On Wednesday night, Mahir came to San Francisco. I think it's fair to say that his appearance caused more of a minor sensation than Santa himself might have, had he materialized in the sky behind eight flying reindeer. Fame is truly an odd beast.
In case you haven't heard of Mahir, here's the story: This Turkish accordion player became a phenomenon in November when his Web site -- complete with skimpy bathing suit shots and misspelled exclamations that he liked sex and wanted to photograph nude models -- became suddenly popular. Millions thronged to his Web page, started fan clubs and sent him love letters. We later discovered that the humorous text on his page was the result of an anonymous hacker, but Mahir Cagri was already famous, featured in the pages of People, Time and USA Today.
The Net industry being what it currently is, it didn't take long for an enterprising start-up to invite Mahir on a promotional tour of the United States. This is the first stop and San Francisco has come out to celebrate. Mahir Cagri will be presented the cyberkey to San Francisco (whatever that may be) and will, I'm promised, play the accordion. The Net industry's best and brightest will be in attendance -- some to see the man in the flesh, others to leach off a bit of Mahir's odd notoriety. No marketing budget has been as effective as Mahir's amateur Web page.
Considering that Mahir is a Turkish nobody who didn't do much of anything to deserve his fame, it's slightly astonishing to realize that nearly 2,000 people have RSVP'd to this sudden Net sensation coming-out party. When I arrive on the scene -- following the searchlights across the city -- there are already a few hundred fans already in place, anxiously awaiting the appearance of the Turkish stud himself. Our host, eTour, has provided meatballs and brie and Thai chicken on skewers, plus all the free cocktails you can drink.
A few heavily made-up belly dancers roam the floor, and party goers pounce on the ping-pong table in the corner; a bad DJ plays Third Eye Blind tunes while a handful of happily drunk dot-commers dance. ETour has plastered the walls with its logos and Mahir posters; I even score a Mahir World Tour T-shirt. I can only wonder what it costs to wine and dine this crowd of strangers -- none of whom, incidentally, have been able to tell me what exactly eTour does.
I saunter over to a crowd of saucy young sexpots, each wearing a tight Rouze.com T-shirt; it turns out that they are all nude models who regularly pose in the buff for the men's portal Rouze.com. "We want Mahir -- we're going to give him soooo many kisses until you can't even see his face!" burbles Babsi, one curly haired model.
"He wants to shoot nude models and here we are," chimes in Tatiana, a tiny baby-faced girl, still wearing braces, who looks no older than 15. She giggles and adds, "As long as they're tasteful ..."
I head over to another group of leather-clad hipsters, and ask why they've showed up. "I'm here for the free food and booze," says Steve Rodriguez, a local musician who was invited by a friend at Go.com. He pauses and elaborates: "It's like a 'Saturday Night Live' skit got big, and we showed up to hang around."
The natives are getting increasingly tipsy and restless, but Mahir's limousine finally pulls up at 8:30. As the theme from "Rocky" blasts over the sound system, Mahir appears in the doorway, surrounded by TV cameras and flashing lights and flanked by eTour P.R. people. The crowd goes nuts, screaming and pushing forward and acting like a bunch of teenage girls at a Backstreet Boys concert. Clad in a turquoise eTour polo shirt and stylish wrap-around glasses, Mahir grins abashedly at the throngs below. He is clearly having the time of his life.
The Rouze.com models appear in the middle of the crowd, hoisting enormous signs that read "We kiss you, Mahir!" and "We love sex!" They push in around Mahir, giving him hugs and kisses and then smiling big for the cameras that pull in around them to capture the moment. (The Rouze.com logos are prominently displayed for the television crew.)
"We're taking him back to let him rest and have a drink, and then we 'invitate' you to come watch him speak," announces an eTour spokesperson over the PA, but it's too late: The room is in total pandemonium, and Mahir can't make it across the room as his fans crowd around him. One man waves a print-out of Mahir's Web page and begs for an autograph; others just crowd in for kisses. Mahir doesn't seem to have much to say, but jovially smiles and greets everyone who comes this way.
"It's the weirdest thing in the world to see hundreds of people go ape shit over a guy who built a really bad Web page," comments bystander Chris Groves. "He didn't even build it himself."
Finally, I make my way up to Mahir himself, pompously thinking that he might remember me as the first journalist to write a story about him. We had spoken on the phone a month earlier, when he was still in Izmir and not quite the phenomenon he is today. We had connected! I thought. It's a squeeze, but suddenly I'm face to face with the man himself and he looks ... well ... normal. No shiny suits, the mustache has been trimmed -- if it weren't for the TV lights and the wrap-around sunglasses he'd look like just about any other average Joe. He doesn't speak much English. He looks a bit stressed. But here, he's a rock star.
"Remember me? Janelle Brown, from Salon.com?" I yell in Mahir's ear, as the crowd closes in around me. Mahir looks at me blankly, so I point to my name tag. "Salon.com? I wrote about you?" He smiles, perhaps in recognition or perhaps because he's just being nice. I impulsively kiss him on both cheeks. He blurts back, "I talk you later," and disappears into the throng to greet his fans.
Ah, the callousness of celebrity.