Negotiation on the Internet: the Mormon Hey Girl Meme

By September 7, 2012

Memes are an obligatory part of the internet. They?re eagerly shared through Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other on-line social media sites. They occasionally make it off-line, finding their way onto someone?s cubicle wall or refrigerator door. And I bet most people have had their mom innocently forward them a meme or two, most likely featuring a cat. Memes are everywhere.

lolcats, or I can has cheeseburger?

One notable meme, and the interest of this post today, began in 2008, when writer Douglas Reinhardt was home sick (and more to the point, bored). He started a new site, featuring photos of actor Ryan Gosling in sexy poses, superimposing the words ?hey girl? and a catchy phrase to follow. He says himself that he was inspired by R&B culture, cold medicine, and his inability to flirt,1 but whatever it was, it was inspired indeed. The site attracted a decent viewing but really took off in 2010 when Ryan Gosling himself was handed a couple of the images during an MTV interview and asked to read them aloud.2 He played along, and in poking a little fun at himself, instantly increased his appeal. Spin-off sites were created, of which the Feminist Ryan Gosling site is the most notable.

Today, there are Hey Girl sites created for feminists, librarians, Silicon Valley-ists, poli sci enthusiasts and, yes, Mormons. The latter is no surprise, seeing that Mormons are also an obligatory part of the internet. Their presence ranges from online ‘I?m a Mormon’ profiles, to personal blogs subtly but frequently linking to or featuring a ‘I believe’ button on the sidebar, to the sites that make up the Bloggernacle. So it probably does not surprise anyone that Mormons play at the meme game as enthusiastically as anyone else. A quick search turns up dozens of sites, and many are enthustiastically pinned and repinned on Pinterest.

adorable, right?

Memes like the one above can be seen as a form of digital material culture. Material culture helps categorize religious experience, whether it’s through establishing and strengthening relationships, constructing meaning, or signifying allegiance to a (religious) subculture. Believers have always expressed their religion through physical means, for example by displaying a crucifix on the wall (or a framed Proclamation on the Family, for that matter) or handing down a prayer rug from father to son. There is a relational aspect inherent to material culture, which helps embed an individual in a particular social world. These memes clearly demonstrate this. Not only does the act of sharing memes strengthen community feeling and further collective memory, memes also act as a kind of digital bumper sticker, informing others (unasked) of  your cultural loyalties. They signify allegiance to Mormon culture whether passed on through email, on Facebook, or on Pinterest.3

While there are many memes out there, I feel the Mormon Hey Girl meme is notable for several reasons. First of all, it appropriates secular culture and successfully remakes the meme (not an easy feat). Secondly, it lovingly mocks Mormon culture from within. And lastly, it creates a safe space to talk about important issues. But to fully understand the Mormon Hey Girl meme, we need to first talk about the original version. Although the pictures suggest otherwise, they aren’t really about Ryan Gosling.

Ryan Gosling just has the trifecta of Hollywood-star meme-worthy attributes: an endearing picture personality, talent, skill and dedication, and a charismatic, attractive, photogenic off-screen presence. His star image goes back to the 2004 movie The Notebook, in which he plays a sensitive, caring, handsome man. The movie had such an impact that it continues to overwhelm the more macho picture personalities of other movies Gosling made later, such as the 2011 movie Drive. And because Ryan Gosling is obviously talented, it’s easier to both esteem and admire him and to rationalize that admiration (and thus the hours spent on Tumblr). His dedication to his craft also spills over into his romantic life; fans imagine him to be as dedicated to a woman as he is to his acting.

Yes, he is the kind of guy that would work all day and then cook all night, just so you don't have to go without your favorite foods. He'd even do the dishes afterward.

Lastly, his charisma, confidence and visceral affect are important. The memes often play with Gosling’s looks, for instance spoofing the many pictures that feature Gosling shirtless.

no shirt and antiquing?! Oh boy.

