I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille

Behold Stephen Paternot. The last time you heard of him, he was the young, glamorous co-founder of TheGlobe.com, the online content company. It went public on Nov. 13, 1998, and within one day was worth almost $1 billion; by age 23, Paternot was rich beyond his wildest dreams. He’d certainly grown up well-off — his parents esconced him in Swiss private schools — but this sort of instant riches was the stuff of dot-com legend. At the peak of his fame, Paternot was captured in a memorable pose:

Mr. Paternot was the Corey Feldman of the Internet, a leather-pants-wearing prodigy whom a CNN camera crew once captured dancing atop a nightclub table as he declared, “Got the girl. Got the money. Now I’m ready to live a disgusting, frivolous life.”

A year later, TheGlobe.com was exposed as a company with virtually no value and no prospects of turning a profit, ever, in any way. The stock slid from $97 to its current value, somewhere south of 17 cents. Paternot invested his newfound wealth in UrbanFetch.com, which immediately tanked.

So now Paternot is attempting to reinvent himself … as an actor. In a profile in the latest New York Observer, Paternot discusses his attempts to break into film. His dot-com fame lands him a two-page spread in Vogue. He’s offered a callback for a soap opera, but doesn’t think the part is worthy of him (“To throw myself into daytime soaps is not the best way to really penetrate the soul-searching craft of acting,” he notes.)

And, along the way, he reveals himself to be the gibbering id of the dot-com era — possessed of a wrenching narcissism and an overloaded sense of entitlement that would probably humiliate even the Hilton sisters. I suggest — nay, I urge you — go read this profile. It’s a gorgeous reminder of what made the dot-com boom so spectacularly nauseating. Though TheGlobe.com was played in the media as a classic Horatio Algerian rags-to-riches story, in reality Paternot was — like many of the supposedly scrappy dot-com kids — a child of silvered privilege. When he gormlessly loses the money he made off TheGlobe.com, he launches his film career the old-school way: With inherited bucks (his ancestors founded Nestle) to bankroll an indie film project. He sneers at the folks who criticize him for leading a sham company:

“At one point, I was going to hire security guards,” he said. But he doesn’t care too much about the disparagement. “I know I’m not an asshole,” he said. “In the eyes of someone who just sees a fragment of my life, they may see me as a dictator, they may see me as a slave driver. But I believe in karma, and I always believe in ethics. If you put out good, good comes back to you.”

I interviewed Paternot back in 1999, and he seemed like quite a funny and nice guy. It’s possible that his acting career will take off, since his first indie movie — Wholly Moses — is coming out soon. It might be great!

Though I fear otherwise. I just dropped by the Internet Movie Database to look at information for the film, and discovered that several people have already posted “reviews” … even though the film hasn’t opened yet. The first one appears to be written by someone who seems awfully invested in Paternot’s role:

The part that really comes across, thanks to Paternot’s acting, in Stan is how much of an artist he is. The instinctual measuring/mixing/painting scenes, lacking any form of formality, the unforgettable look in his eyes, his hunch, the absolute nihilism shown in his messy, scarred overalls, all add up to this fantastic portrayal of a man who is, at core and centre, an artist.

All of which makes this move to Hollywood seem kind of sensible, when you think about it. If you’ve got a proven talent in manufacturing hype where none is due, there are worse places to go than L.A.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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