Nov 15, 2012

Orthodox Memes: Ryan G. knows what he’s talking about!



by Chris Vlahonasios

The world of Facebook is a fascinating place. A forum where the individual can connect with the whole world and the world can be their friend. It is a source of unlimited entertainment and information where the two can be combined to present us with powerful messages – this is the nature of memes.

Recently I was scrolling through my Facebook when I came across a very unusual page ‘liked’ by a follow friend – Eastern Orthodox Ryan Gosling. Initially I thought he perhaps converted and was keeping his Orthodoxy low-key. Curious I clicked to learn more. I discovered a page just starting off with a dozen memes and a steeply growing number of ‘likes’.

A spin-off the popular ‘Hey Girl’ memes, the EORG page serves as one of the few Orthodox humour-based memes. Although Ryan Gosling is not Orthodox (raised Mormon) this series is the creation of a mother and daughter team – Jennifer & Peyton Tosh – who are converts to the Orthodox Faith and members of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Each meme contains a handsome photo shot of Ryan Gosling with the branded ‘Hey Girl’ heading then followed by a poignant yet quirky caption about Orthodoxy. Although it may appear pitched towards young females, even males will find these memes infectiously entertaining. A good meme has to be concise, insightful and amusing – EORG achieves all three.

The massive success of this page is quite remarkable. Started on 27th October 2012 within the first two weeks EORG achieved:
·        just under 2,000 page ‘likes’, which equates to an average of 140 page ‘likes’ a day
·        each individual photo receives anywhere between 30-220 ‘likes’
·        it is most popular with the 18-24yr age group
·        over 3,000 people were talking about the page

Even after this short period the page still continues to grow in popularity. In relevant terms, EORG has hit the stratosphere in just under 3 weeks! The reason for this brass statement is that this page is not a corporation, it is not part of an expensive strategic marketing campaign and it is not part of a political movement seeking a revolution – instead, it is about the Faith. The fact EORG relies on good-will and sharing amongst a community proves, in my opinion, this page has been as successful as any major online campaign, in relevant terms.

After following the page I thought it fitting to contact the minds behind it and find out not only how they came up with the idea, but also who they were as people. Here is the following interview with Jennifer & Peyton Tosh:

Can you tell us a little about your family's prior spiritual background?
Jennifer:   We had been in a non-denominational Protestant church for most of Peyton's childhood, but we knew that God was calling us to more, so we sampled churches here and there. My husband, Peter, would go scope out different denominations on random Sundays, but nothing clicked. He loves history and is a voracious reader, and came upon an article about Orthodoxy. It's just not even on the radar of most Westerners, us included. The more he read, the more excited he got. He began to read the Fathers, Peter Gillquist, Frederica Mathewes Green, and Kallistos Ware. Finally, he went by himself to visit what is now our church, St. Anthony's Hellenic Orthodox Church in Springfield, IL. In short, he fell in love with what he had already seen on paper, but you have to experience the Divine Liturgy to really get it, you know? He brought me the next Sunday, and we brought the kids along the following Sunday. Within a year, we were Chrismated.

We spoke exactly zero Greek when we started but our priest does a lot of Greek/English repetition and we've learned the Liturgy. The language barrier wasn't huge for us because beauty transcends language, and we loved the theology before we ever walked in. Peyton is teaching herself more, and I am working with her 4 younger siblings to (hopefully) one day be conversant.

How did you come up with the idea for the memes?
Peyton:   Well, we had both gotten a kick out of the other "Hey Girl" variations like running and home schooling, since we do both. Then recently we looked for an Orthodox “Hey Girl” and didn't find one. We figured it'd be great, though, so we decided to make one. We thought it'd be a fun thing for us and our friends; we definitely didn't expect it to get so big!

Why Ryan Gosling?
Peyton:   We just chose Ryan Gosling since the original Hey Girl was made with him in it, and he's kind of the most common one for the meme.

Jennifer:   We've had questions about whether he would mind us using his image. The answer is, not that we are aware. I've tried to find contact information to let him know about our variation, but no luck. He has done interviews talking about how he finds the Hey Girl thing to be funny. Like Peyton said, there are Hey Girls for everything from knitting to feminism. I think people understand that the meme is bigger than him at this point. As far as we know, he is not Orthodox, though I'm sure he would find the same depth as we have if he were to check it out.

How do you go about writing your memes? What is the creative process?
Peyton:   Well... we just kind of come up with stuff! Some of it is admittedly from experience, but quite a lot of it is just taking a step back from a situation and going, "how could some guy be incredibly cheesy in this situation?" And then we find a photo on the internet to fit the mood and put the caption on it!

