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Last week I discussed why I thought many Balkan countries were not participating in Eurovision this year. I recently saw an interview with Srđa Trifković, a Serbian-American writer, about Eurovision on RT.com (you can read excerpts or watch the interview, from January 13, 2014 here); his interview offers a different interpretation for why some countries dropped out.
Interview with Trifković
Trifković argues that Eurovision was important in the 1990s, but has become, “a rather worthless contest and nowadays both politically and culturally its significance has declined” and that many countries, like Serbia, are not participating because, “they have concluded that the Eurovision Song Contest simply doesn’t matter.”
He believes the benefits of winning (e.g., improving a country’s image or tourism) are overstated because hosting means “[having] once a year an infomercial connected with poor taste popular pop or simple weirdness.” He then argues countries that host Eurovision are associated with culture of “the lowest common denominator.”
Regarding political voting, Trifković says, “there is no real correlation between voting patterns and the quality of the entries themselves. And as I have already said that quality can be pretty dismal most of the time. And even that one global hit that emerged from the Eurovision Song Contest, Abba’s Waterloo, from 1974, is just a typical example of cheesy tra-la-la europop.”
Why I disagree with the remarks
Given that this is a fan site for Eurovision, I assume that I’m preaching to the choir when I say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiments of this interview. Before I get started, obviously Mr. Trifković’s opinions don’t represent everyone in Serbia or withdrawing country. I think Serbia takes Eurovision seriously. I have a friend who, back when Serbia was part of Yugoslavia, was so excited when Džuli came in 4th place that she broke her chandelier while jumping for joy – that’s dedication! Still, I don’t think Trifković is alone in his beliefs. Many people believe Eurovision is an irrelevant, trashy, waste of money event. But it’s not. And in case you need any kind of convincing, I’m going to tell you why!
Eurovision is the most watched non-sporting event in the world. Although estimates vary, there at least 125 million viewers. Eurovision.tv recently published an article saying that Eurovision was the seventh most Googled event globally on the Internet in 2013. With that kind of audience and following, it’s hard to accept the argument that Eurovision is irrelevant or worthless.
Sure, just because it’s watched and Googled, does not mean people think it has any substantive value, but people do think that! People assume Eurovision results are politically and culturally motivated, so regardless of what caused the results, we give them political and cultural value. To say that people only vote for which country they like suggests that Eurovision voting is a public referendum on each country. To say those results are unimportant implies that public opinion does not matter.
If Eurovision voting didn’t matter, then why are we hearing about cheating scandals? Why would Russia be upset about how many votes it received from Azerbaijan? Why would Azerbaijan launch an official inquiry into voting for some worthless event? In Estonia’s Human Development Report, Estonia discussed the significance of receiving votes in Eurovision. The report says, “Have generous scores from our geographical-cultural neighbors contributed to an excellent song and appropriate performer, or does the reason for our success lie in our natural affiliation with Europe? Is it that Estonia is part and parcel of modern cultural Europe and possesses the skill to stand up and be noticed even before economic and political integration?” Clearly Estonia viewed its placement in Eurovision as a reflection of its position in Europe.
Even outside of voting, Eurovision has tangible political, economic, and social effects. Countries have altered their Visa requirements for Eurovision. The Estonian Ministry for Foreign Affairs valued the country’s promotion globally from hosting the contest at $1 billion (Wolther 2012). In 2002, Slovenia selected Sestre, a trio of transvestites, to represent them, which was opposed by 51.4% of Slovenians. This prompted a member of the European Parliament’s committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice, and Home Affairs to question Slovenia’s EU accession: “Now that the results of the Eurovision contest are being debated and the issue of gay rights is coming up, it confronts us with the fact that Slovenia is perhaps not yet ready for EU membership” (Gaube 2002). Eurovision has also raised awareness for LGBT issues in many of the host cities. These anecdotes (and the many more, which I didn’t include) illustrate that Eurovision is a significant event.
Ignoring the fact that Eurovision votes are purely political, we also hear that Eurovision songs are low-quality or “cheesy tra-la-la europop.” Eurovision has millions of viewers and has been on the air since 1956; clearly it’s doing something right. Plus, I don’t like the distinction between high and low culture – why is one inherently better than the other? What makes Eurovision songs low quality? Quality is subjective. I think it’s impressive that high-scoring Eurovision entries are able to transcend cultures. To win Eurovision an entry has to appeal across cultures, which some might consider “the lowest common denominator,” but we should view it as something universal and unifying.
I could go on about this, but I think you get the point. Of course there are more important things in the world than Eurovision. If a country is facing a financial crisis and needs to fund social services, I understand why they would drop out. And if a country decides for whatever reason it doesn’t want to participate then that’s fine too! But I strongly disagree with these assertions that Eurovision is irrelevant or worthless because those arguments imply that culture doesn’t matter, and like it or not, Eurovision is a part of European culture.
Gaube, Ales. “The Sisters’ Second Act.” Time, March 22 2002.
Tart, I., et al. (2000). Estonian Human Development Report. Tallinn, Estonia.
Trifković, Srđa. Eurovision Song Contest Becomes ‘political and Cultural Irrelevance’ – RT Op-Edge. Interview. 13 Jan. 2014. Web. <http://rt.com/op-edge/eurovision-political-cultural-irrelevance-496/>.
Wolther, I. (2012). “More than just music: the seven dimensions of the Eurovision Song Contest.” Popular Music 31: 165-171.