But, and this is critical, the heart-racing part of these memes isn’t about you looking at the Gos; it’s about you imagining him looking at you. Like I said, the meme really isn’t about Ryan Gosling at all. Rather, the core lies in its audience, generally found to be straight, educated, perhaps politically liberal women. Although these viewers appreciate Gosling’s star image, they appreciate the fact that it can be appropriated even more. In short, the meme switches gears. No longer are women expected to let themselves be picked up with a corny phrase, instead, they are the active participants here, using the meme as a safe space in which they can vocalize (female, heterosexual) desire along with their peers. But negotiation is critical here. What makes the meme so successful is the fact that the viewer is mocked along with the (outdated) ideas about masculinity and femininity presented here. This is especially true of the feminist version. As Anne Helen Peterson writes, the memes “combine rigorous feminist theory with something that?s not quite so rigorous ? it couples the theoretical stances we believe in with the negotiated way we live them.”4 The next image is an excellent example.

even feminists like flowers.

This is where the Mormon Hey Girl meme meets feminism. Many Mormons, like feminists in this regard, are aware of the gap that may be in place between their life in theory (say, Sunday right after Sacrament meeting) and their life in practice (say, Friday night after a long week at work). It’s all about negotiation.

Sure, some viewers might just like hearing Mormon-speak from a good-looking, famous guy. But I would argue that other viewers enjoy it all the more because it is inherently subversive to take a picture of a Hollywood star (even if he is wearing a shirt) and make him say Mormon things.

In all these memes, Ryan Gosling appears as the ideal boyfriend. He’s ordinary and self-deprecating enough that you can imagine yourself actually being lucky enough to hang out with him at the local cupcake place, but extraordinary enough that you know you’ll be the envy of every girl there. That you can really imagine the Gos saying all these things is one reason the memes work so well. In a Mormon context, that is reinforced by him having been raised Mormon–he is already likely to be familiar with Mormon language. And while he’s left Mormondom, what could be sexier than being the one whose love brought Ryan Gosling back to the Church?

In a culture that relies on (female) modesty so much, and constantly cautions females against being ‘walking pornography’, the hey girl phrases work precisely because they turn the gaze around. Ryan Gosling isn’t looking at you, you’re looking at him imagining him looking at you. Thus the power stays with the female viewer and the meme remains a safe space to vocalize female desire in a Mormon context. Here, again, we see negotiation between principles and real life: even if you subscribe to the law of chastity, everyone likes to sigh over a hot guy. The internet now offers you a place to do so in a uniquely Mormon way. Such is the power of material culture.

There is so much more that can be said about these memes than can be offered in a single (albeit lengthy) post. Therefore, I’ll leave you with one last point, namely that the “hey girl” meme has one additional function. It demonstrates that Mormons have found their niche on the internet and are ready to participate in broader conversations without losing their Mormon distinctiveness. With Mitt Romney still in the race for the presidency and the Mormon moment not yet waning, it’s not a moment too soon.


1Q&A With Douglas Reinhardt, Know Your,
3For more on material culture, I recommend Colleen McDannell’s excellent book, Material Christianity (Yale UP, 1995).
4“The Ryan Gosling Meme Has Jumped the Shark”, More reading about the hey girl meme can be found here:

Article filed under Material Culture Popular Culture


  1. […] over at Juvenile Instructor talking about the Mormon hey girl meme. Why don’t you come on over? […]

    Pingback by guest post today « — September 7, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  2. Saskia–Hey, girl, what an excellent post! I found myself trying to think of meme-like parallels from the pre-internet world; the closest I could come up with off the top of my head are the “Mormonads” and Pat Bagley-esque cartoons that have frequented the New Era magazine for years. Anyone able to come up with any others?

    Comment by Nate R. — September 7, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  3. This is so full of win I don’t even know where to begin.

    Comment by Ben P — September 7, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  4. This is great!! For more awesome Saskia-ness, don’t miss the Fall issue of Dialogue.

    Comment by Kristine — September 7, 2012 @ 9:37 am

  5. Fun fact: Ryan has a tattoo of the Giving Tree on his arm.

    Saskia, this post is all win.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — September 7, 2012 @ 10:19 am

  6. Thanks, Saskia. This is fantastic. And I must say, that it’s so refreshing to see some gaze reversal once in a while.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — September 7, 2012 @ 10:22 am

  7. First post on the JI that has let me down. Mormon History linking an F$#%Yeah website? Just fantastic.

    Comment by Bret — September 7, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  8. Saskia — One of the things I find interesting is that some people argue that romance novels do the same thing by allowing women to express desire. Many scholars critique this argument by pointing out that it does so within a frame that still assumes heterosexuality and teaches women that worth is still ultimately about being desired by a man. I wonder to what extent the Ryan Gosling meme does the same thing. I also wonder what it says about feminism that most feminist blogs such Shakespeare’s Sister or Jezebel are filled daily doses of cute and such… what do puppies have to do with patriarchy?

