A while ago I made fun of a particular TV show, “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Living in Europe as I do, I can imagine many Americans reading that piece would assume I was having a swipe at all things red white and blue and would no doubt jump to its defence. In reality, there are several TV offerings from across the pond I enjoy, with “The West Wing”, “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” being among my perennial favourites.
Even so, I feel compelled to berate some European television fare to even the score, and tonight’s “Eurovision Song Contest” (ESC), a glorified talent show comprising around 40 or so nations across the continent, gives me the perfect opportunity to do so.
This annual event is under the stewardship of an organization known as “The European Broadcasting Union” (EBU). Casual observers from the USA would be forgiven for thinking this was our equivalent of ABC or NBC, but in reality, it is far from it. It is actually a blanket body representing each country’s state-funded television networks. I can only assume the purpose of this occasion is to both justify and perpetuate the EBU’s existence, because I sure don’t hear much about it the rest of the year.
As Ireland discovered throughout the 90’s, the worst thing a country can do in the ESC is actually win it, since this inflicts you with the severe financial burden of hosting the damn thing the following year. I think we won three times in a row at one point which meant our national network RTÉ (and in turn the taxpayers) had to repeatedly foot the bill. This year, at least, our entry hasn’t even managed to qualify for the final night, so we can leave our hands out of our pockets for another year.
So what’s wrong with a televised song contest between nations I hear you ask? You obviously haven’t heard any of the songs. They are beyond awful. They are one of the reasons the term “Eurotrash” was first coined. And what’s more, each country has its own contest a few months before to decide which one gets to make it to the ESC so when you see a bunch of people croaking out their entry on stage for the final event, you are struck by the realization that this four minutes of audio torture actually the best that nation had to offer. It beggars belief what the other songs were like. Let’s just say it’s not exactly somewhere we’re going to find the next Lennon/McCartney and leave it at that when it comes to the talent pool.
Having said all of this, there is at least one part of the evening that makes worthwhile viewing - the voting. Once the thirty or so, er, “acts”, have completed their routines, we are then treated to the technological wizardry of the computer scoreboard which contains all of the countries listed in alphabetical order at first, until the show’s host speaks one by one to representatives of each of the participating countries to discover how their viewers have voted for the winner.
The rules for voting are simple. You pick up your phone and dial the appropriate number that corresponds to your favourite, with the understandable proviso that you cannot vote for you own country. An amusing aside to this format – last year a convoy of people from Wexford (south coast of Ireland) travelled up and over the border with the UK-ruled Northern Ireland to commandeer phone boxes and make multiple votes for their local boy who was representing The Emerald Isle. Their hero still didn’t win – no doubt their Ukrainian counterparts living near the border with Poland did likewise in greater numbers.
Each nation then ranks its final tally and awards “points” to their top ten. When they are called on to reveal their results, they read out their list in ascending order, with respect of course given to Europe’s multi-lingual nature. And so a typical exchange between the show’s MC and a country’s representative could go like this…
MC : “And now we go to Berlin, guten abend Deutschland!”
German rep : “Guten abend! And thank you for hosting such a wonderful event tonight! [translation – on behalf of German State Television, thank God we didn’t have to pay for this!!!] Here are the results of the German jury…Belgium, one point.”
MC : “Belgium, one point, Belgique, un point.”
GR : “Netherlands, two points.”
MC : “Netherlands, two points, Pays-Bas, deux points.” …….
And so this goes on until the top mark of twelve (douze) points is awarded to that country’s perception of the best of an extremely bad lot. The computer then instantly calculates the total scores and tells you who’s in the lead before they move on to the next country’s voting. In case you’re wondering, it has apparently been mathematically proven over the years that countries tend to award their votes along predictable political lines. In other words, the UK would give top marks to Ireland, Ireland would give no points to the UK and Switzerland would give equal points to everyone if they could.
Actually, when Ireland are competing, and are still in the running with the voting towards the end, you can actually get into it a bit, but it is simply mindless patriotism since anytime I’ve cheered to the words “Irelande, douze points” I would have completely forgotten how the song which attracted the marks actually sounded. Since we failed to get past the first round this year, I think I can find better things to do with my Saturday night than tune in to events from Kiev.
It still bugs me that I’m helping to pay for it, though. All I ever got out of it was an ability to name most of the countries of Europe in French, which makes it a pretty lavish foreign language course if you ask me. The title of this piece, which very loosely translates to “The Awful Song Contest”, I had to search online.