Sunday, 15 May 2011


Eurovision is over for another year, and I feel better in the knowledge that alongside the silly campness of it all, some important lessons of geography and tolerance have been delivered to people that normally would not invite it. I anticipate, for example, a swell of Google searches for Azerbaijan and its location. In case you didn't know, north of Iran, west of the Caspian Sea. It's nice to know television can still do that, almost like a trojan horse of education for the unwilling, if you like.

However, unfortunately, there's only so much one massive international singing competition can do, and this is uncomfortably clear when looking at publications such as the Mail, for example.

Thinking about that for a second, it must be a challenge for their writers every year to set the tone for any Eurovision-related articles. The very length of the tradition has rendered it a 'British institution', and involvement of national heroes such as Terry Wogan have only strengthened its position. However, the engagement with other cultures is an unavoidable side-effect, and it must leave the Mail with an unfortunate conflict of interest.

The reaction to Azerbaijan's win was an interesting one. The initial observation that that Azerbaijan sounds a bit 'too foreign' for Eurovision, was inevitable. Before long, the initial curiosity led to the use of maps, maps in the wrong hands, which is a dangerous thing indeed.

Tedious explanations surrounding the intricacies of the EBU/UER aside, Stephen's observation is typical of the majority of opinions on the Mail's comments boards. There's an understandable confusion surrounding the difference between the EBU and 'Europe', but is it really the technicalities of Eurovision's rules that are getting middle England's knickers in a twist?

We're one of those countries that still uses Eurovision to show why we're superior to the silliness. France take a similar approach; in the knowledge that they're not a popular choice, they submit choosy operatic pieces, or, in the case of 2008, a Barry Gibb look-a-like in a golf buggy performing an Air-esque piece with an inflatable globe. They master the art of snubbing the competition they're taking part in, meaning they avoid the inevitable failure reflecting on them when they languish at the bottom of the board.

The UK's approach, follows in a similar, if less sophisticated vein. The submission of an established and ageing boy band is just the latest in a line of increasingly desperate efforts to win the competition without fully engaging with the culture. We do pop, but 'cooler', and those Euro-squares just don't get it, do they? Looking through the past few years' entries, it's been a succession of ex-reality show contestants singing instantly forgettable 'serious' pop songs. No wonder we can't win, every act has the feel of a child ashamed of its family, half-heartedly engaging against their will.

It strikes a chord with our whole approach to Europe in general really. Are we in it or not? Maybe technically, but there's still an emotional detachment there that stops the full involvement taking place. Since Terry Wogan left, there's been a noticeable change in the overall approach of the commentary too. The nostalgia and fondness has been replaced by an unkind and snippy sense of superiority that turns gentle cajoling into something more sinister and intolerant.

The same could be said of the reaction to the not-so-recent involvement of non-EU states. "What? Azerbaijan? THEY'RE NOT EVEN IN EUROPE!!!" It's an effective way to voice intolerance without the risk of being branded a racist, I suppose, since it's all within the safe confines of a singing competition. It's confusing really, a competition we don't really want to be a part of, if our past efforts are to be believed, although if we don't win we brand it 'political voting', and similarly get narky when 'foreigners' get involved.

This all sounds a bit too much like real life for me.

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