Me and Sad Keanu: A 3D-Printing Story

I ordered him one day from a website that sells 3D-printed objects, a marketplace for goods created in the new way. Then I forgot all about it until the day he showed up, a meme materialized.
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It all began in June of 2010 when a photographer spotted Keanu Reeves eating a sandwich on a New York park bench. In one shot, Reeves looks dejected for reasons unknown. The image was metastatic: he was isolated from the original and pasted into new scenes all over the web. Sad Keanu was born, and then reborn, as a life-like 3D rendering.

But that was all in the computer. Now he'd been printed. This was the real world. What had the the flip-flop done to him? 

Light did not reflect off Sad Keanu the way it was supposed to. It was as if the photons knew he did not belong here.

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I remembered reading The Indian in the Cupboard, and hoped Sad Keanu would come to life. Maybe he would be voiced by a former comedy star -- Pauley Shore perhaps, tuned to that Serious-Robin-Williams pitch. I imagined what Sad Keanu might want. A sandwich, I decided. And we rode to the store.

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The light kept catching him at odd angles. He was all odd angles, it seemed.

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Would he want to make his own sandwich, picnic-style? I placed him in the cheese case.

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But he wasn't interested.

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He seemed more at home with the pre-made stuff.

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At the green grocer, he tried grapefruit.

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But liked melon best.

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Nothing could cheer Sad Keanu up, though.

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I kept trying. I took him to play basketball.

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Sent him down a slide.

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Let him ride a metal horse.

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Listened to records.

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But he was not cheering up.

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Perhaps what he needed was a friend, another Sad Keanu. I took him to the photocopier place and sat him down on the bed.

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The clerk informed me that I could not leave the cover open, that it would use too much black ink. But I feared crushing him inside the machine. So, we covered the glass.

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The replicator did not work.

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So, if he was going to be alone, I encouraged him to commune with nature.

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Stop and smell the roses, I advised.

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Take in the glory of the California succulent.

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Hang out with the green garlic.

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Flowers are beautiful.

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Climb a tree!

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Maybe do some gardening. Smell that mint.

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Kale's delicious if you cook it right, I insisted.

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I turned to culture. Why don't you read some more books, Sad Keanu?

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Maybe investigate Eastern religion?

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You used to love the piano!

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Perhaps take up drawing?

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Just go pet the cat. That works for everyone.

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But he was so sad.

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So, so sad.

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So, so, so sad.

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He could hardly get out of bed.

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Sad Keanu needed a lady, I decided. I brought him binders full of women. He wasn't interested.

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I tried to get him to try online dating. He turned his back on the computer.

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I put him in front of a sign that said FUN, hoping some of the magic would rub off.

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He was sadder than ever. So sad, he found a milk crate and sat among the ratty dandelions.

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We'd been going so many places that maybe it was inevitable. I lost track of him. Where could he be? 

I had to find him! I called out to him. Sad Keanu! Sad Keanu! Anyone seen my Sad Keanu?! But no one even seemed to even know the meme.

Finally, I retraced my steps, figuring he could not have gone far, being an immobile 3D-printed toy. And it was just a few blocks from my house, on a fence covered in flowers that I found Sad Keanu. 

He'd met someone. And he was happy. I let him be.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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