Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A mustachioed fun-loving Turkish guy throws up a personal Web page that, in simple, bad English, depicts him as a regular Renaissance stud muffin, who loves to travel, plays numerous instruments, is single, and — the kicker — he states, “I like sex.” He offers a picture of himself in a tight red Speedo bathing suit and headlines his page “I KISS YOU!!!!!!” “I like to be friendship from different country,” he says on his page, and I quote. “Who is want to come Turkey I can invitate … She can stay my home …”
No doubt you’ve run across his kind before. There is no shortage of personal Web pages boasting of deeds and talents, and it’s not hard to find the English language being violently abused on the Net (even by native speakers). But this guy is different.
In November, the address of his homely page mysteriously blitzed ’round the Net in record time, bringing in massive hits. Fans sites and spoof sites materialized overnight; publications, cyber and real-world, such as Salon.com, The Guardian and BusinessWeek, stoked the fire; and before you could quote Andy Warhol’s fame formula, the Turkish guy with the Cyrano-esque proboscis and the come-hither smile had an official Web ring, a portal (well, a faux portal) and an all-expenses paid trip to meet the media and his adoring fans in the United States.
If this is news to you, let me introduce you to the Mahir craze, a phenomenon more genuine than OurFirstTime.com, funnier than the Dancing Baby, more universal than the phony graduation speech, more insidious than Melissa and Pikachu put together (OK, that last one is a little over the top).
Mahir Cagri, a freelance journalist and erstwhile accordion player out of Izmir, Turkey, is currently winding up his two-week tour, courtesy of eTour.com, a Web guidance site, but there is talk of a MahirCam, an appearance on “The Tonight Show,” and maybe even a Hollywood deal.
The irony emerged a few weeks ago when it was discovered that the Web page responsible for his fame wasn’t even made by Mahir but one hijacked and modified by an anonymous hacker. The original site had reportedly been up a year and was a fairly straightforward introduction; the hijacked site, which was a modified mirror of the original, was a bit racier. As soon as the site starting getting traffic, Mahir was flooded with e-mail and calls to his cellular phone.
what do you do when the Web turns you into an accidental celeb? Mahir appears to be going with the flow. His images and words have been appropriated up and down the Net, and he’s not crazy about that. On the other hand, he has reportedly received numerous offers of marriage, which can’t be so bad.
Regardless of how Mahir landed on the radar, his charm is undeniable (he could be a Turkish relative of Roberto Benigni — not as witty, but almost as funny) and his figure has taken on borderless Zelig-like qualities. Call him a Photoshop Rorschach test: With his simple wish for world peace, not to mention a reported aspiration to work with the U.N., could he be the Web’s Forrest Gump? (The photo of him playing Ping Pong has helped immensely). And look! He’s Michael Jackson, he’s Lee Harvey Oswald, he’s a Beatle! Even other famous people have been cast in the mold of Mahir, from Pee Wee Herman and Elvis to President Clinton and Barry White (Remember, he likes sex).
While Mahir is an everyman, Mahir might also be everyone’s fool. Good thing he appears to have a sense of humor, and apparently a good heart. His tour might recall scenes from “The Elephant Man,” but at least Mahir is using his platform to ask some simple but important questions.
the bottom of his page he addresses the “realities of the world”: “Do you know what is happening in CHECENIA? How many people in the world die of cold and hunger? How many people are prisoned or violated because of the way they think or wear? How many animals are being killed by the people, or how many are in the danger of extinction?” And so on.
He’s working with the hand he’s been dealt by lending his name to Mahir memorabilia, but part of the proceeds go to a relief organization for the Balkan states.
One could mourn that Mahir lost his identity and nationality on the Net. The world really doesn’t know anything more about Mahir’s country; to many, he’s just this goofy foreign dude who speaks funny English. Then again, the fact that Mahir could be any guy, anywhere (wears jeans, plays sports, likes sex) goes along way to demystifying the Middle East.
Before you indulge in Mahir mania, be sure to read his story of the events on his original site. Recounting the loss of control of his page, he writes, “I went to the public prosecutor’s office and there talked to 3 public prosecutors. But they were incurable in that free imaginary area. I was also incurable, and had no other chance but wait and see what would happen.”
Well, a lot has certainly happened in the imaginary area. So, is Mahir the Millennium Man of our most surreal dreams, or will he just be tossed onto the refuse heap of Beanie Babies and dancing hamsters next week?
In the film “Being There,” starring Peter Sellers, a simple gardener is, due to an odd turn of events, taken as a sage whom heads of state consult for his words of enigmatic wisdom. In the finale, the gardener appears to walk across water into the sunset.
Will Mahir (who bears quite a resemblance to Sellars) walk on the Web into the halls of diplomacy? Time magazine thinks Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is our Man, but I’ll go with Mahir. Let him kiss the world.