Text and toroso by Justin Hall:
The Webby Awards:
18 July 2001 (San Francisco's Opera Plaza):
The first year I judged personal web sites. From the five nominees, I voted for sensitive, considered prose exploration of personal identity; aggressive playful identity branding won. Both are hard-working web publishers; a friend reminded me that most awards ceremonies are like popularity contests, which are like any election I guess.
The next year I was a judge in the games category, a nominating judge responsible in part for collecting the five sites for the final judges to approve. Here we were, five lively and interesting folks, arguing about the state of gaming web sites, even the nature of gaming web sites, in private email threads.
In both cases, the discussions of the judges could have done the nominees some good. It's like school - it's fine to get a grade, to know where you stand, but improvement comes from reflecting on the comments written in the margins by your professors. I had a few paragraphs in my head about the personal sites; mostly out of laziness, and lacking an institution affordance to do so, I didn't share those comments.
Ultimately the Webby Awards are the output of a certain community of established web professionals and artists, who gather once a year to have a big party. I talked to many folks who were incredulous that I had done the work of judging without participating in the parties. This year was my first attendance, and I saw as much pageantry as I've seen the Internet muster, with a serious bit of San Francisco trim. Indeed, the woman behind the Webbies, Tiffany Schlain, conducted the ceremony with unabashed surreal dance and extensive use of unusual short film. Combined with the important five-word acceptance speech limit, these flair tempered the ordinary interminability of nearly all awards ceremonies.
The most exhaultant moment came during the announcement of the last category: "Weird" websites. The winner, Peter Pan, bounds up to the stage in his proper green leotard and pixie-step. His site is a personal exploration of tolerance. Can a grown man in his late 40s dress up as Peter Pan, act in fairy fashion, still honor the God that is love, and find his Tinkerbell online? It's a provocative example of personal Internet publishing, and I was driven to my feet in ecstatic cheering at his five word acceptance speech for the Weird Webby Award:
Preach on. It still tastes sweet in my mouth to repeat his words. I got to talk to him later, standing at the bar, talking to the fashionably attired folks trying to digest this genuine strangeling. He spoke with the light in his eyes, as he shared the same thoughts with me I'd overheard just moments before -
I remember seeing a parade in the streets of the city, where all manner of people were marching, chanting and carrying signs. Then off to the side I saw other huge crowds holding up Christian symbols, shouting, and carrying signs of their own. As I looked closer, I saw sign after sign saying "You're all going to hell", and " Repent now all you sinners!" Then it slowly became quiet and It seemed like the Lord was whispering through tears, saying "will someone please just tell these children of mine that I love them?" I cried too. I didn't know what to say except, "I will Lord"
Giving San Francisco Something to Believe In
A simple and direct charge. In the midst of the technology culture and failed finances, it was a glimpse of driven human spirit persued in strange form. There's something seductive about someone leading their life according to a vision from God. He had that lively fervency in his protruding eyes, as well as a yearning to share the truth with each and every comer; a genuine pleasant do-it-yourself mystic. He balanced all his love of God with some price comparisons between life in Tampa and visiting San Francisco. I was glad to hear someone from the Webbies had the foresight to pay for Peter Pan's plane ticket. Unfortunately, he is probably too far away, both living in Tampa, and prancing about in a green leotard, to inspire the kind of guru-adoration that could give these idled technology workers in San Francisco something to believe in.
Why the Webbies?
The Webbies awards feel a bit strange. It was odd to see how many people I knew there; many of the folks are all the awkward humans I've known for years. As a friend put it, the web development community still feels like a small village.
So while I'm tempted to fight this polish and veneering of celebrity and remain in a purist web wonderland, I enjoy the other participants: the chance to see people at the top of their respective professions. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown took to the stage as a consummate politician, exuding a smooth, charming mixture of impropriety and pleasant pandering. ABC Newscaster Sam Donaldson was a magnatimous news entertainer with a large rich voice, working to enliven the crowd with a humorous taste of his fame. Chairman of Intel Andy Grove stood as a sort of unabashed driven technology enthusiast espousing a reverance for the blessings of machines that was at once at home with a web community, and foreign in this cultured atmostphere. Finally the host Alan Cumming radiated a polished professional snottiness that was fully mirrored by The Anniversary Party, a recent film that revealed him and his wife to be some good writers around the subject of cultured human foibles.
My hosts, these Webby folk are canny observers of the way major media enshrines culture. They're working to make themselves the gatekeepers of a visible segment of web culture. I would rather that everyone out there decide for themselves which are the best sites, but truth be told most folks don't have time; they'd rather recieve some sort of expert opinion. So I'm glad this expert opinion aspires to some artsy flair, and I have enjoyed being able to watch this colorful Webby machine work from the inside.
Why no shirt?
Photos and captions by Wayne Bremser.
a popular back
Photos and photo captions by Wayne Bremser.
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