That Viral Thing
Help Cheer Up Keanu Reeves
by Claire Suddath
Fourteen thousand people think Keanu Reeves might be depressed. And with reason — the man hasn't had a hit movie in years, and his entire acting career can be summed up in one word: Whoa. So when a paparazzi photo surfaced on the Internet featuring an unshaven, mopey Reeves eating a sandwich on a park bench, fans started to worry. Was he sad? Lonely? Bored? Was something actually wrong, or was he just tired? The Internet, as tends to happen, became very concerned.
Did I say concerned? I meant obsessed. The park-bench photo spread everywhere: on gossip sites, on message boards — it even got its own Tumblr blog. People left more than 200,000 comments on the website Reddit.com. Web illustrators Photoshopped Reeves into other sad settings: next to Forrest Gump, surrounded by cats, on the Lost island, in a Lady Gaga video, even next to Stalin and Churchill. Nothing they did seemed to make the actor happy. But maybe this will: Tuesday, June 15, is Cheer Up Keanu Day.
"I'm sure he's doing fine," says Daniel Murphy, 21, who created the Cheer Up Keanu Facebook page to advertise the new holiday. "I don't really think he's that sad; I just think his work is underappreciated." Murphy and some of the 14,000-plus people who joined the Facebook group believe that Reeves' acting is overlooked because of his airhead-surfer stereotype. "His depiction of Hamlet was probably one of the best American versions, but everyone still thinks of him as Ted," Murphy says, referring to Reeves' role in the 1989 movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. That film grossed $40 million at the box office and includes one of the best nuggets of stoner philosophy ever uttered: "Be excellent to each other."
But unlike other celebrity-related Internet fads — Chuck Norris facts, Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber, Rickrolling — Cheer Up Keanu Day seems to be based on sincerity and affection. "At first I thought this was a joke," writes Marlon McAllister on the Facebook page, "but then I did some research, and he's actually a really supremely nice person ... let's show Keanu some love!" Fans have offered to give money to cancer research, donate bone marrow or organize charity walks in the actor's name (Reeves' sister has been diagnosed with leukemia, hence the interest in cancer charities).
This is the most surprising aspect of the meme. While the Internet is most commonly used to mock celebrities, Cheer Up Keanu-ites just want to show the star how much they care. On message-board discussions of the park-bench photo, there is almost no mention of Reeves' good looks or failed Matrix sequels. Even his role in the cult classic Point Break is largely ignored. Instead, people fret over Reeves' strained relationship with his father and the fact that in 2001 his girlfriend died in a car accident. They swap stories about him — Reeves offered a ride to a hitchhiker! He bought Harleys for a movie's special-effects crew! He treated strangers to breakfast! — that, even if only half-true, demonstrate some sort of untapped fondness for an actor of otherwise negligible importance. "[His personality] has made me love his movies," writes an anonymous commenter on Reddit.com. "I don't care how great they are. I love to see him because he makes me happy." In other words, it's pretty hard to hate on Reeves.
And while Reeves seems to be experiencing a mini-version of what Betty White did during the Facebook campaign to get her on Saturday Night Live, fans may find him less accepting of the attention — his representatives do not want the actor associated with Cheer Up Keanu Day. They declined to let the star be interviewed and issued a statement saying simply (and somewhat humorlessly), "Keanu Reeves would like to thank all of his fans for their concerns regarding his happiness and wants to assure everyone that all is well. This situation is a result of a misinterpretation of a paparazzi shot."
"He was just eating a sandwich. Of course he isn't depressed," says Murphy. "Cheer Up Keanu Day isn't really about that. We just wanted to show him that we cared." And that is pretty excellent.