Lazy Luddite Log

14.5.07

Eurovision: Global Relations Model

In what is becoming something of a tradition I watched the Eurovision Song Contest finale with housemates last night. As always it was lots of fun with (inadvertently) amusing songs and (intentionally) amazing costumes and this time with a bit more musical quality and variety.

The normal serving of schmaltzy ballads, tacky dance numbers, and 'ethnic-lite' muzak had been challenged last year by the full frontal sensory assault of the Finnish metal act Lordi who took the competition by surprise with crunching guitars and monstrous costumes (the singer even had articulated bat wings emerging from his back) and won the contest with sheer play-acting chutzpah.

This year the winning nation hosted the event in its capital Helsinki and the lesson of Lordi was observed by many contestants. And that lesson was to be differently different rather than similarly different. So rather than get a lot of Lordi imitators what we got was everything from swing-era jazz to celtic folk to action-movie incidental music and all sorts of stuff in between (I wish there had been something a bit funky but that is just me).

Eurovision is about vision as much as it is about music and we got a lot of that too. Glam theatrics were in and with it came some of the most open expressions of queer identity (always an undercurrent at Eurovision) yet seen. Among the performers there were any number of camp poses and expressions. More importantly however openly gender-bending acts were seen and did well. The runner-up entry (Ukraine) was a glitter-encrusted man in a dress while the winner Marja Serifovic (Serbia) was a woman with rather short hair and a very masculine suit and tie. Eurovision is one of many fronts on which acceptance (admittedly sometimes in very frivolous ways) of non-heterosexual identity is making progress. But there is more to Eurovision than that.

Looking at which national electorates vote for which acts can be surprising. Terry Wogan (tired old UK commentator whose droll comments are part of the package SBS transmits) always puts it down to voting bloc of nations sharing borders but there is more to it than that. It is one thing for Norwegians to vote for Swedes. It is another thing altogether for Croatians to vote for Serbians.

Consider the recent history of war in the Balkans and the much longer history of animosity on which hostility was based. Serbs are Orthodox and Croats are Catholic and this difference has motivated them over time to fabricate a national distinction that conveniently overlooks a world of cultural and ethnic commonality. They even pretend that they speak different languages! And yet now they can vote for one another in Eurovision...

Is it because a silly music contest is so trivial that they can temporarily set aside long-held prejudices for it? Surely if the difference between one national group and another were so important as to justify violence then it is of sufficient importance to affect voting even in that silly music contest. Conversely if one can stand to form an alliance over a silly music contest then maybe one can set aside differences in all other spheres of life...

The Balkan matter is only part of what makes Eurovision interesting. We have Christian nations entering cross-dressing acts laced with innuendo. We have Islamic nations (e.g. Turkey) entering acts showing off a lot of flesh and some very suggestive dance moves. And over it all we have a golden haze of alcohol-assisted partying and fellow-feeling at the many Eurovision celebrations on finale night.

The prudes and bigots are banished on Eurovision night and everyone has a damned good time. If only the European Union was more like this (for a start the EU needs to open its doors to Turkey). If only international relations were conducted more in the spirit of Eurovision in which music and friendship matter more than religion and ethnicity. Pass me my tiara and champagne glass somebody.

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2 Comments:

  • I am not sure about the Croat/Serb thing, but I think that a lot of the votes that came for Serbia from Croatia were from the 5% of the population who were ethnic Serbs, and wanted a chance to cheer their entry on.

    Eurovision used to be voted for by a panel of judges rather than a phone in. Up until they changed to the viewer choice Cyprus had never given Turkey un point, let alone deux or more. Now they are guaranteed at least six and Greece at least eight. Germany has a high Turkish population and Turkey usually gets a lot of votes from there too.

    So, how about a Eurovision party next year?

    By Blogger Conrad, At 16 May, 2007  

  • I suppose we cannot be sure exactly who votes in those phone polls in what nations. I do think it has improved since they replaced panels with popular votes. It makes it more reflective of changing trends and more prone to surprises (yay surprises!).

    A 'party' as distinct from a 'TV night'? One in which everyone is expected to come in national dress or Eurovision performer regalia? That could be fun...

    By Blogger Daniel, At 23 May, 2007  

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