    Comment by Amanda HK — September 7, 2012 @ 11:50 am

  9. “Mormon History linking an F$#%Yeah website?”

    Excuse me, Bret, but that language is really inappropriate. Sure, you put the punctuation in there, but you knew when you did that that we all would know what word you meant. So you’re responsible for putting that word into our minds when we read that. I don’t come to a Mormon blog to have swear words put into my mind. Please, in the future, just take that vulgarity elsewhere.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — September 7, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

  10. Awesome! All kinds of awesome.

    Comment by LisaT — September 7, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  11. Thanks for making me laugh out loud!

    Comment by Aleesa — September 7, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

  12. so great! “the hey girl phrases work precisely because they turn the gaze around. Ryan Gosling isn?t looking at you, you?re looking at him imagining him looking at you.” – brilliant! thanks for once again justifying my secret guilty pleasures in some pop culture memes like “hey girl” as a socially and intellectually significant phenomenon

    Comment by Rachael — September 7, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

  13. Okay, okay, everyone. Yes – this is a little off the track of what we usually do around here. But, putting on my media studies + religion hat, this notion of digital material culture is important & represents a new frontier in religious studies. I would connect this, for example, to David Morgan’s work (The Sacred Gaze; Visual Piety) on imagery in religion — especially Christianity — and the devotional (or in this case, quasi-devotional) practices that develop around looking at (and being seen by) images. Terrific observations, but such fleeting “objects” as these are not just the online equivalent of empty calories… they can be subjected to a substantive reading of their meaning, given the right viewer and set of lenses. Well done!

    Comment by Tona H — September 7, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

  14. Wow, I am so stealing this for my class on religion and pop culture…with appropriate props to Saskia, of course. 🙂 Great stuff…

    Comment by Tom S. — September 7, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

  15. Thanks for all the nice comments! I’m a little late with responding due to a family function (the old-fashioned way, without wifi). But let’s see what I can do now.

    Tona: when Ben P asked me to guest post, I was initially a little worried because I *this* is exactly what I do and what I’m good at, and it seemed a little different than typical JI fare. So I’m glad you’ve all responded so well. And yes, there is nothing empty caloric about this kind of culture. I find it fascinating.

    Amanda: I think your point is generally true. All of these memes, pretty much, do assume a heterosexual viewer. And the memes do assume homogenous desire on the part of the female. But I think the homogeneity of the spin-off sites helps here in creating a broader base. And let’s not forget that mocking the viewer is inherent to many of these memes. Those with the tools to pick up on that are less likely to put their worth in being desired by a man. But they are definitely problematic in that way and I’m glad you brought that up.

    Also, I read Jezebel for a long time but I couldn’t get over all the cuteness. I really do not understand the puppy and patriarchy thing.

    Nate R: I need to write something about Mormonads. I don’t know them first-hand, of course, but I’ve heard so much about them.

    Thanks again for being such a receptive audience. My next post is likely to be about food and Mormon culture, so stay tuned 😉

    Comment by Saskia — September 8, 2012 @ 2:33 am

  16. Awesome.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 8, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  17. Fun and poignant. The best kind of blogpost. Thanks so much, Saskia. And by the by, Ryan G. is awesome period.

    Comment by Max — September 8, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  18. I have found few Mormon-themed blogs that offer more education and edification than the composite of articles on Juvenile Instructor. There are none I visit as frequently.

    There are other sites where I might not be surprised to come across f-bombs in postings; I avoid them.

    I am disappointed to have come across such a vulgar term here (3x), even though it is perhaps used in the context of identifying and interpreting Mormon Internet memes. If “tasteless profanity” is prohibited in comments, I suggest it should also be discouraged in Juvenile Instructor posts.

