This morning, BuzzFeed unveiled a devious new weapon in its quest to extract as many page views from humanity as possible: “rubbable GIFs,” so called because viewers can manipulate their movements by dragging a cursor back and forth across them. Creator Andy Yaco-Mink launched the technology with two prototypes: a clip of people dancing in ‘80s workout gear (fun!) and one of a person in a Spider-Man costume vomiting explosively (perhaps also fun, if you have the sensibilities of an 11-year-old boy). BuzzFeed’s intrepid staff then devoted its energies to creating rubbable GIFs from as many kinds of moving images as possible: waves of light moving across a Coke bottle, various American politicians, key plays from last night’s baseball game between the Angels and the Indians, Karl Lagerfeld’s cat. But BuzzFeed got into dicier—and grosser—territory with two highly clickable collections of rubbable GIFs: one of 31-year-old actor and meme superstar Ryan Gosling, and one of 19-year-old Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke, whose precompetition warm-up was the subject of a video that went viral last month.
Obviously, both collections of rubbable GIFs are meant to be titillating. But there’s a disturbing difference between the Gosling GIFs and the Jenneke GIFs. Though BuzzFeed’s Gosling collection bears the provocative headline, “Rub Ryan Gosling,” the GIFs are diverse and mostly PG-rated. In one of them, he’s laughing; in another, he’s taking a drag on a cigarette. In a few more, he’s just making funny faces or goofing around. For the most part, the actor is fully clothed; only two of the scenes (both from Crazy, Stupid, Love) feature Gosling shirtless. In short, rubbable Ryan Gosling is engaging in a variety of activities, and none of the rubbing is of the explicitly sexual nature that a Gosling fangirl (or fanboy) might have hoped for based on the headline.
The Jenneke GIFs have a very different vibe. Though a few of the 11 GIFs show Jenneke doing her job (i.e., running), most are segmented, slowed-down moves from the dance that made her Internet-famous. It’s worth noting that the objectifying GIFs were created a month ago by BuzzFeed contributor Samir Mezrahi, but the “Rubbable Remix,” as BuzzFeed calls it, is much creepier than the original. As the viewer, you can make Jenneke swivel her hips, make her bounce up and down, make her shake her thigh. The teen athlete becomes the equivalent of a dashboard hula doll: a scantily clad female body that you can make do anything you want without hearing any complaints.
If BuzzFeed’s staff wanted to find a true equivalent of “Rub Ryan Gosling” for its straight male readers, they could have chosen a similarly crushable female actor—Zooey Deschanel, maybe—and found movie and TV clips of her doing all sorts of interesting things, playing a variety of roles, wearing different kinds of attire. If they wanted to find an equivalent of those rubbable GIFs from last night’s Angels game but for women’s sports, then they could have broken any number of women’s Olympic events into play-by-plays and let viewers slow them down and speed them up to their hearts’ content. But the rubbable Jenneke GIFs are the equivalent of neither—which makes me think that BuzzFeed’s editors just wanted to get as close as they could to rubbable-GIF porn without having to qualify the post as NSFW.