“Love shine a light…”
So soon, has it really been a year? Truth is, little takes over May like Eurovision, which is saying a lot in the UK where it competes from the centrepoint of two public holidays.
But yet again, while it seems ever-bigger every year, little else fades from view so quickly. That’s often soaked in faux-disappointment in Albion. it’s not as though the UK can expect to win the contest ever again. The week that’s seen Churchill pulled into the argument of Britain’s future in Europe, claimed by both Leave and Remain camps of course, has only highlighted how different Europe is from that Churchill left in the mid-1960s.
When the UK last won in 1997, with a fine, optimistic song fronted by an American, it could have been at the very last gasp of possibility. Few years can match the power to change the elastic-liberal Britain like ’97, between the death of a Princess and the rise of a new centre-ground ‘socialism’. Two years later the first bombing campaign in continental Europe since the end of WWII would brutally come to late to stop terrible atrocity in former Yugoslavia and the Blair administration would be well on its way to taking the UK into a good wodge of wars that put other right-wing administrations to shame, the effects of which are still acutely felt today. There’s no doubt that the rest of Europe, as it’s split and morphed in parts, stayed resolutely predictable in others, has a different view of Britain this generation to last.
See how quickly the Eurovision contest, the Song for Europe, a contest originally developed in the 195os to unite a war-torn Europe with “light entertainment”, falls to politics. But then politics, in a very pure undiluted form, is the very fabric of Europe – even more than clear differences and distortions, unified myths and legends or the continents fascinating and continuing diaspora. Idiosyncrasies are many – I for one have never understood why sauerkraut hasn’t been adopted by British tastes which are a great fit for it – but it’s mostly about bloody mindedness and the fun of adopted outrage. Politics is what Europe has dedicated inumerable time and lives to.
Still, every year Eurovision seems more important to mid-Spring Britain . There are more articles, more parties, more Abba…
This year of course, there’s the delicious prospect of the Contest playing out against the imminent and pending European Referendum in the UK. But that’s a debate it will contribute absolutely nothing to. Should the UK leave or remain in the European Union next month, it will have absolutely no effect on Eurovision voting next year. In much the same way the contest can’t be affected by Graham Norton, or Sir Terry’s mock-mocked acerbic commentary, or the quality (or lack of it) of the UK’s entrant.
The only thing that could possibly impact it would be if government stooges make it onto the new white-papered BBC governing body and engineer a Romanian style expulsion from the Contest. Not only would that be a huge financial blow to the European Broadcasting Union, but cause civil unrest in the UK I’m entirely uncomfortable to think about. I suspect it could see numbers on the street far in excess of the June referendum turnout…
This small, merciful inevitability is surely all that has stopped Dave and Boris pulling on the contest like a Christmas cracker in the past week – mostly choosing war instead. And it all goes to add even more lovely irony to the European Irony Mountain that Britain takes an unfairly huge share of. Since 1956 the Eurovision Song Contest has sought to unite Europe while reinforcing the stereotypes and fuelling discrimination that sums up the heart of Europe. And it’s done so while changing very little, even as it’s drawn in former-Soviet states, and countries based on roots rather than geography like Israel and Australia.
In contrast, it was two years after the Contest‘s inception that the EEC was formed, which four decades later had shifted into the EU that manages to ripple and change year on year.
The Contest is tarnished, but that’s the fun. To dismiss Eurovision is to completely miss the point of a harmless exercise in rather narrow multi-culturalism, to celebrate it without the sufficient amount of irony is just as bad. Like too many things in Europe no doubt, Eurovision is something that many in Europe take too seriously. It pulls an unnatural level of vitriol on a perceived difference of opinion in Britain, and to a certain extent, although from a loftier position, Ireland. But that’s hardly surprising for the the Islands on the far west of Europe.
But if nothing else, and there will be some atrociously terrible songs on display tonight in a competition that has always lived outside the popular music continuum, what a wonderfully perfect mechanism to do that it’s morphed into.
Also, there is little chance of us ever forgetting Abba. I mean, really, just incredible. While writing this I’ve listened to Radio 2’s “Let’s ABBA party” (pun!) and fallen about laughing at a mis-reading on Facebook that led a Dutch and presumbed British person to confuse Rotheram with Rotterdam and derail a serious political point on the way. Seperated by similarities. Liebe Europe.
With all the bizarre anti-anticipation that Eurovision musters in greater Europe, outside the confines of its current hosting city (presumably, although I doubt I’ll ever fully test that theory) there are only hours to go. We can accurately predict where certain votes will fall between neighbours, friendly, scared or rivals tonight and that’s also same as it ever was. At least the ridiculous, and yet totally logical-non-sensical inclusion of Australia brings a country who can enjoy it with a certain and well earned, distant innocence.
Eurovision in one Hollywood Scene…
For me, my relationship with Eurovision can be summed up by this scene from the glorious mess that is 1967’s Casino Royale. Dogged by the warnings of a psychic, Peter Sellers refused to appear opposite Orson Welles (beware the initials OW), while Welles delightedly insisted on including magic tricks in his sequences to unsettle Sellers. Sellers, increasingly ideosyncratic but reaching a peak of fame and another mark in the sad fall of the mighty, never fully appreciated Welles would make for a scintilating first meeting over cards between the fake James Bond and the garralous Le Chiffre… Had the filmakers, including one of five different directors, hadn’t had to film the two seperately. The result is massively enhanced by in its disconnected, chopped and nonsense hilarity and exactly captures how I’ll be watching Eurovision tonight and Europa willing, for many years to come.
[Casino Royale, 1967: From 03.09]
Best of British, Blighty.