Web Award Emcee John Halcyon Styn

I hope the economic situation will change the focus back to expression and communication, says Styn.
"I hope the economic situation will change the focus back to expression and communication," says Styn. (Photo By John Anderson)

Believe it or not, John Halcyon Styn wasn't always the proud little sexpot he is today. The self-proclaimed "digital argonaut" and superstar of SXSW Interactive remembers that women once scoffed when he called himself Webmaster. "They were like, 'Uh, I don't do computers,'" he says. Or they thought he was devoted to Dungeons & Dragons. But these days, after surviving the late-Nineties corporate infestation of the Net and a failed appearance on the dating show Studs, Styn is an example of all that is good -- and thereby successful -- in the world of the Web.

"My relationship to the Web is like that of a lover," he says prior to his appearance last Sunday night as emcee (for the second year in a row) at the SXSW Web Awards. "I just wouldn't be who I am without it." This philosophy was on display when he took the stage at the ceremony. Dressed in a gray suit and a sequined top, he sauntered to the podium to the opening beats of U2's "Beautiful Day." He sang his own lyrics over the instrumentation: "It was a beautiful page ..."

Somewhere amidst his dance-and-nipple play, Styn was cleverly selling the ideals of creativity and individual expression that remain the focus of the SXSW Interactive conference. A glance at his own Web sites, www.cockybastard.com and www.prehensile.com, demonstrate why. Filled with revealing photographs and text entries about Styn's personal life, the pages don't just compel the viewer with their honesty and salaciousness -- they conquer with their humor and style. Strange that in 2001 it's still news that these are the keys to a great site. But this could also be the year those qualities make a comeback.

"I hope the economic situation will change the focus back to expression and communication," Styn says, lamenting the commercial hype of the past few years. Things look good for Styn's wishes. The mood and speed of this year's interactive conference is a far cry from last year's, and Styn believes that the people who are here this time around have personal investment in their Internet work. "Last year people were saying, 'Oh the Internet is how you make millions of dollars,'" he says. Styn, however, has never had an agent or a marketing team and makes no attempts to turn his sites into lucrative ventures. Instead, he devotes his energy to creating new structures and models for Web communities, including hosting a virtual grace for last year's Thanksgiving and starting what he calls a "globalgasm" -- that is, a session of virtual sex and bliss across the world.

But anyone who attends the interactive conference knows that Styn spreads the love in person just as well. A personification of all the creative opportunities we were promised when the Internet took off in the last decade, he has become an unmistakable presence -- if not mascot -- of the conference itself. And while he's cheeky enough to call his work an "endless digital striptease," the great thing is that there's always more Styn to uncover.

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