A Fellow of Infinite Jest is a blog by Ken Leach. Ken reaches for pretentious David Foster Wallace references when pushed to register a URL. He also talks about himself in the third person. That should tell you everything you need to know. His posts are likely to talk about UK wellbeing policy, mixed in with some personal musings about...stuff.

Eurovision, Star Trek, and Optimism

It is probably not my most closely guarded secret, but I love Eurovision.

There are, I think, lots of reasons for this (maybe I just appreciate it on a deeper level than you), but thinking about it recently I've began to see that the most important one is the emotional response I get from it - a mixture of excitement and optimism.

Of course, a lot of people think about Eurovision in terms of high camp, acerbic commentary and national disgrace. While all of those things appeal - and are an essential part of the experience - I think sometimes we can miss reflecting on the optimism and naked earnestness that make it such a great event.

In a lot of ways, the reasons I love Eurovision are the same as why I was obsessed with Star Trek as a teenager (big shock). This was a far future, utopian society without scarcity. Where the human race has banded together to renounce war (kind of) and go out and explore the universe - creating a pan-galactic union of like-minded species. Ignoring the later, less idealistic, take on the United Federation of Planets as a hegemonic military industrial complex it was, to me, a compelling vision of the future. The USS Enterprise was crewed with broad cultural stereotypes, but importantly, they were largely culturally intact. While you might have expected humanity to be reduced to a homogeneous mush, you wouldn't be surprised to find Scotty handing out tins of shortbread on the bridge, or Chekov teaching the computer how to play chess.

So how does the human race band together in a way that keeps Nigel Farage up at night but still maintains distinct voices? Well, maybe we could start with a light entertainment show created in the 1950s to promote greater understanding between countries that had just barely got through two world wars and were experiencing a cold one.

The UK usually treats Eurovision with a collective arched eyebrow. That has led us to put up entries that reflect a contest that doesn't really exist anymore, if it ever did. For some reason, songs with blow job references, sexualised school girls, or whatever the hell this was haven't set the scoreboards alight. Tellingly, when we've ditched the forced ironic campness and gone with more universal and populist themes, we've fared better.

When we talk about Eurovision and politics it's usually to complain about unfair voting amongst neighbouring countries - which we weirdly don't regularly extend to France; or to blame the UK government's support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq for our low rankings. You would have thought, not only should they have gotten over it by now; but it's weird that they had the foresight to punish us from 1999 - 2001 with mid-table placements. The more significant examples of 'Political Eurovision' are countries using the platform to renounce the war their country was embroiled in at the time, or celebrating a successful popular uprising the year before, or calling for reconciliation after years of civil war. That's to say nothing of continual attempts to normalise LGBT people and relationships across Europe and beyond (including places to which the word 'regime' is normally appended).

That's the side of Eurovision that fills me with optimism, the side which presents themes of peace and acceptance and beams it into hundreds of millions of homes. While it's corny and probably naive (FIFA could probably learn a trick or two from the vested interests who take being hosts very, very seriously); if you ignore how the sausage is made and crest the wave of sugary emotion and faith in the goodness of humanity*, you can see the serious side of a frivolous song competition. Coupled with friends, some beers and some razor sharp quips so you can pretend you don't take it seriously at all, it's the best event of the year. But then, I probably appreciate it on a deeper level than you.

*Which was stretched to the limit when Gina G didn't win in 1996.




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