The Webby Awards have epitomized “short and sweet” to such an extent that they make Twitter’s 140-character posts feel like abridged essays.
In keeping with the high-speed, increasingly synoptic trajectory of Internet lingo, the 21st Annual Webby Awards paid homage to a variety of internet’s best — from entertainers to social justice front-runners — while simultaneously testing the succinctness of their new-age verbal skills. Following the award show’s trademark guideline for acceptance speeches, this year’s Webby winners, special achievement honorees, and presenters dutifully adhered to the reigning “5-word” rule — and proved that, if pithy semantics are any indication, each of them has earned their respective standings as Internet enthusiasts.
On the evening of May 15, The Webby Awards held a particularly relevant ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street to celebrate the year’s most noteworthy innovators, entertainers, and visionaries that have harnessed the web as a means of promoting their art, raising awareness, or otherwise instigating change.
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This year’s winners, honorees, and presenters included artist Solange, former “X-Files” stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, actor Steve Buscemi, comedian and actor Louis C.K., political commentator and social justice advocate Van Jones, rap musician Residenté , The Women’s March co-chairs Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Bob Bland, RadioLab podcasters Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, artist Kara Walker, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, and YouTube Creators for Change ambassadors Franchesca Ramsey, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, and Humza Arshad.
First-time Webby Awards host, comedian, and actor Joel McHale opened the evening with a nod to the past, reminiscing about the first Webby Awards Show in 1997, when he was “still doing the Macarena” and “logging into his CompuServe account.” McHale also had plenty to say about the current state of the world, joking that this year “we said goodbye to Princess Leia, HBO’s ‘Girls’ and American democracy.”
But, despite the intermittent playfulness, the attendees acknowledged that, this year, the award show holds particular significance amid the greater political, social, and entertainment landscape.
“This wasn’t the worst year for the Internet, it was the best. This was the year we looked up and realized what really matters,” said David-Michel Davies, Executive Director of The Webby Awards. “This was the year we realized that the values we, as an Internet community, really care about — our environment, inclusion, science, actual facts, truth, liberal democracy — can be stolen from us if we aren’t paying attention.”
The evening was capped off with an emotional standing ovation to recognize the co-chairs of The Women’s March who were honored with the Webby Social Movement of the Year Award. The three women took to the stage to universal cheers and used their 5-Word Speech in a poignant declaration: “Women. Look what we did.”
Steve Buscemi accepted the Webby Best Actor Award from his friend, co-star, and T.V. brother Louis C.K. and said: “Gratitude. Honored. Love you, Louis.”
Kara Walker presented Solange with the Award for Webby Artist of the Year, calling attention to her site, Saint Heron, which has solidified the artist’s digital prowess as much as it has worked to celebrate culture, diversity, as well as racial and social justice. Solange accepted the award, singing her 5-Word Speech: “I got five on it.”
Fake news was a common theme of the evening, with an “In Memoriam” parody video montage, which bid farewell to “Fake News (2016-2017).” BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith followed suit with his 5-Word Speech: “No, you are fake news.”
Famed crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times Will Shortz, who quipped that he “proudly works at the failing New York Times,” presented Merriam-Webster with their Webby Award. Gesturing to a dictionary in her hand, Merriam-Webster’s Lisa Schneider said: “This is your secret weapon.”
And, finally, Latin rap artist Residenté accepted his Webby Award from New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and quite sincerely articulated the sentiment that seemed to have been hanging in the air all evening: “Five words is never enough.”