The Webby Awards, now in their fourth extravagant year, have been described by founder Tiffany Shlain as the anti-Oscars -- and it's true. San Francisco Examiner executive editor Phil Bronstein attended, but his movie star wife, Sharon Stone, did not; acceptance speeches were, as always, strictly limited to five words; and Webby Award winner Napster did not -- indeed could not -- kiss its brother on the lips, for reasons that don't need pointing out.
As Danskin-clad trapeze artists rappelled off the face of the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco Thursday night, fleets of stretch limos (which were not so much limos as references to the limos that traditionally transport nominees to awards shows) lined up along the curb and set the giddy guests loose on the building.
After that, you couldn't spit without hitting an ironic touch of some kind. Swathed in ostrich feathers, spacesuits and the warm glow of peer approval, attendees ascended the steps while fawning fans and paparazzi -- hired actors in '40s drag -- pretended to recognize them and care.
This sendup of a self-congratulatory awards shows might have been sharper had the event not occasionally come off as a self-congratulatory awards show. Mocking our obsession with celebrity worship only to replace it with corporate-sponsor worship doesn't seem worth the effort, somehow, yet the audience tended to make more noise for sponsors than for nominees -- unless the nominee was Martha Stewart. (But no one needs that kind of noise.)
Despite some heavy-handed attempts at ironic detachment, however, the show was for the most part very funny and engaging -- and replete with reminders of the still surprising democratizing power of the Web.
Napster, winner in the music category, was given a strong show of support. Craig's List, though it did not win in the community category, was a sentimental favorite. The Onion, which won the Webby for humor and whose award was preceded by the funniest short film in the show (a parody of the Budweiser "Wassup?" ads starring Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Janet Reno, George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger), got a huge hand despite its disappointing acceptance haiku ("They said I could only ...").
International Web Turk Mahir rushed the staged upon hearing his name, apparently assuming he'd won, and proceeded to give a 15-word speech that was incomprehensible but for a final "I kiss you!!" Rightful Webby winner Cocky Bastard was then called, and the Speedo stud was compelled to fork over the spiral and slink away. Bastard, completely upstaged, delivered his epigram while gyrating for no one in particular.
But the Webby M.C., spritely Scottish actor Alan Cumming, had no trouble retaining audience attention throughout the two-hour ceremony. And Cumming, who won a Tony for his portrayal of an M.C. in "Cabaret" (Coincidence? We think not), beat everyone when he expressed everything that needed to be expressed about the Web and the Webbys and the era we live in in just three words (announcing a service category nominee):
"Stamps dot com!"