When the website James Vandermemes launched earlier this week, it looked like a lot of other sites on the Internet. It features 27 animated GIFs of James Van Der Beek—star of such turn-of-the-millennium teen pop culture touchstones as Dawson's Creek and Varsity Blues—in various stages of emotional intensity: Happy! Surprised! Nauseated! And so on.
At first, it seemed to be just another variation on the single-serving, fan-created site devoted to the unintentionally funny facial expressions of pop culture figures: like Pete Campbell's Bitchface—which celebrates the Mad Men character's perpetually smug, sour facial expressions—or Faces of the Last Season of Oprah—which, as the name suggests, chronicles exuberant outpourings of emotion from the Queen of Media and her guests. A GIF of Van Der Beek crying during an episode of Dawson's Creek—known as "Crying Dawson"—is a staple of Internet message boards, so it was only a matter of time before someone launched a site devoted to his other emotive expressions.
But James Vandermemes differs from these other sites in one very important way: the site was created by Van Der Beek himself, with the help of the comedy site FunnyOrDie. He posed for all the facial expressions. He's in on the joke.
It appears Van Der Beek is following in the footsteps of other washed up celebrities-turned-Internet memes: trying to use his online ubiquity to show fans he has a sense of humor about himself—and, presumably, to resurrect his career. But, like others who have gone down this path before, his efforts will most likely fail.
Take the case of Chris Klein, another '90s teen heartthrob (he starred as a nice-guy football player in both American Pie and Election) who tried to parlay his Internet meme into a career comeback. When his bizarre, manic audition tape for the film Mamma Mia leaked online last May, it became a viral hit.
Within a few days, he tried to get in on the joke by posting a parody video of himself auditioning for Twilight, MacGruber, Brokeback Mountain and DreamGirls on FunnyOrDie:
But this video only reminded us of how deeply weird the real, original video was—and drew attention to the fact that he wasn't in—and likely wasn't even considered for—any of the films he jokingly tried out for.
And in the months since the FunnyOrDie video was posted, there's no sign Klein's career is any better off. He grabbed headlines in June for a drunk driving arrest and appeared in a straight-to-DVD cops movie called Caught in the Crossfire.
Even Rick Astley, the subject of one of the Internet's most ubiquitous memes, can't translate his meme into a career comeback. Since 2007, Internet jokesters have been using the video for his 1987 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" as a bait-and-switch: a post may claim that Sarah Palin has quit Fox News, for example—but readers who follow the link to read more find themselves staring at the video of a very annoying song. The Rickroll became so popular, Astley performed the song at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, on a float, with a bunch of puppets.
But as with Klein's attempt to make fun of his own meme, Astley's performance didn't translate into a career comeback. He released a new single last year, "Lights Out," which peaked at 97 on the UK singles chart.
James Vanderweek will probably end the same way. Rather than show us that Van Der Beek has a sense of humor, James Vandermemes—and the rest of FunnyOrDie's James Vanderweek—actually seems to imply that Dawson takes himself pretty seriously. Why else would he think the world wants to see him rolling his eyes, flicking someone off, and winking (not to mention selling khakis or apologizing for being a teen idol)?
As for his career, Van Der Beek told Entertainment Weekly that he's hoping to make a return to his roots: "I did the last 10 episodes of Mercy, and I really fell in love with television again." Best of luck to you, James, but if TV is where you want to be, you should have stayed off the Internet.