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!
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?