Monday, May 16, 2011

Uniting a Continent Through a Wacky Song Contest

Eurovision, a Continental battle of the bands that [was won by Azerbaijan last Saturday], is often dismissed as tacky, politicized and rarely capable of producing durable stars
deadpans Jack Ewing in an article on the Eurovision song contest that the New York Times accompanies with a slideshow.
Yet this wildly popular song contest may also be just the thing that Europe needs right now.

Since 1956, Eurovision has been one of the few cultural institutions that bind citizens of Europe together, proponents say, an urgently needed common denominator at a time when European solidarity is under strain.

… Europe, as defined by Eurovision, extends as far west as Iceland, as far south as Israel and as far east as Azerbaijan. … The campiness that has won the event a global cult following — especially among some gay people, researchers say — seems muted this year. The Eastern European countries, which normally set the standard for bizarre combinations of folk culture and Vegas glitter, are going easy on the sequins.

… some Eastern European countries, which began competing after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, have made winning a national mission.

…To be sure, the contest has some elements that seem typical of politics in the European Union, widely criticized for its byzantine decision-making process that produces mediocre results. The winner of Eurovision is chosen by a combination of professional jurors and telephone voting by viewers. Jurors and viewers cannot vote for their own countries, so they tend instead to choose their neighbors.

…Detractors point to the event’s negligible record of producing international superstars. With a few exceptions, like Abba, which won for Sweden in 1974 with the song “Waterloo,” and Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi,” fame for most contestants has proved fleeting.