America has Elvis, Tokyo has Santa Claus, Europe has the Eurovision song contest. Grand finale tonite in Athens at 21.00 Central European Time (GMT+3)! The event is so dire that it has acquired a cult following among the European intelligentsia. Kieran Healy has a priceless post at Crooked Timber in which he analyses the voting patterns into a cluster dendrogram and a Hamming-metric network map. Money quote:
Given that Eurovision songs are (to a first approximation) uniformly worthless, we can assume that votes express a simple preference for one nation over another, uncomplicated by any aesthetic considerations.
The show provides ammunition to cultural pessimists: globalisation is an aesthetic race to the bottom, to the highest common factor in mass taste. (Yes, I remember what “lowest common denominator” means.) The winning song tends to have the least actual words. I wonder. The voting in the Eurovision contest is by the entire European couch potato TV audience; so it’s much more international and mass-market than the normal market for pop music, which is fragmented and spins off new sub-genres all the time. So it’s a one-off, thank God.
BTW, don’t blame Brussels for this one. It was dreamt up 50 years ago by bored engineers in the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva; Eurovision is simply a technical system for swapping programmes and coverage of transborder events like football matches, and the engineers wanted to test it. The webcast is likely to work for as long as you can stand it.
Update – breaking news!
The contest is just over. The voters didn’t share my penchant for the fetching Croatian singer Severina. Instead, they gave the prize to Finland. Please please God, may Kieran Healy be right, and the votes express political approval of a nice country, and not because of the music.
Update 2 – May 23: Resistance is Futile
Mike Atkinson reports in Slate:
Not only is NBC working with the European Broadcasting Union on the development of a U.S. version of the contest; negotiations are also under way for productions in Canada, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa.