The Webby Awards -- A Shiny Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Last year's viral video featuring the drummer of OK GO in a staring contest with the Muppets got me both initially acquainted with--and really excited about--the existence of the exquisitely postmodern ceremony called The Webby Awards. Why had I never heard about them previously? After all, like most members of generaion meh, I'm fairly web-savy. I help my parents attach files to their emails. I masturbate. [Not necessarily in that order.] But I clearly wasn't spending enough time surfing the web--which is an alarming concept, to be sure.

So in preparing to cover this year's Webby Awards, I found out that not everybody thinks this particular bacchanal is all that savory.

Owen Thomas wrote a not-so-subtle piece on Gawker called "The Webby Awards Remain The Best Scam Going".

My first thought was: The best scam going? Hasn't this guy ever heard of ShamWow?

My second thought was: Well... Haters gonna hate.

So, I went to the Webbies with an open mind, but with that less-than-euphoric taste in the back of my adult brain that says: this might all be bullshit.

The gentleman sitting next to me was David Spencer. David was pretty excited to be there, having flown in from Illinois. He owns According to his business card, Photo Seed spends its nano-hours "Bringing to Light the Growth and Artistic Vision of 19th & 20th century Photography."

Even after he explained it to me, I'm not really sure what that means. Presumably, he's really into old photographs (actually, that part was stated literally), and his website... I'm guessing, features them en masse?

Let's go check it out real quick:

"PhotoSeed, representing an evolving online record of this early fine-art photography movement, is a private archive with simple goals: beauty, truth, scholarship and enjoyment for all who visit. A rich collection of photographs representing numerous vintage processes will be found on the site."

Yup, so his website is a fancy Flickr account for old-assed photos. It might sound like I'm dissin on his passion, but it only sounds like that because: 1) Everything on-line is simply a reconstitution of something else (go google "etewaf") and 2) You're too used to reading things on the Internet, where the aural patina of snark accompanying pixelated text can leave ugly acerbation grooves on your cortex. I actually like his website, or at least I think it's a well-designed site that I'd possibly ever visit again if my interests were niche enough.

Interestingly, though, I never saw it win a Webby. Nor have I been able to find any Webby-Award-Winning content on it. He assures me, though, that he's received a great boost in traffic due to his website's involvement in The Webbies.

Traffic that he paid for with his $275 entrance fee, as did a ton of other websites not lucky enough to win their traffic boosts.

Okay, enough of that for now. How was the show? Patton Oswalt is always outstanding. A linguistic gymnast, he paints portraits with every sentence, and he plays off unpredictable moments with a natural talent for finding humor at every juncture.

"For those of you watching at home, you know there's porn on the Internet right now, right? You see this? [gestures at his whole body] This is the money shot! This is as good as it gets tonight! That's right, they got the OTHER fat guy from King of Queens. I look like the Internet personified. Like if the Internet took human form and started walking around, this would be it."

There's something odd about this very funny joke. I look around the Webbies, and all I see are super glamorous people who appear very wealthy. In fact, this entire ceremony embodies what I imagine L.A. to be like. I have never been, but I’ve seen enough Woody Allen to know that, tonight, the Hammerstein Ballroom aint in New York, this is Hollywood.

There are a few exceptions. Spike Lee makes an appearance, introducing Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin introduces Skip Bayless (but not before the epic remix of Bayless touting Tebow in “All he Does is Win” plays on the jumbo-tron). Even Mayor Bloomberg receives a lifetime achievement award, presumably for being willing to make an appearance at the Webby Awards--although I think his media corporation was the stated reason.

If the internet is supposed to be about sharing gritty reality, with special bastion for the socially awkard, how-come every woman at the Webbys looked like Charlize Theron except better dressed and every guy looked like Patrick Dempsey, except wealthier. And those are just the non-celebs. Something is growing fishy.

I notice that Google + is one of the major sponsors. In fact, on the curtain above the show, Google + has shared billing with The Webby Awards in spotlight-letters.

Is that the same Google + who’s winning a--to quote A Christmas Story--”major award” at tonight’s event? To be fair, they won the "People’s Voice" sub-category, which specifies that their victory was based on votes at the Webby Awards website. Still though, this feels sloppy. Imagine “The People's Choice Awards, brought to you by Coldplay”.

There was one moment, however, where sh*t got real. Richard Dreyfus went up to talk about Steve Jobs. But before he did, the possibly intoxicated Dreyfus said, “Marc Zuckerberg, if you’re going to steal our privacy, maybe, in the words of quid pro quo, you should tell us something private about you. And if you’re going to change our world, maybe you should pay for it, because it’s theft."

For the record, I’m not really sure what that means, and I don’t begrudge Zuck’s business strategies. [This may be because I have a “There Will Be Blood” view of free-market capitalism, but I digress.] Still, even though I disagreed with Dreyfus, I found it moving to actually hear someone dispensing with the cyber-fellatus and speaking from their heart. He wasn’t really making a shit-ton of sense, even when he went on to speak about Jobs. He was rambling, passionate, unfiltered and unpolished.

He was, in a word, the Internet. It was nice for The Web to actually show up.

As for the infamous five word speeches, they're fun to hear what folks will come up with, but they rarely work out as funny or poignant as one hopes. Award winners ought to be allowed at least a Haiku, especially person of the year. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to see the greatest living comedian actually be confined to 5 words?. Or the nice lady from "I Had Cancer" from whom--having had clearly been drinking away her stage-fright--it probably would have been inspiring to hear a message of elevation. Not that “I had cancer, not coodies.” isn’t a great bumber-sticker or bracelet. But the five word speeches serve the dual purpose of allowing for a bajillion awards (and entrance fees), while keeping that hip layer of detached snark as if each winner is posting in the comments section of a live video.

The weird truth of the matter is that, when all is said and done, I actually really liked The Webby Awards. I get the feeling I would have liked it better had I not been there in person. I think--for a non-participant anyway, watching online is the way the Webby Awards is truly meant to be enjoyed. A party like this needs to be savored in the most superficial way possible. “On a tiny corner of the screen while the Diablo server reloads,” to paraphrase Patton.

I enjoyed a nervous tremble at what it says about me that despite its often shallow and possibly unethical nature, I still had a good time. It means I’m truly a member of my generation. As long as there are loud, flashy presentations; instantly gratifying laughs; attention-span-catering multi-media and promises of favs like Patton and Louis... It doesn’t matter what’s going on underneath. It’s all what's on the shiny surface that counts.

1 comment:

abcoon said...

Great article. My production team took home the People's Voice award for Best Documentary Series this year...but you would never of known about it if you were at the Webbys or watched it online.

We were one of many winners that were not mentioned during the awards ceremony. The show is a way to build their brand by showcasing the celebrities and big internet names. I've been involved in other award programs and this was the most disrespectful to the actual winners.

They would not accept video submissions for the 5 word speech if we could not make the scheduled time for us to record it. We have a community of people that invested their time and energy to help get the vote out and earn us a win. They tuned in and not a mention. Often Awesome the series is what the internet should celebrate about.

Often Awesome the series is a web series that follows Timothy LaFollette (29) who was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). We created 34, 10 minute episodes from diagnosis to his passing. As hard as it is to feel his loss, it is a beautiful tale about love, hope, community, friendship and courage.

We are glad that they got the "I had Cancer" Webby winner on stage. But, ALS gets pushed aside and continues to be the best kept secret disease.

It felt like we were treated like second class when our peers are on stage being awarded and walking the red carpet. We are not an organization, we are not a big company, we are two guys that came together and helped create with others a community of amazing people.

I've rambled on to much.