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Clapping for Me
May 17, 2000 :: Jason Kottke

When I walked into the Masonic Auditorium for the 2000 Webby Awards, I half expected to bump into Regis; the lights and the stage were very, very Millionaire. But about halfway through the ceremony -- right about when Sandra Bernhard took the stage and looked as though she wanted to (a) flee the scene immediately, and (b) kill her agent for getting her the gig -- it was clear that despite the apparent lack of Celebrity Lifelines, I was actually having a good time.

The arrival scene had all the trappings of a big-time -- dare I say, Hollywood -- awards ceremony: limos and cabs slipping by the huge satellite RVs and pulling up to the red carpet, depositing their marvelously-dressed occupants in amongst the camera flash and the gathered reporters in search of a good quote.

But while the photographers wielded their retro gear with the frantic urgency of Jimmy Olson on meth, the curious thing was that their cameras were empty. After all, why burn film when no one can tell who's famous, and who's not? All the truly famous people -- you know, the familiar faces dangled by the organizers as bait for the mainstream press -- were already inside, possibly spirited through a more private back entrance, leaving the rest of us peering at people and wondering if they were supposed to be famous.

The smart folks, following Hollywood's lead, made their own fame through fashion choice. The Beenz crew was on hand, dressed like, well, beans, and were the subject of several "photos" and some attention. John Styn, proprietor of the Personal category winning Cocky Bastard, arrived on the scene wearing a white, 3/4 length, faux fur coat, complete with matching faux fur accoutrements and hair antennae. Interviews with reporters and pictures with small children ensued.

The show itself started about 20 minutes late. I could tell because I looked at the Flyswat watch that everyone received in their complementary Webbys Survival Kit (a metal lunchbox containing packing materials and camping gear). After verifying with the complementary compass that I was indeed not facing north, I turned my attention to the stage, hearing Tiffany Shlain and SF Mayor Willie Brown sing the praises of both the Internet and San Francisco. The Master of Ceremonies for the event, Alan Cumming, followed them and actually ran a pretty good show. He was funny, and Scottish, and seemed to know something about the Internet...but I spent most of the evening wondering which character he played in Eyes Wide Shut. (For the record, he was the desk clerk who looked as though he wanted to get some mattress time with Tom Cruise.)

The awards themselves went pretty briskly and were, for the most part, anti-climactic. The nominee sites were projected on what looked like a huge "mirror mirror on the wall," the winners were announced, their representatives walked up on stage to accept their awards (except for the Google folks, who skated onstage), and give their mandated five word acceptance speech. The whole thing was over in the blink of an eye. There were a few moments to remember: the appearance of Mahir (who no longer needs his own HREF) and his subsequent hug and dry-humping by the aforementioned Mr. Styn; a few good acceptance speeches (my favorite was by one of the GameSpy gang: "Everyone likes the licky licky," complete with evil stare and pointing); a partial standing ovation for music pirac....I mean, Napster; and eToys being roundly booed. Heck, I even got into the action, hopping up on stage to accept the News award for Jim Romenesko. His site, Jim Romenesko's Media News, unexpectedly beat out biggies,, and the Wall Street Journal.

The one "genuine" moment of the Webbys came at the end, with the presentation of the $50,000 SFMOMA Webby Prize for Online Art. Auriea Harvey & Michael Samyn of Entropy8Zuper! definitely deserved the honor and sealed the deal with a kiss...a big, sloppy French kiss that lasted a minute or more.

Other than a noted lack of geeks (this was a party for PR flacks, thrown by PR flacks), the most glaring thing missing from the awards show was applause. Sites would go up on the screen, and you'd maybe hear a few smatterings of applause and hoots from one small section of the audience. Save for a few exceptions (Napster, Google, Slashdot, etc.), no one in the audience had even heard of most of the sites, much less formed a strong enough opinion of them to either applause or boo. It was a bit like being at some parallel universe Grammy awards show, where no one applauds for Ricky Martin or Macy Gray except for their families.

Ultimately, that's the Webbys boiled down to -- everyone clapping for themselves: Tiffany Shlain up on stage lauding her own creation and her "force of will," the San Francisco contingent of the audience cheering for itself at Willie Brown's behest, the nominees clapping for themselves, and the audience as a whole applauding themselves for, as Tiffany put it, "collaps[ing] space and time [to] let us see everything at once." For all the talk of being the Oscars of the Internet, the 2000 Webbys may have out-Hollywooded Hollywood in this one respect: the desire to celebrate its own importance while showing everybody a damn good time.



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