Ryan Gosling is versatile, and not just on film. The Oscar-nominated actor—and annual contender for world’s sexiest man—can play the poor romantic in The Notebook or a drug-addicted teacher in Half Nelson, but online he has infinitely more roles. There he is also the perfect boyfriend, a staunch feminist and, most recently, a liberal voice in the body of the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
What began as a joke among friends has morphed into an online sensation. In 2008 Douglas Reinhardt, a writer from Southern California, started a Tumblr blog called F–k Yeah! Ryan Gosling, which featured pictures of the Canadian-born actor with captions that began with “Hey girl.” The blog went mainstream after a December 2010 MTV interview in which Gosling read a few out loud. “This is pretty good,” the actor said, trying to control his laughter. “I’m lying on a couch and it says: ‘Hey girl, sometimes I get so sad when we can’t watch Golden Girls together.’ ”
Thus the Ryan Gosling effect was born. “Ryan Gosling’s face has the power to put your blog in the media spotlight overnight,” says Danielle Henderson. The graduate student in gender studies at the University of Wisconsin saw Reinhardt’s blog and thought it would be funny to make online flash cards out of Gosling pictures to help her remember feminist theories. In one post, it says: “Hey girl, gender is a social construct, but everyone likes to cuddle.” After publishing five posts one night in October 2011, Jezebel.com picked it up the next day. Two months later, Henderson had a book deal with Running Press in Philadelphia to write Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist Theory (as Imagined) From Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude, which came out in August.
“I had a blog for a decade where I talked about feminist issues and nobody listened,” Henderson says. “It is really weird that I’m not anonymous, and they are my words and my thoughts, but that they’re somehow made more acceptable through this very relatable and well-known face.”
There were approximately 30 Gosling blogs on Tumblr before his MTV stint, according to research compiled by Jessica Bennett, a senior writer for Newsweek. By the end of 2011, that number had ballooned to hundreds. The “Hey girl” meme is now getting political, specifically with Republican vice- presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin has had his looks and conservative views paired with Gosling’s online brand to create the Twitter handle @PaulRyanGosling. Every post pounces on Ryan’s right-wing views. “Hey girl, I don’t believe in global warming. But I do believe in snuggles.” Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, named it her Twitter feed of the day on Aug. 15. The pervasiveness of the opening line has no boundary, though “Hey girl” and Gosling go hand in hand.
“It’s a set-up for a cutesy joke,” says Reinhardt. “If it can become something political, that’s great, and kudos to the people that take it in that direction.” The meme was captured in flight during a Ryan speech in Lakewood, Colo., in August, when a plane flew overhead carrying a banner that said, “Hey girl, choose me, lose choice—P. Ryan,” referencing the VP nominee’s anti-abortion stance.
“In every campaign cycle, we see the Internet used in new ways,” writes Steve, a 37-year-old journalist from Michigan who created the PaulRyanGosling Tumblr blog, in an email. “First there was round-the-clock news coverage, then YouTube became available to expose every little mistake and gaffe and controversy, then social media took off. Now it seems like people are utilizing memes to express and share their political beliefs like they haven’t in the past.”
But Steve, who wouldn’t give his last name because his job requires impartiality, says the popularity of “Hey girl” was really about the captions, not the former Mickey Mouse Club star from London, Ont. “It was the funny made-up quotes. It could have been anyone in the pictures. It just happened to be Gosling.”