How Internet Boyfriend Syndrome Infiltrated Female-Driven Stories

Netflix's biggest stars are rapidly rising to the top on the back of female-centric stories as a result of this social media-engineered phenomenon.
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We’ve all been there—you’re in the middle of a movie or show and you’re crushing on the hunky love interest with the dreamy eyes and perfect bone structure. You get on Twitter and, apparently, so is everyone else. Soon, he’s everywhere. Instagram, magazines, commercials—you can’t outrun him and you don’t want to because the world is gaga over this man (and he's hot).

Allow me to introduce Internet Boyfriend Syndrome—the phenomenon behind men, often actors, essentially reaching an extreme level of prolonged virality mainly for being attractive. Think Timothée Chalamet in the wake of Call Me by Your Name or Penn Badgley during the frenzy around You. Social media is ablaze, everyone wants an interview, and, suddenly, this man is getting new opportunities in high profile projects. He's the new It Guy.

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Similar to the Netflix Effect, the power of Internet Boyfriend Syndrome is unlike any other in Hollywood. After the release of Bridgerton, Regé-Jean Page’s ultra-sexy role as the Duke of Hastings took him from being a procedural drama actor to a possible candidate for the next James Bond. Another favorite Internet Boyfriend, Noah Centineo, finished his run as Peter Kavinsky in the popular To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy last month. Not long after, he signed on to star in another Netflix film about the Game Stop stock squeeze. However, first, he is slated to appear in two upcoming superhero films. Paul Mescal's chain necklace got its own Instagram after the premiere of Normal People, and the actor himself as various projects in the works.

While seeing young actors find success is commendable, what about the women in these stories? Bridgerton, the TATB films, and Normal People are centered around female leads played by Phoebe Dynevor, Lana Condor, and Daisy Edgar-Jones (though Normal People is told from the perspective of both lead characters) and serve a majority female demographic. The actresses all give great performances in their respective roles, and have been in show business roughly the same amount of time as their male counterparts. However, none of the three women have found the same level of success as their co-star in the same amount of time. 

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It’s important to note that both of these examples are female-driven romances, so the love interests are being portrayed through a romantic gaze of desire. The term “Internet Boyfriend Syndrome” only gives a name to the digital hysteria that ensues after viewers have fallen in love with these characters through the eyes of the lead and then share those feelings on the internet. In this way, the film has succeeded in its intended goal. However, it has also, indirectly, benefitted the male lead’s career more than the female lead’s. 

Dynevor’s only upcoming credit is the final season of Younger, on which she has played a recurring character since 2017, while Page has already booked two feature films and was a recent host on Saturday Night Live

Since the first TATB movie premiered in 2018, Centineo has starred in two other Netflix rom-coms, solidifying himself as a part of internet and youth culture. However, until recently, Condor has not been afforded the same opportunities, and, therefore, has not been able to generate as dedicated a fanbase as Centineo.

After the huge success of Normal People during the early months of the pandemic, Mescal starred in Phoebe Bridger's music video for her song "Savior Complex." While both Mescal and Edgar-Jones have continued to book roles, Mescal receives a significant more amount of press, especially about his love life.

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Using these three film and TV examples, though these productions revolve around women, the audience is following the story from their perspective so they too are spending the alloted screen time finding reasons to fall in love with the sexy beau, while also watching the protagonist battle her feelings and neuroses. Through no fault of their own, the viewer is almost conditioned to walk away fawning after these men, rather than encouraged to pay proper credit to the woman that made the story possible. 

As for a cure to Internet Boyfriend Syndrome, that's doubtful. However, in an effort to curb the disporportionate fanfare between the two leads, going forward, remember to support the female principal just as much as you're supporting the hot guy she's making out with.

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