Laughing at Europeans, why Australia watches Eurovision


So it’s Eurovision again. Let me say that I’ve been an Eurovision (or more accurately the Eurovision Song Contest – ESC, as Eurovision is the name of the European Broadcasting Union broadcasting unit) aficionado from way back.

I can remember watching this contest in the late 60’s and early 70’s as a child with my sister on Saturday night (there were no semi-finals in those days) in Italy. I actually remember hoping for ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA to win live.

Once I came to Australia in 1974 no one knew about Eurovision. ‘Waterloo’ may have been a hit, but the fact it won the ESC was a bit of trivia that no one cared about.

But SBS came and as part of its ‘multicultural’ mission it decided to broadcast the event. I’m pretty sure it didn’t make an impact at first, but slowly it grew and had become something of a cultural phenomenon.

The question that many both in Australia and in Europe is why? Why Australians should care about Eurovision? Is a question asked in a tweet by Guardian Australia editor Jessica Reed

One answer came from Giles Hardie who wrote about our supposed Eurovision obsession (well…that’s stretching it a bit). He states:

The real answer is really the network built to speak to them (the audience). Thirty years ago there was no channel like SBS anywhere else in the world. Every year they broadcast Eurovision, celebrating and gently mocking it first with Terry Wogan’s famous commentary until 2008, then with the pairing of Zemiro and Sam Pang. The result is generations of awareness, affection and kitsch-love.

But I am not sure about the ‘affection and kitsch-love’ thing. Yes, that may be the case as well, but I sense a less charitable reason. I came across a post in ‘the official EUROVISION Family of Events community’ by someone who does take the ESC seriously (a bit too seriously in fact) but his/hers comments do expose an aspect of how this event is being portrayed and perceived by many in Australia. The post is titled: Why Australia is a Disgrace to Eurovision  (A title which is a tad extreme in my opinion) The writer seems to know quite a bit about the SBS broadcast and slams Pang and Zamiro quite undeservedly, but this point is quite pertinent:

Viewers would have noticed the “shout out” during the telecast of the final from Baku. That would have given Europe a false impression about Australia’s interest, and no doubt they would not appreciate the content of the interest if they really knew the true role of SBS. For the contest itself, SBS’s 100% committed role was to treat it as a joke, and that’s treating it as joke far worse than ever before. The impact of SBS’s mockery is to present a broadcast as something that has scant regard for the contest or music itself.

The problem here is that there’s a finite audience that’s only watching for mockery. Viewers will soon be accustomed to some of the quirky European fashions and lyrics and antics that they’ll soon get bored and simply stop watching.

The other issue is that if SBS continue to promote ESC as a show of Euro-trash whose prime existence is to be mocked, how will they ever grow their audience based on the music and some of the great artists that perform? For 95% of Australians, if they have any knowledge of ESC, it’s that it’s ultra-cheap Euro-trash music. Why would anyone begin to watch if SBS continues to perpetuate this myth? Those that they might attract, they’ll just watch for the occasional cheap laugh, and to see if they can get their obnoxious twitter messages on screen. After the show, it’s forget ESC, unless they see the SBSeurovision hash-tag trending on twitter.

My first reaction to that was ‘lighten up buddy’. But while I think the blogger here takes a tad too seriously, it does bring up that a major attraction of the ESC for Australians may be to have an opportunity to feel superior to Europeans. After all we always look up to places like Europe/USA and despite we have grown up as a nation the cringe is still not totally gone. Australians engaged in ‘high culture’ (for lack of a better word) go to Europe. Soccer players haven’t ‘made it’ if they haven’t gone to a major European league. So it’s fun to find something that Europeans do and we can laugh at and feel somewhat superior.

The secret is that is something that Europeans believe as well. Some acts are ridiculous because some countries take the piss. The fact that Finland entered the 2006 ESC with a hard rock band Lordi – and won it shows that Europeans have a sense of humour and irony.

Mind you, there is another nation that may not take ESC seriously.  When I watched ABBA win with Waterloo all those years ago I wasn’t watching Italian TV, but Swiss TV, as the Italy didn’t think the event was important enough to broadcast live, and replayed later on Sunday afternoon.

As Wikipedia states, Italy has withdrawn from the ESC a number of times. The first withdrawal was in 1981, when the Italian state broadcaster RAI stated that interest had diminished in the country. This absence continued through the following year, before Italy returned in 1983. Italy again withdrew in 1986 when RAI decided not to enter the contest. From 1994 to 1996 Italy withdrew again, with RAI citing a lack of interest in participating. Italy returned in 1997, before withdrawing again without explaining any reason, and the country did not participate again before making a comeback in 2011, and so far the ratings have been abysmal.

So Italians also think that ESC is a bit of a joke, considering it was inspired by their own (and very popular) Sanremo Music Festival.

But I’ll be there. In front of the TV. If anything to feel that there is still a link to those Saturday nights, in Italy allowed staying up more than usual in my pyjamas.

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