PJ VOGT: Depending on who you ask, Keith Calder’s either a 35-year old film producer who lives in LA, OR he’s a player in a vast international conspiracy designed to conceal the greatest love story never told. Both stories start at the same time and place. On Twitter, two years ago, when a bunch of random teenagers started asking Keith if he had a sister
KEITH CALDER: @keithcalder do you have a sister and what is her name..do you have a sister.. do you have a sister.. and don’t just rt this shit and not answer my question just tell me. …
So this went on...I’m scrolling down...hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tweets.
PJ: For what it’s worth, Keith does have a sister. She works for an NGO in New York. Keith could not imagine anything she would’ve done to provoke the attention of a crowd of online strangers.
KEITH: And then I realize something is up but I don't I don't know exactly what but something's up. I started doing some research and I realized that there was this woman, young woman, called Eleanor Calder and that she was dating a member of One Direction
[MUSIC - STEAL MY GIRL BY ONE DIRECTION]
PJ: One Direction, of course, is the boy band of the moment. There’s five of them. One of them, Louis, has a girlfriend, a model named Eleanor Calder. Same last name as Keith. So now it seems clear to Keith what’s going on.
KEITH: Oh they think, that because my name is Calder, that I must be related to the Calder they must think she's my sister.
PJ: But...why...surely there are a lot of Calders in the world…
KEITH: Right, but what I later found out is that they’ve done this to many people called Calder--I’m not the only person.
PJ: From Gimlet, this is Reply All, a show about the internet, and I'm PJ Vogt.
Keith did not tell the fans that Eleanor was not his sister. In his mind, the questions they were asking were none of their business. What he didn’t know, what he couldn’t have known, was that there was a deeper reason for these fans interest in Eleanor Calder. They believed, they still believe, that Eleanor Calder is a cover. Foisted on One Direction by their evil corporate Management. To disguise the true story. That the two members of One Direction, Harry and Louis are actually secretly in love with each other.
VICTORIA: So back in X Factor, a couple of people seemed to notice a relationship between the two members
PJ: and X Factor is like the reality TV show that the band sort of got their start…?
PJ: This is Victoria, a one Direction fan. who calls herself a Larry shipper. Larry because it’s a mashup of Louis and Harry, and shipper because she wants them to be in a relationship. And Victoria, as is the case with many Larry shippers, she’s actually pretty sure they already are. She says the evidence has been there from the very beginning.
VICTORIA: They used to make video diaries for the TV show and...we just saw that they were always very close to each other--a lot closer than the rest of the members--they’ve been like that ever since, so I mean, it just caught on to a lot of people
PJ: and when you say closeness…
ELI: I mean...they looked at each other like...I don’t know, they love each other a lot.
PJ: this is Eli, another Shipper.
ELI: what was it...what was it I heard? That management was scared that if they came out, sales would go down...which is like the main thing they’re not together in the public eye.
PJ: There are hundreds of thousands of Larry Shippers online. For obvious reasons, they’re suspicious about this woman who claims to be Louis’ girlfriend.
PJ: What can you tell me about Eleanor Calder?
ELI: There’s not a lot I can tell you because she doesn’t really do social media that much...but….
PJ: If I had to characterize the way you said that, I would say that you say that suspiciously
ELI: Yes. Very suspicious.
PJ: Why is that very suspicious?
ELI: You know, if you’ve been going out with someone for as long as those two have been going out, you’d think they would show a lot of them being together and doing things but there’s no pictures of them ever. So...it makes you wonder.
PJ: Do you think it’s possible that she could just be a shy person?
ELI: It’s definitely possible. But...we actually...we just don’t think that they genuinely are together at all.
PJ: Shippers find each other online in all the usual places teens do. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook. The Facebook groups all seem to be closed, invitation only. We had to request and be granted access to a Shipper Facebook group called Larry Shippers :) :) to do these interviews. And it’s in groups like this one that the shippers compare notes, run down evidence. Anything that will prove conclusively that this theory is correct. For example, they pay a lot of attention to Harry and Louis’ tattoos
ELI: they have a lot of matching tattoos that, apparently, they think it’s very subtle but it’s not..
PJ: Give me an example of one of the ones they think is a subtle matching tattoo, but you can tell the story behind it.
ELI: Okay. Louis has a tattoo that says “oops” on his arm and Harry has one that says “hi” but they’re in each other’s handwriting and so what we can conclude from that is that those are their first words to each other and they said that in an interview during X Factor...so that’s one…
PJ: So the way that piece of evidence gets interpreted then, is like usually getting matching tattoos with someone from the first time you met is something that couples do more than friends do.
PJ: Interesting. Give me another one.
ELI: Okay...there’s a ship and a compass matching tattoo that they have together.
PJ: Who’s got the ship, who’s got the compass?
ELI: Harry has the ship and Louis has the compass.
