The price of fame has dropped to $20 a month, payable to Verizon Wireless.
Anyone armed with a broadband connection, a high-concept storyline and the ability to type faster than 50 words a minute can now invent celebrity for themselves overnight, without a single genuine accomplishment to their name. It’s a variation on the 1954 George Cukor movie, It Should Happen To You, in which an unknown girdle model named Gladys Glover buys a billboard in Columbus Circle with her name on it, then sits back and watches as soap salesmen make her a star. Glover was a likeable naif who sought the same sort of attention now coveted by Patrick Moberg and Camille Hayton, New York’s latest nobodies who have people repeating their names as though they’ve actually done something. They’re what might best be called Faming Assholes—famous for nothing except their remarkable ability to manipulate the Internet to promote themselves.
In less than a week, Moberg and Hayton went from a missed connection on a Downtown 5 train to the pursuit of the ultimate American dream—no, not true love; a movie deal—with the help of a William Morris agent. Their saga (and these days, a week’s worth of Gawker items, New York Post clips and a “Good Morning America” appearance with Diane Sawyer constitutes a saga) was a classic tale of overnight success in the Internet age, in which instantaneous fame has become more accessible than ever for those who yearn for attention. All it takes is a Romeo and Juliet storyline and a friend or two with a friend or two; as with the original R&J (or at least the DiCaprio-Danes version), a tousled haircut on the boy doesn’t hurt, nor do rosy cheeks on the girl. Moberg and Hayton had all that and more, making their lack of eye contact on a crowded subway train the most fortuitous missed moment of their young lives.
It remains to be seen how long the couple can sustain the fame bestowed upon them by the gurus of Gawker and the gatekeepers of GMA. But it seems likely that the Moberg-Hayton alliance will extend itself long enough to test the limits of a culture sold for centuries on the notion of love at first sight, and happy to play along with its latest incarnation.
But what exactly happened, and how? A New York Press investigation has uncovered a connection between Moberg—who, an unsuspecting public was led to believe, single-handedly stumbled into Internet stardom—and a network of fame-seekers and chroniclers who actively helped his quest for a piece of the action. Their efforts set Moberg apart from the thousands of equally lovesick youths who post their yearnings on Craigslist’s “missed connections” list and hope for the best. Instead of waiting weeks (if not forever) for his true love to find him, it took only 24 hours, thanks to a little help from his friends, the Faming Assholes.
At 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007, Patrick Moberg, a 21-year-old web designer and freelance illustrator, catches a Downtown 5 train at Union Square, heading home to his apartment on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights. He’s wearing his trademark hoodie and T-shirt, his mop of brown hair tousled to perfection. As he leans against the train door, he spots a pretty, 22-year-old woman with rosy cheeks and long, curly hair pulled back into braids who is writing in a journal. He is smitten by what he would later describe in an interview as her “natural draw.” But as hard as he tries to make eye contact, he’s unable to draw her attention away from her writing, except for a brief sideways glance.
Moberg and the woman both get out at the Bowling Green stop, but by the time they go their separate ways, Moberg still hasn’t mustered up the nerve to approach her; he decides not to chase her down the platform. Instead, back at his apartment, he sits down to draw a picture of the girl, complete with the rosy cheeks he remembered and the ethereal glow he imagined. He describes her “fancy, braided hair,” “blue gym shorts,” “blue tights” and “flower in the back left of her hair.” Next to her he draws a picture of himself: a brown-haired boy with iPod earphones and a hoodie, with arrows pointing to him that describe him variously as “tall,” “skinny” and “not insane.” He then buys the web address www.nygirlofmydreams.com, and posts the picture with the headline, “I saw the girl of my dreams on the subway tonight,” and the plaintive request: “Please help me find her.” He includes his phone number and email address.
The next morning, Moberg throws on a blue shirt, white knit sweater and his ever-present hoodie and goes to work at Vimeo, a social networking site where he’s worked for the last few months. It’s run by a 26-year-old, equally tousled brown-haired man named Jakob Lodwick. Moberg tells Lodwick what happened. His boss has an idea how to help: Why not make a video plea and post it on the Internet? That way the girl might see it and appreciate his endearing, shy manner. That would make her even more inclined to contact him, he reasons.