Usually starting anything new is difficult, what was your first meme & did you have any difficulties?
Peyton:   Our first one was the one about incense, because we noticed how many things around our house smelled like it. We really didn't have any difficulties. It just took off overnight, with little guidance on our part.

Jennifer:   I think people were just ready for it. Things are rough all over, and we can all use a good laugh. People have been great about maintaining the spirit of it, not crossing the line into coarse or blasphemous humour.

What was the goal of this page? Do you think you've achieved it?
Peyton:   {laughs} Well, the goal was just to have a little Orthodox humour page for our friends and us, so I'd say we achieved it and then some!...[W]e never expected it to grow so much.

What has been the highlight of this experience?
Peyton:   Oh boy... the highlight for me is definitely other people's responses. I love how much they love it. [emphatically] Also, other people's submissions crack me up on a regular basis; they are brilliant.

Jennifer:   I love the variety of people who like it. There are women and men, mothers and daughters, even clergy. It has a widespread appeal that we didn't anticipate.

What do you think is the key to the success of this page? Ryan Gosling himself?
Peyton:   Hmm... I think probably just word of mouth is part of what's caused it to be so successful. And yes, I think Ryan Gosling is part of it as well, because as I said, he's the typical face of Hey Girl. When we first started the page, we kept our identities a secret and didn't directly invite any of our friends. We both posted a link to our walls, but that was it. And for the first few days, I actually only had, like, three of my friends who liked it out of the hundreds of others.

Jennifer:   I think it also has to do with the fact that there is very little Eastern Orthodox humour on the web. There is some ethnic humour that swerves into Orthodox themes, but not much that is specifically Orthodox. Especially in the West, I think it feels almost like inside humour.

Although your page has been an overnight success have you thought about translating your memes into other languages (ie. Greek or Russian) to reach more Orthodox?
Peyton:   I had thought about doing some in other languages, but I'm not quite that fluent in Greek or Russian. Conversationally, yes; but EO Ryan Gosling kind of steps outside of the bounds of typical conversation {laughs}. There are some things that might get lost in a translation from English. I have friends who are Greek and Russian though, so maybe if they'd be willing to contribute a couple! It's something to work on, for sure.

What has been your experience of Orthodoxy & Orthodox so far?
Peyton:   Well, as far as my experience of Orthodoxy, it's been amazing and continues to be. In the nearly four years I've been Orthodox, it's completely changed the way I look at everything - it's a defining part of who I am; there's no going back. I can't imagine going back. There's so much beauty and depth in Orthodoxy, and it truly is a way of life. Where Catholicism and Protestantism speculate, Orthodoxy understands. There are answers here that no one else can give, because they've lost touch with so much doctrine and history. And concerning Orthodox Christians, I love them dearly. They are generally kind, welcoming, beautiful people. Everyone at my church is family to me, and everyone at Camp St. George (my camp) as well.

Jennifer:   Our church has been part of what's so pivotal for our positive experience. It is a smaller Greek church with a good mix of converts and other ethnicities (Ethiopian, Serbian, Russian). The congregation has become like family.

What about our sense of humour?
Jennifer:   The best way to describe the Orthodox sense of humour is dry. We are an insular community, so it's a lot of inside humour. We have common cause and common adversity, in a word – universality.

Peyton:   It's not sarcastic or mean-spirited. It's just ours.

Do you have plans of using any other non-Orthodox, Tom Cruise maybe?
Jennifer:   Ryan Gosling works for our meme. I don't foresee using anyone else.

Do we hope to see more EORG memes in the foreseeable future?
Peyton:   Absolutely! As long as people are enjoying them, we will keep them coming, and we hope others will, too!

Finally, which meme is your favourite?
Peyton:   I love the one that a fan submitted about walking three times around the table. Initially, my jaw dropped for a second, and then I just cracked up.

Jennifer:   I really like the fan's about saving a kiss no matter how many icons were in the narthex. It really made me laugh.

In essence, the EORG page takes the True Faith and expresses it in respectful and loving humour. Whether this page may attract more people to Orthodoxy was not the goal – instead it is something which shines a little light into every readers’ world and encapsulates Orthodoxy in a funny way. And if, the combination of Ryan Gosling and rich Orthodoxy does grab the attention of non-Orthodox, then all the more glory to God!

Finally, I would like to give a big thank-you to Jennifer (right) and her daughter Peyton (left) for taking the time to talk with me and grant me the privilege of meeting such remarkable people.  
God grant their family many years! +

Click this link to the Eastern Orthodox Ryan Gosling page

If a local Illinoisan or a global citizen, click here to visit St. Anthony's Hellenic Orthodox ChurchFacebook page

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