PJ: To fans who believe in this conspiracy, the symbolism of the ship and compass is obvious. The ship needs the compass. PLUS, a couple 1D fans went to a tattoo artist in Los Angeles, asked him to see his sheet of tattoos that he suggests for couples, and found that very ship and compass. There’s also a lot of YouTube theorizing. The videos are called Larry proofs. Those show some small moment between Harry and Louis. They’ll play it, they’ll slow it down, they’ll repeat it. Eli said she watches for tiny, telling moments.
ELI: It’ll be like a look one of them gives to the other when a comment’s made or it’ll be like, kind of a touch when they’ll be able to sit next to each other. It’ll just kind of be like those small things that you wouldn’t really notice.
PJ: Will they show the clip, like, the second time in slow-motion?
ELI: Sometimes...sometimes it’s something really quick, or if it’s something kind of hidden they’ll slow it down and, like...the fandom is amazing at edits.
PJ: There’s a montage of the top 30 iconic Larry moments on Youtube with over a million views. In one of the moments, the bands being interviewed for German TV and the host asks Harry about a mark on his neck that she thinks might be a hickey.
INTERVIEWER: Did somebody kiss you there?
HARRY: No, that’s a scar.
INTERVIEWER: it’s a scar.
LOUIS: I gave him it.
INTERVIEWER: I thought it was a [some word in German]
PJ: that’s louis, slightly off mic saying “I gave him it.” The videomaker provides a subtitle for that, it in case you missed it. And then this music plays, and there’s a super slow motion zoom of Harry. He’s smiling, looking wistfully towards Louis. There are 29 more moments like this.
[Something Great plays]
This was the world that Keith Calder had bumped up against, because of his last name. Take these two girls, who are kind, smart and thoughtful, but VERY all-in on the conspiracy worldview. Multiply them by the hundreds of thousands. But Keith didn’t know any of this when the questions about his sister started. If he had, he almost certainly wouldn’t have done this:
KEITH: I thought it would be fun to...play with it a little bit. And so I tweeted that I “can neither confirm nor deny the rumors that my sister is dating a member of One Direction.”
PJ: Keith published a few more tweets vaguely hinting that he might know something, something he couldn’t say. The fans ate it up.
KEITH: the original people that asked me if I have a sister, wrote a blog entry on Tumblr that is exhaustive about proving that I am related to Eleanor Calder.
PJ: Can you like bring it up right now, actually, is it still...does it still exist?
KEITH: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s been reblogged, it’s all over the place.
PJ: What do I search for to find it?
KEITH: Oh, I’m sure if you just search for “Keith Calder Eleanor.”
PJ: Oh my god.
KEITH: Yeah, yeah.
PJ: Coming up, what that Tumblr page looks like. And the greatest love story ever trolled. After a word from our sponsor.
PJ: Welcome back to REPLY ALL. So, after Keith Calder ill advisedly joked that he was a part of the conspiracy, the shippers went to work making him part of the conspiracy. The most reblogged Tumblr post about Keith looks like the crazy wall you see in any FBI crime drama. Lots of red lines and arrows -- linking Keith to Eleanor by way of a bunch of other seemingly random people. Part of what makes these diagrams convincing for the people who believe them is that like any good slander, they’re chock full of damning half-truths. For instance Keith’s dad actually does work in the music industry and co-founded Jive Records, which was a boy band label (although not One Direction’s boy band label.)
KEITH: Oh, yeah, no, listen, that's...that's...the...the thing that why this will never die...is that there's a lot of vague conspiracy theory aspects here that will...that are impossible to deny. One of them being, that I produced a movie with Morgan Spurlock and Morgan made the One Direction documentary. If I were looking for proof, I would point at that as proof but it's not proof, it just means that people that…[laughs] people that are in the film industry work together. People would send me a screen grab of the credits from the trailer for the movie I produced and they would say “look at this, you produced the One Direction movie” and I would reply “it says right there, this is the movie called This is Greatest Movie Ever Sold, this is not the One Direction movie.”
PJ: And what would they say?
KC: They would say that proves everything...everything...no matter what I say it proves everything. There are One Direction fans all over the world and and the conspiracy posts, I think, get translated into other languages. So yesterday it became a big thing in Brazil. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of mentions. I was blocking...literally I ended up blocking hundreds of people...maybe, I think, thousands of people and and it got to the point where they noticed I was blocking them. So what they started messaging me was, block me if you believe Larry is real, and so then…
PJ: Ohhhh [laughing]
KEITH: They're very resourceful.
PJ: And mainly this is just a minor annoyance for Keith -- he spends a couple more hours a week blocking people than he’d like, but occasionally it affects his actual life, in a real way.
