film Studies Ryan Gosling.”  Part of me wants to love this, if only because I want to imagine Gosling’s image’s familiarity with the likes of Bordwell and Thompson. But Ryan Gosling image isn’t that of a cinephile, and it’s most definitely not indicated an interest in apparatus.  I so wish he were.  If anyone should be responding to these meme, it should be me — someone who loves Gosling AND film theory.  But when you apply his name to film studies, it only make sense with knowledge of the meme and its previous application – not by itself.  In other words, if “Hey Girl” is Ryan Gosling’s extratextual image turned into a meme, and Feminist Ryan Gosling is the higher ed extension of that image, then there’s just not a space for Ryan Gosling, Film Theoretician.

What’s more, the author gets it wrong: sure, Grad School Gosling would know Mulvey and the theory of the male gaze, but he would also twist the theory so that he wasn’t embodying the very oppressing gaze against which Mulvey was arguing.  For Gosling to be the male gaze suggests that he’s fully enveloped in patriarchy — which is the exact opposite of what his image suggests.

Here’s the simple truth: all pop culture phenomenons, especially those which gain traction on the internet, exhaust themselves eventually.  Sometimes it happens through overexposure, sometimes it happens by being spread too thin and thus losing their potency.  Whether Stuff White People Like or even LOLcatz, there’s a certain point at which the very thing that made it work — made it special, made if hilarious, made it something that you wanted to pass along to your friends and laugh at a common joke — ceases to function in the same way.

Pairing star images with dense theory is funny.  Every scholar wants to think that an object of their desire would be interested in the things they’re interested in — would have a discussion in which you share a secret language familiar to a select few (and then, after you’ve had a good debate, you an go to the Farmer’s Market and snuggle).  I wish Ryan Gosling’s image wanted to get his PhD in media studies with me.  But it doesn’t — he fell in with the gender studies people long ago.  That’s where his image belongs.  That’s where it works.  To take it beyond can be funny……but, if we’re honest with ourselves, misses the point.  It’s a meme built on a meme, and thus evacuated of its core.

Maybe Postmodern Ryan Gosling would have something to say about this?

15 Responses to “The Ryan Gosling Meme Has Jumped the Shark”

  1. palinode says:

    I didn’t even know this meme existed until some site or other (Boing Boing maybe?) alerted me to Biostatistics Ryan Gosling. It’s always a strange feeling to stumble on something at the exact moment that it’s exhausted its cultural store. At any rate, Feminist Ryan Gosling hits the mark so perfectly that everything else feels a bit beside the point.

  2. Lauren Clark says:

    Great post. My doctoral work draws on a lot of theory that appears in the Feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr macros, and I never GOT it. Exasperated, I’d whine, “What does gender have to do with cuddling?!?” I thought I was just doomed to be a humorless (hah) feminist who could never find the joke in any funny internet meme. But your analysis makes it really clear for me, and I definitely had an “a ha!” moment reading this post. As far as what I know, Gosling has been very vocal about women’s roles in the film industry and society in general and for that, the Feminist RG Tumblr indeed makes sense to me now. So thanks!

    This said, I’d also like all of this to end, too. A meme can only be self-referentially reconstructed so many times until it ceases to make any sense at all.

  3. I’m no meme-ologist, but it does seem like there’s a disjunction between memes & jumping the shark. If we want to embrace the biological element of memes, the new Gozblogs are mutations of the original (which itself was parasitic, or at least symbiotic). Most mutations fail to thrive in evolution, leading to attrition – see the vast array of defunct Tumblrs out there. We don’t know which mutations will thrive in advance, and it’s only through the post-analysis like you do here that we can understand why Feminist Goz was well-suited to its habitat.

    Jumping the Shark is when an original wears out its welcome through creative exhaustion. Mutating seems much more about mostly-failed innovation, not repetition & lack of inspiration. In short, let’s not assume that there’s not another Gozblog mutation waiting to emerge that’s bound to thrive even more just because a lot of versions fall short. Memes, like evolution, are an unpredictable science.

    (And yes, this is just a rationalization for why the Bordwell & Thompson one is still awesome…)

  4. Oh, forgot to add: you should subtitle your blog “Star image formation is complicated shit.”

  5. Amanda says:

    I’m taking the bait, girl.

    So I completely agree with you about why Feminist Ryan Gosling works so well: “very scholar wants to think that an object of their desire would be interested in the things they’re interested in — would have a discussion in which you share a secret language familiar to a select few…”

    However, I have to respectfully disagree with two of your criticisms of Film Studies Ryan Gosling.
    1. I think the above image, in which Gosling acknowledges something called “the male gaze” yet also claims that you, girl, are the object of that gaze works very well. In fact, it works, comedically speaking, in the same way that the Feminist Gosling quote about cuddling. Yes, there is a male gaze, and this is something that we, as film scholars must highlight and critique. But if the Goz is doing the gaze and I’m the object? Well, then, maybe it’s not so bad. Let’s cuddle.

