As you read this, you may think: Maddie, you started a feminist film blog and on your third post this already doesn’t have much to do with feminism. Well, consider this post a response to every single time I’ve told someone at a media and film school my favorite actor is Ryan Gosling and been met with an eye roll, specifically from boys. Because oh my, I must be some shallow girl who only likes him because he’s good looking and I have no credible opinion on film because I just like that he’s so romantic and sensitive and blah blah. One: He’s a good actor in good movies. Two: Oh my god let me live. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, sit back and enjoy my actual post.
You know Ryan Gosling. If you’re like me, you love Ryan Gosling. I think he is genuinely one of the most talented and versatile actors of our time. He always chooses challenging characters in brilliantly done and beautifully moving films. And he always delivers incredible performances. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s so handsome that it actually floods life into my soul.
But to others who may pay less attention to his career, he is something else. He’s a sensitive romantic lead. A “chick flick” actor. His reputation starkly clashes what his filmography would otherwise suggest of him. And despite the fact that Ryan Gosling’s reputation not making sense is one of the smaller issues on planet Earth, it is so so curious to me.
If you look at the movies he has been in, two of them, The Notebook and Crazy Stupid Love, are “chick flicks.” (Though the discussion for what a “chick flick” is and the demeaning nature this phrase has will have to be saved for another time.) His most notable performances are dramatic. He’s received high acclaim and even award nominations for films like The Ides of March, which is about dirty politics, or Lars and the Real Girl, which deals with mental illness, and Drive, which is about a getaway driver who is totally snubbed of an Oscar nomination.*** That last part might be real life but you get the picture. I could go on. (The Place Beyond the Pines, Blue Valentine, Half Nelson, Only God Forgives, The Big Short, etc!) These are just a handful of films that define what his career actually looks like, and barely any of them even make you smile at any given point in time. If you took most of these films and then put them in a Venn diagram that compared them to chick flicks, there would be little to no overlap.
Most leading male actors have a reputation that reflects their career arc to a degree. Johnny Depp plays a lot of weird (albeit complex and interesting) characters, and everyone at the very least thinks that Johnny Depp is weird. Tom Cruise is in a ton of action movies; thus people see him as a tough daredevil kind of guy. Or at least we do when we get past the Scientology thing and the meltdowns on TV.
So how did we end up with a public image of Ryan Gosling that conjures nothing but a six pack of abs knocking on your door in the pouring rain with a bottle of rosé? His movies are brooding and serious, but he remains some kind of fantasy.
If you look at his work, a lot of his films receive incredible amounts of critical acclaim, but a less than astonishing box office revenue. Some are independent, or are sometimes too out there to get an audience that enters the mainstream instead of just film buffs. So if most people aren’t seeing his movies, then it would be hard for the general public to form an opinion on him based off of his movies.
But this sappy image must come from somewhere. And that somewhere could just be the wonderful world wide web. If you’ve never seen a Ryan Gosling movie, you have at the very least seen a Ryan Gosling meme. Maybe you saw the feminist “Hey Girl” Ryan Gosling. (Maybe you literally have a whole book of them. Wait, what? Who said that?) Or maybe you saw a bunch of vines of him eating cereal. Either way, this makes your familiarity with him so lighthearted, and in the case of the first one, romantic, that it would be all you think of.
And even if you are like me, and you’ve seen almost every Ryan Gosling movie, some over and over again, you’ve still probably in your life seen more memes with his face on them than movies with his face in them.
“Hey Girl,” the more popular of the two, has been around since 2008. It started on a tumblr simply called FuckYeah!RyanGosling. Then in 2009 it really took off when FeministRyanGosling made a full time blog out of these memes. Now, they’re everywhere. And due to their sensitive and inspirational nature, we connect Ryan himself with these emotions, even though he himself has nothing to do with these memes.
So, ta-da, mystery solved. Memes. Just like they shape the cultural subtext of many things, have shaped the international head canon of Ryan Gosling. Glad we talked this one out and got to the bottom of it. It was weighing on my mind. Next we should talk about Ryan’s band and how weird and cool it is, which is an even less important topic I could go on and on about.
***And while we’re on this, I would go so far to say that he was snubbed of an Oscar win. Who won that year? Jean Dujardin for The Artist? Overrated. He didn’t even talk! Boring, next!