If you have a large amount of free time at the moment, you may well have decided to occupy yourselves with organising the inaugural Confused Continent Identity Championship. I would urge you to save yourselves the bother; it is quite obvious that Europe would win.

Depending on the context, the term Europe can refer to several different places. To begin with there is Europe the geographic continent. This is simple. There are probably tectonic plates and things to tell us where Russia stops being Europe and begins to be somewhere else entirely but having paid very little attention in geography class, I’m not positive where this is.
There is the Europe of the European Union; a collection of member states whose citizens can travel and work (mostly) freely between them. The EU is also a massive body of complex bureaucracy which has no idea how many people it employs or what they all do. It was based in Belgium to help the Walloons and the Flems stop arguing about who was best and instead unite against a common antagonist.
Then there is the Europe of the Eurovision Song Contest. For some reason, Italy doesn’t exist in it but it does include that well known bastion of European Culture, Azerbaijan.

54 glorious years ago it was decided that the best way to help Europeans become Better People was to pit the various nations against each other in a grand sing off to decide who was the best. So it was that Eurovision was born and it is, by far, the best thing ever to have come out of Europe. It is a chance for each country to represent itself to the rest of the continent. If Albania wants to do that with break-dancing dwarves and a man rejected by the Blue Man Group for wearing turquoise, who are we to tell them they shouldn’t?

Every country gets to field a song. Each country then has a vote to decide who they thought was the best awarding a score of 1 through 8 points, 10 points and 12 points to the top acts. At the end of the night the winner gets to take home a shiny trophy created by the host country and the honour of paying for next year’s gig.
In recent years, due to political forces and the eagerness of various nations who cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted as Europe, the number of countries taking part in the competition has reached a dizzying 42. So that nobody feels left out, a new regime of qualification was instigated. We now have a quarter final, a semi final and the grand Saturday night affair. Your qualification is based on how well you did the previous year unless you are France, Germany or the UK who get automatic qualification based on the fact that they fund the thing.

For some reason, large parts of Europe feel that the UK does not take the song contest as seriously as it ought to. I can’t imagine why. I think it might be because we like a theme and have the habit of sending an act with a gimmick. Notable mentions include the school girls with knee socks dancing around a working class white rapper and the camp flight attendant who enquired if the audience would like something to suck on for landing.
It wasn’t always this way. We used to send Cliff Richard, Lulu and Sandi Shaw. Then communism ended and all of a sudden Eurovision was filled with new countries who all voted for either each other or for Mother Russia. In the olden days all we had to contend with was the Greece/Malta/Cyprus love triangle and the Scandinavian coalition, now there are huge subcultures of bloc voting.

In an effort to break the Iron Grip of Russia and the Baltic states, this year the voting was split between the phone vote and a jury vote. Encouraged by this (and presumably by Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s promise that if we did it properly, Russia would vote for us), Andrew Lloyd Webber got involved. He wrote a tune, he got a lyric writer to put some words on it and he had an X-Factor style competition to find a vocalist. It worked. We came 5th.

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter how seriously we take it, we are never going to win. We know this and, what’s more, we are comfortable with it. Eurovision isn’t about the winning, it really is about the taking part. It is about the show and the spectacle. It is about sitting at home saying “Fyrom? Who on earth thought that would make a snappy name for a country?” and “Wait… didn’t Serbia and Montenegro used to be one place?” It is about costumes that do things and arguing whether the Israeli entrant was born a man.

This year was great. Our gracious Russian hosts had last year’s winner running on a treadmill and through a wall. The interval act was some kind of Argentinean circus troupe who made odd shapes in swimming pools suspended above the audience. Moldova taught us what the daughter of Red Sonja and Michael Flatly would look like. Our new best friend Greece had a light up coffee table which doubled as a cherry picker and Germany brought Dita Von Tease with them.
Ireland wasn’t in it on account of fielding a puppet of a turkey called Dustin last year and a mediocre girl band this. Girl bands only work in Eurovision if they do belly dancing. There was much griping that this would be the year Ireland won and much relief all around when they didn’t make it through to the final. They really can’t afford to stage it at the moment.

In the end it was bookies favourite Norway who took the Russians exquisite frosted glass microphone shaped trophy away with them. It was only to be expected. Their singer was from Belarus.


sarah said...

i LOVE eurovision! i think its hysterical! i havent watched any for a few years, but i saw the pictures on sky news! ahahah the outfits look awesome. its like a circus!

Theo said...

Cirque du Soleil and an Argentinian one!

I really hope Norway don't do what Denmark did last time they won and give us hosts speaking in rhyming couplets. That would ruin the whole thing.