Watch the end of civilisation, 1800h GMT tonight

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.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

5 thoughts on “Watch the end of civilisation, 1800h GMT tonight”

  1. I see what you mean. That Finnish "song" stretches the concept of "music". And why are they dressed like orcs from Lord of the Rings?

  2. Not even Tolkien's orcs have scaly, bat-like wings. The unfortunate Finns, deeply embarrassed by the mere nomination of Lordi, now have the expensive penance of hosting the 2007 event. Presumably their objectives next year will be (a) to regain some moral credibility and (b) to lose. The 2007 Finnish entry is likely to be a moppet singing about bluebells and reindeer.

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