KEITH: No...I’m a film producer...I have an actual career, and when I have to have other meetings with people in Hollywood, the meetings begin with “what’s the story with you and One Direction?” And I have to have this conversation...I have to...I’m meeting with an agent for the first time and I have to have a 15 minute conversation about One Direction at the start of the meeting.
PJ: There are a lot of communities online where people gather to believe something impossible. There are the ones you’ve heard of -- Obama’s a secret Muslim-- and there are the ones maybe you haven’t -- like the people who think that Stevie Wonder isn’t really blind. But as far as conspiracy theories that I don’t believe go, the One Direction, Harry-and-Louis-are-secretly-in-love one might be my favorite. Here’s why: for years, boy bands have sold teenage girls on the fantasy that these hot musicians could be their boyfriend. But now legions of teenage girls are saying -- eh. I’d rather imagine a record company is forcing you to say that, and that, really, you’re in love with the cute guy standing next to you - It’s romantic, it’s hopeful, it’s pro gay. It’s a love story.
ELI: When they come out, it will be the love story of the century. Because of all the stuff they had to go through and it still stayed strong.
VICTORIA: What makes it better than any other love story is that -- they met before they became a band, and they became best friends, and best friends genuinely, even if it's boy and boy or girl and boy, sometimes they'll fall in love, and we can just see that with Harry and Louis, and that's what makes it so special. Because you can just see how much they love each other. It's hard to explain.
PJ: I think I know what you mean. And I think it’s also...it’s like...you know so much more about that relationship than other relationships that they say that they're in.
VICTORIA: and you would think "oh you only know so much about them because they're so famous and Eleanor isn't that famous so they don't talk about it.” But it's really not like that because when the camera's are off and everyone is gone, you still see them together. You see pictures leaked online. You don't see leaked pictures of Louis and Eleanor together at all. You know what I mean?
PJ: I think Victoria’s noticing something real, although I disagree with the conclusion it brings her to. What I think is when you’re a teenager, particularly a younger one, you’re more likely to have experienced the rush of overwhelming best friend love than you are to have experienced romantic love. When I was a kid, I only saw my best friend, Duncan, over the summer plus one additional weekend a year, when he would come down to Philadelphia to stay over for a weekend. When he left I remember crying inconsolably. Like heartbroken, lying on the ground, face in the carpet, crying, and my Dad saying, “Look, you’ve got to keep it together if you want your friend to keep visiting.” I think an alternate theory for what could be going on here is that these two guys could be straight and yet still love each other more than they love the girls they date, and that all the Zapruder, Youtube filmmaking could be fueled by this truth. Maybe.
PJ: Have you heard anything about Keith Calder?
VICTORIA: I, actually...just read something on twitter about that. How he is...he had something to do with management I think. Am I correct?
PJ: Well...There's rumors that he does. I think he's just sort of been caught up. I think people think that he's related to Eleanor Calder...that, you know, he’s, sort of part of this conspiracy, and he was kind of a jerk when it was first happening. He, like, made jokes about it and people took it seriously and so he gets a lot of messages everyday from people who think he's...he’s in on it.
VICTORIA: There are a lot of rumors, and a lot of things that go round on twitter. This whole situation with Keith, that could be one of the fake ones that we can rule out, but it could also be real. I don't really know what to say about that because I don't have a lot of information.
PJ: I appreciate that
PJ: Like a cop talking about an open case, you get the sense Victoria wants to know just a little bit more. Maybe she’ll just do the tiny, reasonable thing, and ask Keith about the rumors--he’s on Twitter. But that’s the problem: when things scale on the internet, as its easy for them to do, it can take a perfectly lovely, normal human impulse and it can turn it into a force of nature. On bad days, when there are hundreds or thousands of tweets, Keith has to block them all. But during the quieter lulls, he tries to engage, he really thinks it’s worth it.
KEITH: you know human beings are human beings. They...they actually...when….I found that when you engage with someone directly like that, usually, if they're coming from a good place, they'll understand and...and adjust their behavior and...Actually, there are followers that I have on Twitter that are One Direction fans that started following me two years ago or a year and a half ago because of this nonsense and now just chat with me.
PJ: They chat and crack jokes. They give him music recommendations--mostly One Direction songs, or bands that have opened for One Direction, but Keith likes it. He was the first person he knew in his age bracket to hear about Ed Sheeran, another teen pop star, who’s rising quickly. It’s fun to know about stuff like that, before all the old people do.
Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. Our producer is Lina Misitzis. We were edited this week by Alex Blumberg, Alex Kapelman, Starlee Kine and Kaitlin Roberts. Matt Leiber keeps this thing in the sky. Our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is from Build Buildings. Our sponsor is Mail Chimp: Send Better Email. Mail Chimp has over 7 million users that collectively send over 10 billion emails a month. Reply All is on the internet at Replyall.diamonds. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram; we have a newsletter [laughing] if anybody wants to read it. We’ll be back next Wednesday. See you then.