Hey Girl, Let’s Not Forget to Preserve User-Generated Ephemera

Hey girl. I mean...WOMAN.

Feminist Ryan Gosling Respects Women

On October 8, 2011, University of Wisconsin student Danielle Henderson started the Tumblr, Feminist Ryan Gosling. According to her FAQ, the Tumblr was a humorous way to explore feminist theory. Henderson was inspired by another fan-made Tumblr, F#$% Yeah! Ryan Goslingthat paired pictures of the actor with pickup lines beginning, “Hey Girl.” However, Feminist Ryan Gosling was more sensitive to gender constructs than his F#$% Yeah! counterpart.

Feminist Ryan Gosling became a bonafide internet meme, earning Henderson a book-deal, attracting massive media attention, and inspiring countless imitations. Henderson may have retired her blog, but there are plenty of active Ryan Gosling blogs dispensing wisdom on almost any topic: Vegan Ryan Gosling, Programmer Ryan Gosling, and the most recent addition to the canon, Muslim Ryan Gosling.

Hey Girl, I have a problem with the authoritative tone of museum exhibits.Want to join me in creating a dialogic space for visitors?

Ryan Gosling seduces you with Public History theory

And then of course there is my personal favorite, Public History Ryan Gosling.

Currently, all of the various Ryan Gosling Tumblrs are accessible online, but that might not always be the case. There are many questions to consider before preserving these sites, such as whether the images should be preserved individually, or as a random sampling, or as an entire group. There are also big concerns about how to archive social media (do you archive every Like?), and about copyright restrictions.

But the biggest question of all is: should we even try to preserve these sites? Certainly, the Ryan Gosling Tumblrs are humorous.  However, are they candidates for digital preservation? What are the processes of appraisal and selection that can help determine what belongs in an internet archive?

From one perspective, there is nothing especially unique about these Ryan Gosling Tumblrs. They are one example of many, many, many internet memes that rely on user-generated contributions. Some memes use a very similar format, substituting pictures of other celebrities or grumpy cats for Ryan Gosling. Other memes use entirely different formats such as  moving .gifs, or YouTube parodies. Some memes are meant to instruct, but others are just there to entertain.

In a great article from The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal explores pre-internet forms of user-generated artwork including typewriter text art from the 1890s (Please click over, it is worth a read and the artwork is really cool!) The portraits and line drawings featured in the article remind me of precursors of internet memes. Users create art by following templates, but add their own dashes of individuality and creativity. The art is not particularly highbrow, but Madrigal finds in it a deeper meaning.

“Bending these machines of industry to something so frivolous asserts something like what used to be called the human spirit.”- Alexis Madrigal

Part of the allure of the internet lies in its frivolous user-generated content. Will future historians really be getting an accurate picture of the past if we do not preserve internet ephemera? As historians, we need to be sure to develop collection and preservation standards that reflect the diversity, community, inclusiveness, and just plain silliness of the web.

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4 thoughts on “Hey Girl, Let’s Not Forget to Preserve User-Generated Ephemera

  1. lauren duval says:

    Julie, I LOVE this post. I think you raise such a good point–the internet is not just seriousness and these silly phenomena are a big part of how we interact with the internet. How do we ensure that this fun, dynamic, interactive, and inclusive quality is preserved?

  2. db7136a says:

    I agree with Lauren, this post is dope. And, I think that the “user-generated ephemera” is some of the most important stuff on the web. I think about the mountains and mountains of NARA collected emails and imagine a mind numbing amount of procedural dross. But people’s commentary on my Facebook feed, especially on articles, photos, and music, is fascinating stuff. It would make for incredible social history studies. So, I hope we can get this preservation and archiving thing down for this kind of content, otherwise people will look back on history and find us to be far duller than we actually are 😉

  3. I love the post Julie! How would we have survived finals without the Ryan Gosling Public History Tumblr? I agree with you that people sometimes think the internet is all seriousness, but will institutions really seek out pages such as these ones to archive and save? I think one of the most interesting parts of the internet is user-generated ephemera, but will they fall under selection and appraisal criteria when looking for pages to archive?

  4. drdankerr says:

    Hey Girl (I mean Woman), I love the post! You really push the reading theme in a creative and very relevant way. You make an excellent case. Nice embedding of relevant content too.

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