    2. Yes, the Ryan Gosling meme has absolutely jumped the shark. But I think a major part of the comedy of the internet meme lies in its “jumping-the-shark-ness” (hat tip to Mulvey). The initial humor of the Gosling meme was in the pairing of somewhat obscure theory with a major star (and the feeling that he might even make those statements). But as the meme gets repeated over and over, the humor becomes less about the relationship between the Goz and theory, and more about the humor of the the Goz meme itself. That is why, to name an example only you and I will understand, it was funny for me to tell you that my Intro to Film final exam questions were all written by Ryan Gosling “”Hey girl, True or False: Slow film stock requires a shorter exposure time to light than fast film stock.” This has nothing to do with Gosling and everything to do with our familiarity with this meme and its use of the phrase “hey girl.”

    Not to shamelessly plug my own blog (I am not ashamed), but I wrote about something very similar in my discussion of internet memes. The humor IS the repetition:
    http://judgmentalobserver.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/i-can-haz-nyan-cat/

    In other words, I think at this point the Goz and his star image are incidental. The meme has taken on its own life, girl.

  6. automaticdoor says:

    Ryan Gosling’s image would either sell out and become a lawyer (see, for example, many of his picture personalities)

    Law School Ryan Gosling is a thing now, apparently. :D So you are spot on. As a law student, I laughed really hard at the images.

  7. Rachel says:

    My name is Rachel, and I’m the creator of Film Studies Ryan Gosling. Firstly, let me say that I’m completely thrilled that something I made is now a topic of theoretical discussion. Even if the judgement is predominantly negative, as a faculty brat who decided to go into the non-profit field instead of joining the family business, this will definitely up my cred with PhDs at home.

    Secondly, I just wanted to say that while you are right about the ubiquitousness of the meme, I think you are perhaps missing the context of that ubiquitousness, at least in the case of FSRG, if nothing else.

    I should explain that I spend entirely too much time on the internet. I’m not proud of this fact, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m rarely away long from either Twitter or Tumblr. As you probably know, these sites have their own sub-communities, as well as their own meme-based dialects, rules and interpretations of popular culture.

    When Feminist Ryan Gosling came out, it was both hilarious and clever, and if things had been up to me, the whole meme would have probably ended there. But the Tumblr community, being who they are, decided to expand it. Over the course of the past few months, dozens of academic-specific “Hey Girl” blogs exploded onto the scene, and the whole thing very quickly jumped the shark. But that fact didn’t stop the meme from continuing, and my Tumblr dashboard was routinely awash with the likes of International Development Ryan Gosling, Rhet Comp Ryan Gosling and Poli Sci Ryan Gosling.

    Last Sunday, I was introduced to Handmade Ryan Gosling, which is dedicated to crafting humor. That one was basically the last straw for me.

    “I can’t believe,” I complained to a friend, “that there’s a fucking Hey Girl blog for people who make shit on Etsy, but that nobody bothered to make one for Film Studies.”

    And that was the light bulb moment when I decided to make one myself. Not because it was a fresh idea or because it made intellectual sense, but rather, BECAUSE the meme had already, so ridiculously and unapologetically jumped the shark.

    Moreover, I only expected the blog to be seen my friends, and maybe a few browsing film nerds, but somehow Roger Ebert and David Bordwell got word of it, and the viewer pool expanded significantly beyond what I had intended.

    So while you’re not wrong in your critique, I think it’s only fair to point out that 1) FSRG only exists in response to meme overkill and 2) It was never meant to be reviewed in a context outside of the Twitter & Tumblr-verse, a world where appropriation and superabundance are not only welcome, but encouraged, and all of this weird and crazy stuff makes total sense.

    To quote the comment from Amanda above: “Yes, the Ryan Gosling meme has absolutely jumped the shark. But I think a major part of the comedy of the internet meme lies in its “jumping-the-shark-ness” (hat tip Mulvey).

    I mean, come on: If everybody else has a dead horse to beat, then why shouldn’t I have one, too?

  8. sam.i.am says:

    If I knew anything about the Internet or Film Studies, I’d make a “Film Studies James Franco” tumblr.

  9. priscilla peña ovalle says:

    this was lots of fun to read–from your initial posting to the various responses it inspired. thanks!

  10. jane says:

    ugh THANK YOU FOR EXPLAINING

  11. joan marie kelstrup says:

    I think everyone is OVER analyzing. It’s all ridiculous and hilarious at the same time.

  12. [...] repetition or recursion. think LOLcats, or the Ryan Gosling meme. You need something a little [...]

  13. kat says:

    LOLCats will never NEVER lose its potency. I has spoken!

    The rest I agree with.

    =^.^= meow.

  14. Elisabeth says:

    I think you’re missing the point. The “hey girls” are what every girl wishes guys would say to them in real life. Ryan is the dream guy of a lot of girls so it works no matter which group’s fantasy it is. I will say he works better than other celebs would because he comes off as sensitive and dreamy, but I saw one with John Krasinski and thought it worked just as well because he is another guy who comes off as the sweet, sensitive, funny and approachable type of guy.
    It’s basically an insider joke to each group. I think the craft/diy ones are hilarious!