I met Ryan Gosling by doing something I never imagined I would do — waiting outside a stage door like a groupie. It gets worse: I was surrounded by a gaggle of teenage girls, all of whom reminded me of myself at 13, when I’d spend evenings with my face coated in Clearasil working on my Leonardo DiCaprio web site and daily email newsletter.
But I’m not the only woman who’s found herself suddenly transported back to teenage giddiness by Gosling, as I’ve been reminded with alarming frequency as of late. It seems that not a day goes by without a video of his charming talk-show antics going viral or a friend sending me a photo of him with his dog, a baby or some such “aww”-inducing accessory. Just yesterday everyone was abuzz over a video of him randomly breaking up a fight on the streets of his new home of New York. To paraphrase the words of gossip blog Dlisted: OK, we get it! You’re perfect.
After watching the clip of him dropping his groceries to stop a man from getting pummeled into the asphalt, I joked that he must be a superhero, a robot from the future or a patriarchal conspiracy meant to render young feminists like myself useless. But, seriously, it all got me wondering about what’s behind the swoon-inducing appeal of Godling (that was a typo, but it seems meant to be, so it stays). I went to the creator of the blog Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling, Douglas Reinhard, for some insight. Who better to help deconstruct his appeal than the man who went viral with the “hey girl” meme. According to him, it all goes back to “The Notebook.”
If you haven’t seen the film, fear not, you only need to watch one scene to get it. Gosling’s character is reunited with his long-lost love and realizes that their relationship was thwarted by her disapproving mother who hid all of the letters he’d written to her. I know women — usually more at home quoting the likes of feminist philosopher Judith Butler — who can recite by heart his lines that follow: “I wrote you three-hundred and sixty-five letters. I wrote you every day for a year … It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over.” Cue: Sex scene. As Reinhard puts it, Gosling’s character is “the ultimate, loyal boyfriend” — and he’s literally straight out of a romance novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Gosling has taken much edgier roles since then, like a crack-addicted teacher in the fabulous “Half Nelson,” but that’s only rounded out his romantic persona. In bodice-ripper land, what’s better than the perfect boyfriend? The perfect boyfriend in need of rescuing. He manages to make these things seem not at all at odds, and that requires some true movie magic. “Blue Valentine” only built on this: “He’s not necessarily perfect … but his character has unconditional love,” Reinhard says. He represents “the kind of guy that will love you when you wake up in the morning, when you’re sick or when you’re in the midst of the best day of your life. He’s going to love you no matter what and he’s going to protect you.”
That’s the sentiment behind the “hey girl” meme, which went viral precisely because it translates his romance novel appeal into hipster Internet speak. Now we can lust over this absurd caricature of sensitive masculinity in a totally ironic way — as though he were an adorable lolcat worthy of an all-caps, misspelled caption. “Hey girl” is “I Can Has Cheezburger” for the female libido. He inspires hyperbole in the same sort of way: A recent Dlisted post accompanying a photo of Gosling ended with, “You probably didn’t read a word of that since you were too distracted by your womb sitting on your shoulder while whispering ‘Get me that’ into your ear over and over again.” Speaking of such excess, behold “The Wall of Gosling GIFS.”
It isn’t just his archetypal appeal, of course: It doesn’t hurt that he’s extremely talented and handsome. I suspect the key to Gosling madness, though, is that he has all these qualities, but unlike so many Hollywood heartthrobs, he hasn’t destroyed the hero fantasy with real-life bad boy antics — not yet anyway.
As for my close encounter with The Gos following a performance with his experimental band: It was anticlimactic, and I don’t just mean in the sense that we didn’t have a wild one-night stand. Waiting outside that stage door, I’d felt like an adult woman at Disneyland asking to pose for a photo with Mickey Mouse; I knew he wasn’t real and yet I still wanted to believe. He was charming, gracious and humble as all get out — but after a hug and a photo, I went home that night, called up my boyfriend and told him, “I prefer you.” I said it jokingly, but I also meant it. Even my ultimate celebrity crush couldn’t compete with true love.
Of course, we’re broken up now. You know, yeah, real life. That’s why we have Gosling.