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#$% Yeah! Ryan Gosling, that paired pictures of the actor with pickup lines beginning, “Hey Girl.” However, Feminist Ryan Gosling was more sensitive to gender constructs than his F#$% 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.
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.