Many Are Cooled, Few Are Chosen

New York hipsters get goose eggs at Cool Site Awards

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published October 8, 1996 8:23AM (EDT)

New York.
Webster Hall is not exactly the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. At least, not
yet. In just 12 short months, the Cool Site of the Year Awards have
gone from a folding chair event in the meeting room of a California hotel
-- the kind of get-together that's scheduled between the "Polyps and You"
seminar and the Lipinski wedding anniversary party -- to a full blown, demi
celebrity-studded multimedia event. Two years ago there was no such thing
as a cool site of the year award. Last year it was a humble slap on the
back for The Spot. Thursday night, it was the freaking Academy Awards for

Those of us on the Salon team were there in full force, of course, to nosh
from the trough of free maki rolls, and ultimately, to quaff from the cups
of both victory and defeat.

Calvert DeForest, aka Larry "Bud" Melman, was there, as was Parker Posey.
Though they were not together, I've decided to perpetuate the rumor that
they are in fact now an item. Those of us who spend most of our lives alone
in front of computer screens, subsisting only on Top Ramen and Mountain
Dew, betrayed ourselves by parking in front of the hor d'oeuvres table like
it was a fat guy and we were a Peruvian soccer team. A pal came up with a
little game to pass the time -- spotting the guys in collarless shirts. We were dangerously
near double digits when I lost him in the crowd. His last words to me were,
"I sure wish I brought a bat. 'Cause my fist is going to get so tired."

"Look at these people, walking around like movie stars," I whispered to my
friend James Barnett. "What do you think they were all doing just two years
ago?" Jamie, the author of a Netscape Navigator 2.0 guide and a man known
to Web denizens as Mr. Bad
, surveyed the room -- the plethora of peroxided crew cuts and
pasty flesh, the abundance of Caucasians in dreadlocks, and he sighed.
"Working in marketing."

I had been constructing elaborate fantasies around this evening since the
nominees were first announced, several weeks prior. I imagined the Salon
staff emerging from a limousine in front of New York's Webster Hall,
flashbulbs popping in our faces, fans holding up signs saying, "WE LOVE
YOUR DAILY CLICKS!!" Joan Rivers would pull me aside to ask a few quick
questions for the E! Network. "My dress?" I'd say, "It's a Vivienne Tam. I
just love her stuff." There'd be an embarrassing moment when I'd
discover that Esther Dyson was wearing the exact same design, but we'd
laugh good-naturedly and pose for our pictures together. There'd be a
backstage melee between a big crowd of folks who've created Pamela Anderson
Lee fan pages and those who've created Teri Hatcher pages, and Howard
Rheingold would be called in to break it up. Eventually our emcee Penn Jillette
would come out, delivering a monologue studded with lots of in jokes about
Dilbert, and we'd laugh knowingly. And then we'd wait as all the other
awards were handed out, our palms growing sweatier each moment, sitting
through hokey musical numbers like "Java, You've Perked Up My Page," and
"The Applet of My Eye" while chorus girls dressed like HTML tags danced
across the stage.

Finally, the moment of truth would arrive, and Salon
would be named Cool Site of the Year. We'd all run up to the stage like
those teams of writers from Letterman at Emmy time, and we'd all say a few
brief words. I'd just smile an enigmatic, closed-mouth Gwyneth Paltrow type
smile as I tried to compose myself. Beatifically choking down a sob, I'd
say, "I just want to thank my inspiration, David Duchovny. Dave, honey,
(and here I'd raise the Cool Site of the Year Award above my head for all
to see) this one's for YOU!"

Of course nothing of the kind happened. There were no fights, no tears, and
someone else wound up walking away with the top prize.

All in all, there were nine awards handed out during a show which lasted
over 90 minutes. You do the math. The program was more frustratingly
slow than trying to download a sound clip from a 9600 baud modem. Penn did
his magic, there were "bits" like a phone call from Lunch Menu Man, and
there even was a musical number after all (though no HTML chorus girls). I
learned that live, just like when you're watching at home, everybody runs
to the bathroom during the slow parts of awards shows. We did have our
perky moments though.

Halfway through the evening, the award for Cool Web Designers of the Year
went to Salon's Mignon Khargie and Elizabeth Kairys. They looked fantastic
standing up there accepting the prize, and they gave by far the most eloquent
speech of the evening. And I'm not just saying that because I work with
them and they've been known to give me cookies.

Presenter Lily Burana, looking fabulously maidenlike and wenchy,
responded to the bizarre hiply New Age "you've just won a prize music" by
calling for an interpretive dance. The Timothy Leary page people, all of
whom looked exactly alike, talked about how Leary "lives on" in cyberspace
when they won for Personal Web Site of the year. The clue phone rings, but
not everyone picks up. Hotwired won
for Still Cool Site of the Year, but were too cool even to send somebody to
pick up their Lucite cube. Eventually Suck's Carl Steadman came on down, offering
a token thanks on behalf of the folks who practically invented screaming
neon on the net.

It was humbling to see hipster New York mags like Word and Razorfish, whose staffs were out in
full, cheering, whoo-HOO force, roll snake eyes again and again, while Discovery Channel Online picked up two
prizes, including the big kahuna, Cool Site of the Year. The winners were
determined by popular vote, something which, on the internet, does tend to
flatten out some of that hipster cachet. "It's like a Forrest Gump thing,"
gasped one observer, as the down-home team from Maryland walked off with
the booty. Stick that up your Silicon Alley.

After the final award was handed out, George Clinton, done up in a Dennis
Rodman/Madonna circa-1985 like- a-virgin wedding getup, took the stage. Later the Salon team repaired to the Algonquin, where we were assured by the restaurant captain that we were being seated at the legendary roundtable -- indisputably the coolest site of the 1920s.
Salon might not have won the Big Cube, but we did win a pretty spiffy prize.
There were no brawls, but just the thought of smacking someone in a
collarless shirt was cool enough for me.

But wait till next year. If the CSotY Awards keep growing, maybe they
really will have them at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I've still got my
speech. And I'll still owe everything to David Duchovny

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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