    Comment by Kurt — September 9, 2012 @ 1:16 am

  19. Okay. I didn’t want to address the f-word thing, but with two comments I feel I have to.

    I understand your objection. And I thought about it beforehand. But seeing as my post doesn’t contain any f-bombs in the text, only in one url (yes, repeated three times), I decided to go for it. I reasoned it would be better to reference images correctly (in very small print) than to not give credit where it’s due. I further figured that we were all adults here and could perhaps handle one swear word in an url in small print. My apologies if I was mistaken in that.

    I would furthermore like to add that I chose my images very carefully, making sure I had memes that were appropriate for this site.

    Comment by Saskia T — September 9, 2012 @ 3:53 am

  20. Tom, glad you liked it and can use it!

    Comment by Saskia T — September 9, 2012 @ 3:54 am

  21. This is a great post, Saskia. As someone who struggles to balance the use of popular culture material with more widely-accepted sources in my work, you’ve bolstered my faith both in the enormous value of pop culture for academic inquiry AND in the ability of talented scholars to handle it well. Thank you!

    In a side note, I also appreciate the difficulty — especially when dealing with pop culture but frequently with “high culture” as well — of what to do when your sources use language that isn’t regarded as strictly academic. But I agree that it’s imperative that we as scholars engage with the material as it is, and not sanitize it or otherwise alter it in ways that might make it more presentable but would also affect our ability to examine and explain it. (I think the avoidance of coarse language is often part of the general denigration of pop culture as source — but I have dropped f-bombs not only to examine *South Park* and hip-hop, but also sources as “high” as Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winner *Angels in America*.) To avoid all vulgarity in our work would be to ignore a wealth of sources, past and present… and that would be incredibly irresponsible of us as scholars.

    Comment by Cristine — September 9, 2012 @ 10:16 am

  22. Thanks Cristine. You explained it beautifully.

    Comment by Saskia — September 9, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  23. Saskia,
    Thank you for your response. I was pleased to see a disclaimer on a recent post by Amanda, but perplexed that there is an impression that objections to f-bombs are immature.

    I’m suffering from a traumatic brain injury from a car accident and my thoughts don’t flow as well as they once did. Hopefully my cognitive abilities will return, but please allow me to clarify my comments.

    First, I was offended by the language. I make no excuse for that, but I did raise my concern in what I believed was a very appropriate response. I made sure to recognize the context of your post and also to not criticize you directly. I appreciate your response.

    Second, I’ve never come across that language before on Juvenile Instructor. It would be fairly easy to blur two of the letters on the link so that readers can still go there if they desire, yet not be offended by a word that is generally regarded as one of the more vile curse words at our disposal. If that has happened before and I’m just now catching on, please accept my apology. I visit this site more than any other Mormon blog, but my reading habits have been tempered a great deal by the injury. It’s entirely possible the full use of the word in question has been used before and deemed to be tasteful. I would hope that the feedback of all readers would be encouraged. Diverging viewpoints can be fantastic springboards for discussion, but I don’t know that sincere attempts to participate in a discussion should necessarily be met with charges of immaturity.

    Third, in my experience there are appropriate venues for vulgarities to be displayed without any censorship. I love history, but my degrees are in general sciences, sociology, and public administration. During my sociology studies, we explored and discussed very sensitive topics. I remember one course in particular where the discussion centered around the global sex trade. We read accounts of abused women from around the world, and the use of the f-bomb, and even the c-word, while still very offensive to me, carried points across to us that could not have been conveyed with as much poignancy in any other way. In fact, the personal narratives we confronted were so heartbreaking that my distaste for certain vulgarities grew even more intense.

    The difference from my perspective is that there are certain settings where I know I will be exposed to various forms of offensive material. I can choose in advance whether or not to participate. None of my experiences with Juvenile Instructor have led me to think that I would come across those kinds of words – even in passing. Not all swear words are created equally, and my experiences have led me to believe that the f-bomb is one of the two most offensive vulgarities. If I go to see a movie, I know in advance if there will be exposure to that particular word. If I attend a class where that word will be used, I know in advance. If I go to certain blogs, I know in advance there is a chance I will be exposed to that particular word – and I typically will choose not to visit those blogs. I simply didn’t know that Juvenile Instructor was one of those blogs.

