I haven’t payed close attention to what media has had to offer in recent years. It’s not that I don’t watch TV anymore, but I only stream these days. One of the traditions on TV here is the Euovision Song Contest, which has almost evolved into a burlesque freak show. This really is a very bizarre event that has been a popular show every spring since 1956. I have payed so little attention to media in recent years that I completely missed all the headlines last year. The Norwegian contribution is chosen after a series of shows where the two best from each concert proceed to the final. It feels like there is nothing but the Eurovision Song Contest every Saturday between January and May. Last year I missed all the headlines, so I assumed that Norway wasn’t taking part. It turned out we had taken part with another strange song worthy of this twilight zone.
Is it possible to host any type of entertainment these days and expect it to be politically neutral? I asked myself that question a couple of days ago when I saw a headline about the Ukrainian Eurovision song that had won their national final. The song is about the Russian deportation of Crimean Tatars and sounds pretty explosive. The song is titled 1944, the year when Josef Stalin forcibly moved an entire people from the Crimean peninsula to the Central Asian part of the Soviet Union. He did this because he thought they collaborated with the Nazis.
If the host, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) follows past practice they must either disqualify Ukraine or let them choose another song. That was the option they gave Georgia when this country by the Black Sea wanted to perform We don’t wanna Put In in Moscow in 2009. They decided to withdraw from the competition, but perhaps the songwriter wasn’t that sorry. Stefane Mgebrishvili may have felt that all this publicity had given her the exposure she wanted, because controversy is often good publicity. A spokesperson for the EBU told BBC that “no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted.”
It might be a bit pointless talking about the Eurovision Song Contest as a non-political program because the whole idea seems to have been political from the beginning. It wasn’t just entertainment. It was going to bring Europe together and help us feel that we were members of the same civilization. Disarmament and opposing the forces that wanted a cold war appears to have been just as much of a motivation as creating entertainment. Eurovision is still important as propaganda to some countries. The winner hosts the show the next year, and when the show came to Kiev orange (as in the orange revolution) was chosen as the theme colour, and President Victor Yushchenko stated that the victory in 2004 was a contributing factor to the whole revolution.
Israeli media, including the Israeli military radio, claimed a few years ago that the tense situation in the Middle East had been the reason their song didn’t do better. It seems like cooperation is an uphill battle in this region. Jordan wanted to join the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, and the EBU let them, but Jordan withdrew when EBU insisted they also showed the Israeli song. The Israeli singer created the controversy without any outside help in 2000 when she pulled out a Syrian flag and chanted slogans for peace. Some people reacted negatively in 2009 when Israel had a Jewish/Palestinian duo with a message of peace while Israel invaded Gaza. The strange thing is that Israel is usually considered European in sports and in the Eurovision Song Contest, but all their neighbours are Asian or African.
There are frequently allegations that some countries favour each other. Greece and Cyprus tend to give each other a lot of points in the Eurovision, but they are less generous with Turkey. We have something similar going on between Sweden and Norway. The Swedes like to spend weeks before the international final telling us what a piece of crap our song is. This seems to be a general issue they have, and I suspect it has a lot to with the state of their economy. They have always looked at their neighbour as a little brother they could bully, and it may be hard to accept that the situation has changed.
There is a certain tradition for voting more with your heart than your brain. Finn Kalvik performed Aldri i livet in 1981 and was very popular in Norway. It may not have had an international potential as everyone had to sing in their own language in those days, but it probably didn’t deserve zero points. This may have been a protest against Norwegian seal hunt. It has probably been popular to use the Eurovision as a venue to criticize Russia as well. The history of the show also includes several Western European countries celebrating the European Community and the Maastricht Treaty. It is perhaps difficult to keep track of such diverse cultures as we are talking about here, and it’s pretty clear that the EBU hasn’t been as faithful to their own principles as they want us to believe.
What about politically correct expressions? Most people will probably remember the Austrian Conchita Wurst who won two years ago with the song Rise like a Phoenix. This was a man that apparently defined himself as a woman, but didn’t want to make permanent changes. This doesn’t appear to have anything to do with choosing your gender. I’m not sure what the message is, but I guess it’s about freedom to create your own identity, and maybe Conchita doesn’t want to limit himself to being exclusively a man or exclusively a woman. He wants to be both at the same time. This seems to be an expansion of old concepts. I have heard about several cases where men have started to identify themselves as women without undergoing a sex change operation. They still have protection under the law, and there have been several cases where they have been allowed to shower with women (and children) at a university. I think we could see Conchita Wurst in this context. We are moving towards a tolerance without limits, not even to protect victims of abuse.
The Olympic Committe appears to have the same level of altruism. They have a vision of bringing the world together and during the games there are supposedly no disagreements. We are just one big happy family (excuse me for a minute while I step outside to hurl). It doesn’t exactly look like they have ever believed in their own vision. I will not go through the long list of political actions in the Olympics, but I refer to an article on Wikipedia. There are many reasons why some countries boycott this two week long period of world peace, and some of them seem a bit poor. China boycotted the games in Melbourne in 1956 because Taiwan attended, and Taiwan boycotted in Montreal in 1972 because The People’s Republic of China exerted pressure on the organizing committee to prevent the Republic of China from competing under that name.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t done much to promote the freedom they claim is the foundation for the games. They could for example have stated that no country could participate if they didn’t allow women to compete, but countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have been especially unwilling to send women. As late as the Olympics in London (2012) these 3 countries had a total of 7 female athletes.
There seems to be a strong effort to keep us away from talking politics. Many people get upset if a priest expresses political opinions for example. Personally I don’t understand how it is possible to work as a priest without having a clear idea about who is responsible for the refugee crisis just to mention one hotly debated issue. The same applies to the recent debate we’ve had about fetal reduction (a woman wants to abort one of her twins), or what might be the next big debate concerning changes to the abortion law, infanticide (after birth abortion).
Is it possible to do or say anything today that is not considered political? We see what happens when we leave politics to politicians, while we are exclusively concerned with non-political entertainment. Most of the politicians just seem to mess about. That’s why we should do more than watching Eurovision, the Kardashians and other educational programs. These programs can be amusing, but it would be bad if this was all we ever watched.