Eurovision Goodwill, or Why this Ridiculous Singing Competition is Awesome

Yesterday, my Twitter was all abuzz with news about Eurovision 2012.  Mark Gatiss, of Doctor Who and Sherlock fame, live-tweeted the event, and so my Twitter feed was deluged with unintelligible comments about fire-breathing, trumpets, and moonwalking bagpipes.  Not surprising.

Most Americans have little to no idea what Eurovision is, given that it has nothing to do with our fine land.  And, of course, if it has nothing to do with us, we ignore it completely.  Even if the thing we’re ignoring is a massacre or a highly competitive and highly random performance competition known for its lack of both talent and basis in reality.

I must boast that I am a bit more cultured than the majority of my countryfolk when it comes to this particular event.  In fact, a year ago, I watched Eurovision live in a flat in Oxford.  After traveling all day from St. Andrews, Scotland, I met my friend Karith at the train station, and she let me drop my stuff at her room, before saying apologetically, “We’ve been invited to a Eurovision party.  Want to go?”

Of course I did.

Something purely European?  While I’m in Europe?  Happening now, watching with students from all over the world?  How could I say no?

I had read up a bit on Eurovision.  It’s a bizarre competition amongst European countries (and some additional countries such as Algeria and Azerbaijan), with each country choosing an individual or group to perform an original song for fame and fortune.  That in itself seem perfectly normal given America’s propensity toward reality competitions.  The bizarre part is the performances themselves: heavy on showmanship, less so on talent.  Although, every once in a while, a good one gets through.  Think more Abba, less Jedward.

The rule is that the winning country must host the competition the next year.  Much fame and prestige along with much expense, so countries have been known to try to lose on purpose (which, of course, backfires).  There is a lot of voting strategy.  Countries cannot vote for themselves, so most vote for their allies or their geographical neighbors.  Papers have been written about the Eurovision voting blocs.

That seems like an overly serious response to a competition that clearly boasts very little talent.  But in truth, it has some serious ramifications.  This year, the competition was hosted in Azerbaijan, due to their rousing duet that spoke the heartsong of a world: “I’m running, I’m scared tonight; I’m running, I’m scared of breathing…because I adore you.”  I personally preferred the folk song about Peter saving the world of the Finnish.  Or the Moldovian hats.

But in Azerbaijan, there have been riots and clashes in the capital, and accusations of a German conspiracy and information war against the country.  Armenia has pulled out of the competition, due to political issues with Azerbaijan.

Ridiculous Europop dancers in sparkles?  Check.  Decades of political issues coming to the surface?  Check.  Eurovision is here!

Eurovision is the gaudy, less impressive sibling of the Olympics.  At least at the Olympics, countries pretend to have goodwill, though we all know in our hearts that there’s no such thing.  And there’s actual talent at the Olympics, actual competition.  Where the Olympics are stately, Eurovision is trashy.  Which is why it’s great.

And you know what?  I sat in the flat, rooting for the country I drew from a hat (Greece, who brought an opera singer and a rapper; yes, they performed together).  I was surrounded by Americans from Georgia, Romanians, Brits, Irish, and missionary kids who grew up in Haiti and Jordan.  We all cheered for the ridiculous costumes, poorly-pronounced English, and confusing songs that didn’t make sense.  It didn’t matter that some of these countries had been hating each other for hundreds of years; what mattered was that every time your chosen country scored a point, you had to take a swig of whatever it was you were drinking.

That’s what true goodwill looks like, folks.

Long live Eurovision!

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