By Ryan Toves
A crowded room full of internet celebrities you’ve probably never heard of gathered at the Beverly Hilton last Tuesday night for the seventh annual Streamy Awards honoring the internet’s finest online video makers — or at least those with the most subscribers.
What it means to be an internet celebrity is up for discussion. Whether such celebrity warrants its own award show is another debate entirely. Yet these young creators wield extraordinary influence over their mostly young audiences. For better or worse, they’ve navigated the digital world and emerged on top.
As the ceremony begins, the host, a skinny man in a blue suit with a narrow boyish face and a devilish smirk takes the stage in front of hundreds of mildly interested attendees.
“My name is Jon Cozart. Or as most of you know me,” the man pauses, “who the hell is that!?”
The audience laughs, but mere moments after the ice in the room melts, the tone of his wit and humor turns sharp and cutting.
“I’m super honored to be here,” the host says. “I don’t know the age of the audience. Are they too young for me to say the f-word? Are they like just young enough so I can use the n-word? Who knows?”
The joke receives a mix of laughs and gasps. It’s a not so subtle dig at Swedish YouTube and children’s star PewDiePie, who said the n-word repeatedly on his channel despite massive backlash and issuing several apologies. Pie said it as recently as early September during a livestream on his channel.
Twenty-five year old Cozart, who goes by Paint on YouTube, is known for singing his brand of savvy political satire and witty lyricism to the tune of Disney tracks and Christmas carols. He voted for Jill Stein in the general election and critiques institutions ranging from Christianity to both the Republican and Democratic parties. Everything is fair game, including the ceremony itself.
“It’s the internet’s biggest night for the A-list of the D-list,” he croons while playing a Ukulele. “We’re like other award shows, without the budget or reason to exist.”
A distinct lack of seriousness permeates the night. To put it in perspective, five out of the ten nominees for Creator of the Year didn’t bother attending the Streamys.
“An award so exclusive half the nominees aren’t allowed in,” Cozart jokes.
Creator of the Year, the night’s highest honor, went to the Vine duo, the Dolan Brothers while comedy troupe Sugar Pine 7 snatched the Show of the Year award.
Jokes and those who handle their internet fame irresponsibly aside, it is worth noting the abundant visibility and presence of the LGBTQ+ community at the Streamys and among the internet’s celebrity community as a whole.
Gay YouTuber Tyler Oakley presented the Breakout Creator Award to David Dobrick, while Transgender icon Gigi Gorgeous won the Feature Award for her film This is Everything.
RuPaul’s Drag Race all-star Katya Zomolodochikova recapped previous winners, and gay disco icon, The Village People, closed out the show with original lead singer and leather bad-cop, Victor Willis, as front man. Cozart himself, to top it off, is bisexual.
Women of color were well represented as well, including Liza Koshy and Lilly Singh who took home the Comedy and First Person Awards respectively.
“The impact of seeing yourself represented in media is beyond profound,” says Singh.
Many of these folks — women of color, gays, Trans individuals and drag queens to name a few — are traditionally the people least represented in media if at all, which makes them all the more laudable for launching their own platforms and establishing their brands through talent and hard work.
Thanks to them, young people regardless of race, gender or sexuality can turn on a screen and see themselves represented.
Equally important, young viewers can be exposed to people different from themselves in what will hopefully promote a culture of inclusivity and solidarity.
Ultimately the Streamys were a bit self-indulgent, but overall harmless. The idea of an award show for internet celebrities doesn’t quite carry the same weight as say, the Oscars or the Emmys, but the content these stars create does have value and is worthy of at least being recognized one night a year for the work that goes into it.
Additionally, Jon Cozart’s profound self-awareness of the Streamy’s self-aggrandizing nature and the absurdity of internet fame in general is just enough to make sitting through the slew of vaguely recognizable nominees and occasional tipsy acceptance speeches bearable, and even a little fun.