The party must go on

The glamour is tarnished and the celebrities have gone AWOL, but the Webby Awards soldier forward anyway, in classic San Francisco style.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Published June 19, 2002 5:29PM (EDT)

The sixth annual Webby Awards in five words?

"The self-congratulation must go on."

Imagine a hurricane leveled your hometown, bankrupting local businesses and leaving the dazed, waterlogged natives struggling to find some meaning in it all. Should the annual high school prom be canceled? No way! More than ever, isn't this the time for a drunken night of frivolity, even if it means mixing cocktails with floodwater, damn it?

That was the never-say-die spirit of this year's Webby Awards, a scaled-back, toned-down celebration of all things Web, an award show that literally had more judges than audience members. Some 350 "academy members" chose the nominees and winners, while just 315 true believers filled the "sold-out" house at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor Tuesday night.

"Everything is not what it used to be, and everything is changing," Tiffany Shlain, Webby founder, told her audience. "The Webbys are changing too." She and co-organizer Maya Draisin emceed this year's event, which in the previous two years had been hosted by actor Alan Cumming before an audience of thousands. This year's biggest celebrity appearance: Dancing Paul, last year's winner in the Personal Web Site category.

Like a trip in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, local Web warhorses such as Mr. Virtual Community Howard Rheingold, the Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow and Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation lent the evening a certain musty gravitas.

"We're still designing the architecture of the future" was among the deep thoughts bestowed by true believer Barlow from the podium.

The whole event had a distinctly old-school San Francisco flavor, right down to the violent antics of the demented robots of Survival Research Laboratories and the extraneous S&M overtones of two "villainous ballerinas." Decked out in red and black dominatrix tutus, the ballerinas dragged a bound and gagged man, naked except for a pair of black latex shorts, onstage to show nominees what would happen to them if they went over the five-word acceptance speech limit.

No one did.

But it was those mercifully brief acceptance speeches by the winners that, as ever, carried the evening.. (Full disclosure: Salon won in the Print/Zines category, with this writer putting down her pen to traipse up to the podium and help accept it.)

Planned Parenthood's Teenwire site took the award in the Health category with this: "Sex is complicated. We're easy." While the Politics winner, Center for Responsive Politics, got big applause for "Money talks. We eavesdrop." But the biggest laugh and loudest applause went to the Onion's Tim Harrod -- doesn't it always? He held the curlicue silver award aloft and deadpanned: "Airport security will love this."

At the party afterward, an autonomous hexapod robot named Ziggy, wearing a purple top hat, wandered among the boozing celebrants guided by sonar sensors, while cocktail chatter turned to the new math of the Internet biz in 2002: "We just don't have an ad budget," confided a partygoer. Still, that's no excuse to not enjoy this once-a-year hallelujah for the Web."I thought it was better this year," said Google's co-founder Larry Page at the post-ceremony party. (In a geekish nod to the World Cup, he and co-founder Sergey Brin accepted their Webby in the Best Practices category while wearing soccer outfits.) "More down to earth."

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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