    I did not mean in any way to detract from your posting or introduce immaturity to the discussion. Nor, do I think, did Bret who used the word in abbreviated form in his comment – and which even in its incomplete form offended Cynthia L. at Bycommentconsent that she asked Bret to stop and added, “I don?t come to a Mormon blog to have swear words put into my mind.” To the contrary, I expressed what I believe was appropriate concern, while at the same time trying to give credence to your posting. The concern isn’t that those words were included in the post, but rather that they were unexpected, and to apparently only a few of us, offensive.

    Please accept my apology if I introduced an aspect of immaturity to a posting that obviously stemmed from significant thought on your part. Such was not my intent. In my defense, when I have raised this concern in other venues, it has led to fruitful discussions of the various uses and meanings of the word. The impressive level of scholarship I have seen time after time on Juvenile Instructor led me to anticipate a similar outcome. Mea culpa.

    I appreciate the venue to express my thoughts, and while the sarcasm in Amanda’s introductory note stung a bit, the heads-up was much appreciated and gave me the opportunity to decide whether to read the article and participate in discussions.

    Comment by Kurt — September 10, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

  24. Kurt — I am sorry if my comment about swearing stung. My general reaction is informed by the assumption, which may not have been yours, but certainly seemed to be there in some of the comments, that the offensiveness of material comes from whether or not it contains curse words and not by the overall context of the piece. When I use a swear word, I use it because it fits the overall argument of my work and because it seems to fit the point I am trying to make in that particular sentence, at that particular moment. Sometimes I use such words to shock, sometimes I use them to illustrate the absurdity of someone else’s position, sometimes I use them to illustrate the violence of a particular historical incidence. I tend not to swear on a daily or even weekly basis, but it’s not because I think that such words are bad or shouldn’t be used. It’s because I think that they lose their power when used too often. I also don’t usually append disclaimers to my work. I deal with adult themes and I expect anyone who reads my work is an adult and, as a result, can read a curse word without being morally or spiritually damaged. I expect them to use their judgment and to think about the context in which the word was used and what it’s trying to illustrate. If someone can’t do that, I would rather they not read my work plain and simple. The simple fact of the matter is that the world is a dangerous, crappy place where children die, women are raped, and people are constantly maimed. Interacting with that world in an honest matter meals dealing with that crap and sometimes a swear word is the best way to signal that. And, I don’t make apologies for myself when I use one.

    Comment by Amanda — September 10, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

  25. Amanda – No worries. I agree with much of what you say. I probably disagree in that I think we each have different perceptions when we react with the world.

    Some of our worlds are innocent and naive. Some of our worlds are gritty. Some of our worlds are sad and heart-wrenching, much like the reality you conveyed in your post – which I did read even with your disclaimer so that I might be able to participate in the discussion of a serious topic. However, I don’t have anything in the way of expertise I can share in regard to your topic – only heartbreak and a greater understanding of some of the challenges women face. I have a beautiful 9-year old daughter. Sometimes it is a heavy burden to try and teach her so that she is adequately prepared for the challenges and joys she will experience in the future. Her view of the world will likely undergo a rapid change as she transitions into her teens.

    Conflict brews when each of us comes together and our worlds collide. Some mesh easily with others; some, not so much. I simply want to understand what world I am dealing with. You are right; there are bad things out there. We each face them in our own ways. I know that I have. But I also think it is appropriate to choose to avoid certain worlds – at certain times. By saying that, I don’t suggest that it is appropriate to view the world through rose-colored glasses, nor to accurately perceive the horrors that lie in certain portions of each of our worlds and do nothing to ease the pain and work towards solutions. I’m grateful in my line of work to spend my time working towards those very ends. But there are times when I am tired and need a rest – and go to a happy and pure corner of my world that is every bit as real as the discouragement and filthiness I stepped away from. Juvenile Instructor has been one of those outlets for me.

    I think there are places where we disagree – and I think it’s helpful to emphasize there are also many places where I agree with your viewpoint.

    This kind of interaction is helpful – and educational – for me. However, I worry that in defending my concern that blog posts should adhere to the same policies as comments, I have detracted from Saskia’s hard work. I’ve expressed my concern, and you and I have shared some of our perspectives. Hopefully I have made some sense in the process. I look forward to communicating with you on future posts.

    Comment by Kurt — September 10, 2012 @ 9:26 pm


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