Fortunately for Moberg, Lodwick is a Faming Asshole. For the past several months, he has become a household name among regular readers of Gawker.com, the popular website that has showered considerable attention on Lodwick’s girlfriend, Julia Allison. The two of them have become fixtures on Gawker, sometimes by the merged name, “Jakulia Allodwick.” The website’s ongoing fascination with matters of dating, physical appearance and fame has fueled its fixation on Allison, an attractive 26-year-old former dating columnist who appears frequently on television talk-shows. Lodwick—who, before Vimeo, helped found the successful website www.collegehumor.com—has embraced his fame-by-association by, among other things, creating a joint website with his girlfriend called www.jakobandjulia.com. There they post frequent updates about their relationship along with pictures of each other in bed.
Lodwick knows exactly what to do to help Moberg’s cause. He sets up a camera, puts “Sway” by The Castanets on the soundtrack, places him in front of a pale green background and asks him to describe what happened the night before.
After running through the narrative of events, Moberg then lets drop this little nugget of news that sends the first glimmer of knowledge that he, too, has become a Faming Asshole.
“CNN wants to interview me tomorrow," Moberg says.
“Oh, CNN,” Lodwick replies from behind the camera. “Oh, I thought you said it was just local news.”
“I don’t know what exactly, how far it’ll get, but, I’m kinda… don’t know how I feel about that.”
“Don’t know. I would do it,” Lodwick says.
“I don’t know, I’m really nervous about it.”
“What are you, what are you nervous about?”
“I don’t know. I don’t wanna be some, just a gimmick story for them.”
“It’s authentic,” Lodwick affirms.
Lodwick posts a mention of Moberg’s plight on his blog, puts the video of Moberg on the Vimeo website, and tells his girlfriend what happened. Naturally, Allison posts something about it on her own blog, too; few of Allison’s daily thoughts and experiences escape mention on at least one of her blogs. (In addition to her personal blog and the one she runs with Lodwick, she’s chronicling the renovation of her studio on a website called www.juliasapartment.com.)
Because Allison has become a media celebrity in recent months, the Moberg mention on her website gets read by thousands of young New Yorkers—among them reporters, editors and publicists. Within hours, the media community is buzzing about the young Subway Romeo in search of his beautiful Juliet. In less than 24 hours, the shy young illustrator has gone from complete obscurity to the verge of fame. By Internet standards, that may one day seem like an eternity. In the future, everyone will be famous in 15 minutes.
At 11:00 p.m. on Monday night, Emily Gould, the 26-year-old co-editor of Gawker.com, posts an item about Moberg’s quest to find his dream girl. The headline: “Prince Charming Searches For ‘NY Girl Of My Dreams,’ Or Just One Of The Other Sucker Girls Who Were Like ‘Aww.’”
The reprint of Moberg’s drawings, along with clever commentary from Gould, an acerbic and witty former book editor (“It’s like a Miranda July story mixed with Craigslist Missed Connections mixed with stalking mixed with everything that’s wrong [and right!] about Boys Today”), gets more than 26,000 page views, which ranks among the highest in recent Gawker memory. The vast majority of Gawker items record fewer than 5,000 hits.
There is, however, one thing missing from the Gawker item: any mention of Moberg’s connection to Gawker fixture Jakob Lodwick. It is an odd omission, given Gould’s well-known friendship with Allison and her frequent posts about Lodwick.
The next day, at 1:58 p.m., Julia Allison sends an email to 25 producers who she thinks may be interested in Patrick Moberg. In the subject box of the email, Allison writes: “Adorable interview—guy sees “girl of his dreams” on subway, makes website to find her.”
That night, at 6:05 p.m, Emily Gould posts her second item about Moberg—this one a link to the Lodwick video. Under the headline, “NY Dream Girl’ Search Continues: ‘It Is Authentic,” Gould again neglects to mention the connection between Moberg and her friend Allison’s boyfriend, except to identify Lodwick as the creator of the video. She does, however, point out that Moberg has failed to adequately explain his dating history, or the reason he plays with his hair. The item results in more than 12,000 views.
The next morning, Moberg announces the happy news on his website: “Found Her! Seriously! A friend of hers came across the site, recognized the description, and sent me an email. We’ve been put in touch with her and we’ll see what happens!
Here’s where it gets tricky….In our best interest, there will be no more updates to this website. Unlike all the romantic comedies and bad pop songs, you’ll have to make up your own ending for this.”
But as it turned out, Moberg spoke too soon. There would be no ending to this story for a long time to come, and that, as it turns out, is how he and the Faming Assholes wanted it all along.
