Policy made plain.
March 7 1999 3:30 AM

(Continued from Page 1)

Of course, more banal commercial considerations are also at work, as well as the Law of Award Entropy, which holds that awards tend to subdivide and multiply until they are worthless. The Oscars begat the Emmys, which begat the Cable Ace Awards, of which there are so many that any cable TV employee who actually attends the ceremony is entitled to leave in a snit if he or she doesn't win one. Meanwhile, on your television are the gala Bulgarian Press Association Syndicated Sitcom Excellence Awards, hosted by Florence Henderson ...


In principle, there is nothing tackier about an award given by the National Association of Right-Wing Radio Blowhards than one given by the Swedish Royal Academy. In practice, awards seem to gain legitimacy with the patina of age. Pulitzer Prizes, for example, go to books and newspapers but not to magazines. So, a couple of decades ago, the magazine industry created the National Magazine Awards ("the prestigious Enema," as occasional Slate writer Mickey Kaus calls them). A totally artificial and unnecessary addition to civilization. And yet by relentlessly treating them as a big deal over the years, magazine folks have succeeded in making them a reasonably big deal. Not as big a deal as the Pulitzers yet, but in the ballpark. (And yes, we'd like one, hypocrites that we are, thank you very much.)

Inevitably, come now the Webby Awards, given by something we are asked to believe is the " International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences." For a medium that prides itself on its insurgent spirit, this is a comically egregious exercise in faux-establishmentarianism. But like all such operations, this one traps its victims in a conspiracy of mutual hype. They hype you by giving you an award. You hype them by bragging about it.

The folks at L'académie Internationale des Arts et des Sciences Numériques have innovated a clever variant on this trick. They give a separate set of awards based on how many votes your site gets in a reader poll they're running on their site. As a result, the Web is now littered with links to the Webby "People's Voice" page. (Why, what a coincidence: Here's one right here.) Despite some press-release malarkey about democracy in action, the true spirit of the Web, and blah, blah, the connection between this and any valid expression or measurement of Web popularity is about as close as Die internationale Akademie digitaler Künste und Wissenschaften is to the National Academy of Sciences.

Small type at the bottom of the home page confesses that L'accademia Internazionale degli Arti e delle Scienze Digitali is "an affiliate of IDG Conference Management Company." Said company seems to have copyrighted all the materials, so I think it's clear what's going on. But everyone is pretending this is some sort of real industry honor. (The BBC is throwing a cocktail party to celebrate the fact that its Web site was nominated!) And in a few years it will probably be just as real as all the others. And just as pointless.

On behalf of all my colleagues at Slate, thank goodness we don't have the strength to resist.

Michael Kinsley is a columnist, and the founding editor of Slate.