Welcome to Eurovision 2014 - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Welcome to Eurovision 2014

A musical interlude, though the use of the word ‘musical’ is perhaps loose. Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest has struck again: which is to the world of music what Purim is to Judaism, or Halloween is to American culture. Lovers of ‘quality’ pop and rock head for the hills, vainly making gestures against the evil eye, while the rest of us settle comfortably in our armchairs for that night when unredeemed vulgarity and bad taste struts its stuff, uniting a fractured continent for a few welcome moments of bizarre spectacle, glitz for glitz’s sake, and the uttering of sentiments normally best left unsaid.

The prize for the last category? Step up Belgium, who paraded a rotund singer warbling about his mother in terms that cannot even be done justice to by the word, ‘Oedipal.’ Never mind: I’m sure he felt much better proclaiming the sort of love that should never, ever, speak its name. But the Eurovision is the Eurovision, and he was free to do so, even if a merciful judging panel decided that enough was enough, and booted him out at the qualifying stage.

The bizarre spectacle was, as so often, mostly provided by the winner, an Austrian gay man appearing as a bearded drag artist called Conchita Wurst: or should that be artiste? He? She? Whatever. Freud would have taken to the hills as well had he been alive (there are some quite attractive hills around Vienna for him to have taken refuge in) rather than see the whole edifice of his theories of human personality called into severe question. Anyway she (he?) belted out an undistinguished song at the top of his (her?) voice while standing almost as still as the Columbia lady (gentleman?).The audience loved it. Under normal circumstances, nul points and a charge of disturbing the peace would have been the inevitable consequence. But, this being the Eurovision, nothing of the sort happened. Our undeniably valiant doozy got douze points from all, and got to call for the sort of world peace and love he had been so noisily disturbing earlier on.

Conchita Wurst

Conchita Wurst (Promotional)

However, the real success story of the contest was to be found elsewhere. A  Polish duo, Donatan and Cleo, aided by dancers in peasant costume revealing various stages of decolletage, launched into a spirited, if squeaky, rendition of a ditty called “We are Slavic.” The song should perhaps have been called “Slavs Have Fun:” the dancers, miming washing and butter churning, displayed their charms to the fullest advantage. The result was not, as some coyly put it, suggestive: ‘declarative’ would be much more like it.

The professional judges turned up their noses at it. Nearly all of them, from most countries, pronounced it dead on arrival, a non-starter. Considering the quality of the opposition, this was strong stuff indeed.

But the voters drawn from the European public thought differently. From Ireland to the Ukraine, they loved it, and in a rare display of Continental unity that the economically battered EU could only dream of, gave it the douze point treatment. Had the professionals withdrawn from the judging, Poland might have won.

Deservedly too. The original music video, more powerful than the comparatively restrained Eurovision performance and already nearing fifty million hits on YouTube, shows why. Filmed on a village-style set, and with no shortage of amply-endowed women, it screams vulgarity, piling on the slapstick and innuendo, if not outright bald statement. But the traditional rural setting, and the presence of actors representing not just Mum and Dad, but Grandpa and Grandma, gives the piece another meaning altogether. It is presented as a kind of rebellion against morality, but a rebellion that takes the existing social order for granted and does not aspire to overturn it. Youth and sex have their day, to give way to age and acceptance in due course.

Graham Norton (Public Domain)

Graham Norton (Public Domain)

The BBC host of the competition, Graham Norton, put his finger on it with precision, likening it to “Carry On Up The Eurovision.” In doing so, he invoked the memory of the end-of-the-pier British film series that, in the Fifties and Sixties, was the standard bearer of the grand tradition of low sexual humor that has never been far from the surface of European culture. But this tradition has been fading over the years, under pressure from the censorious who were always opposed to it, and the elite view of culture that can find no place for it in a world of sharks in formaldehyde and classical music that no longer sounds, well, musical. Or classic, come to think of it.

George Orwell, in his celebrated 1940 essay on the British caricaturist Donald McGill, paid tribute to this tradition: a “harmless rebellion against virtue” which he claimed needs a hearing occasionally, lest this tendency, suppressed or ignored, manifest itself in worse forms. Whether the current European crises result from the suppression of this rebellion is unlikely. But the ecstatic reception accorded “We Are Slavic” is a good sign, and in its unique way, opens the door to a different sort of European unity than that envisioned in the high-minded declarations of statesmen, which nearly always sound more out of tune than some of the Eurovision entries themselves. Thank you, Poland. You too, Conchita. See you, and the rest of you, next year.

About the author

Ralph Amelan

Ralph Amelan is the Book Review editor of The Jerusalem Report, a fortnightly news magazine. He lives in Jerusalem, Israel. Contact the author.

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