At 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Emily Gould breaks the news on Gawker: “Patrick Moberg Has Found His Dream Girl.” (12,000-plus views.) She seems none too pleased with his decision to retreat from public view. She whines plaintively: “Wait, you’re going to stop being a romantic comedy or a bad pop song now, just when it was getting good?”
Two hours later, on the website of a monthly celebrity-oriented magazine called BlackBook, the identity of Moberg’s dream girl is revealed: She’s a 22-year-old intern at the magazine named Camille Hayton. The magazine posts a photograph of Hayton holding a flower in her teeth, and reports that she’s currently out of the office for an appearance as an extra in the Sex and the City movie.
At 8:15 p.m., Gould gives Gawker readers a glimpse of Hayton and a link to the BlackBook website.
The next morning, Hayton and Moberg appear together for three minutes on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Moberg tells Diane Sawyer that the two met for dinner the night before and that they “totally clicked.”
Allison says she arranged the “Good Morning America” interview.
Among the millions watching the Moberg-Hayton interview that morning is Jason Fox, a television and radio agent in the New York office of the William Morris Agency, and Julia Allison’s own agent. Taken with the two young lovebirds, he arranges a meeting with them and soon afterwards agrees to represent them in pitching a movie based on their experience.
Ten days later, the New York Post reports that “major studio bosses have been wooing” Hayton and Moberg for the movie rights to their story.
It isn’t until the week of Thanksgiving that Gawker finally turns its attentions elsewhere; after all, new Faming Assholes come along almost every day. And in the spirit of true self-obsession, Jakob Lodwick and Julia Allison return their blogs to their usual favorite topic: themselves. Instead of postings about Moberg and his romantic escapades, the couple finds solace in the reprinting of photographs of each other, and the recounting of their daily lives and experiences.
But I can’t keep myself from thinking about Patrick Moberg and his new-found fame. So I make a few phone calls to see if I can understand exactly what happened, and how it is that he’d become so celebrated, so fast.
I email Jakob Lodwick. (He declines to comment—see sidebar.) I can’t find Camille Hayton. I talk to Julia Allison and Patrick Moberg—they’re together, as it turns out, at Lodwick’s office; it strikes me as no coincidence at all that two Faming Assholes have gathered under a third one’s roof. (They both talk at length—see sidebar.) I chat briefly with Emily Gould at Gawker, who later emails me to say, “I honestly don’t remember why I didn’t mention how Julia knew Patrick, if I even knew.” I reach Jason Fox at his desk at William Morris, but only because, as he explains it, his assistant is out to lunch and he’s temporarily answering his own phone. He confirms that he is representing Moberg and Hayton and describes their situation as “a story that’s perfect.”
“We’re introducing them to people,” Fox says. “People have contacted him and we’re trying to find that next step…They’re both very involved.” But he adds, “It has to be the right situation for both of them…Something where they’re not just selling their story, where they have a say in how it’s done.”
In other words, Moberg has apparently made a decision not to trust the public to make up an ending for his subway romance.
No Faming Asshole in his right mind would ever give up a movie deal that easily.
JAKOB LODWICK AND MATT ELZWEIG: THE EMAILS
Sent: Nov 20, 2007 2:05 PM,
November 20, 2007
I am a reporter for the New York Press and am working on a story about the Camille Hayton/Patrick Moberg thing. Could we chat on the phone for a few minutes today sometime? I’d like to get your take on the whole thing (I read on Gawker that you filmed Patrick’s testimonial).
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Jakob Lodwick
Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 2:38 PM
To: Matt Elzweig
Subject: Re: interview?
From Matt Elzweig
Sent: Nov 26, 2007 11:01 AM
I would really appreciate it if you could answer these questions in as much detail as possible:
There’s an implication that because of your ongoing relationship with both Gawker and Patrick Moberg, that you may have had something to do with the 11/5 and 11/6 items on Gawker about Moberg. Did that connection (between you and Gawker) have anything to do with its reporting on the Moberg story?
Did Gawker learn about the video and/or Moberg’s website directly from you? (If not, how do you suppose they did learn about it?)
When did you first hear about Moberg’s plight/quest to find the girl who turned out to be Camille Hayton?
When (date, time, and where) did you make the video?
Obviously I’m also interested in your reaction to the events as they unfolded but at the very least want to clarify these issues so that there’s no confusion for readers.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Jakob Lodwick
Sent: Monday, November 26, 2007 11:12 AM
To: Matt Elzweig
Subject: Re: interview?
LOL, of course you would appreciate it.
Your email address is now blocked.