All I Am Saying Is Give Kitsch a Chance
The United States continues to be torn apart by partisan politics and there are no signs that things will mellow anytime soon. The Sequester is still going strong and it’s as disturbing as a first grader getting her period. Post-9/11 our mantra was, “United we stand.” More than a decade later, we couldn’t be any less together.
QUESTION: How can we forget the fighting fanatical factions that foster fault lines and forge friendships?
ANSWER: A televised singing contest.
Sometimes Europeans get things right. I’m not talking about Scandinavian social policies, Dutch drug laws or the topless beaches of St. Tropez. I’m talking about the most important 1.5 words you may have never heard: “Eurovision” – an international songwriting contest between countries that fall into the European Broadcasting Union. Eurovision was started by the European Broadcasting Union in post-World War II Europe as a means of encouraging goodwill on the fractured continent. It has arguably worked – no one has invaded Poland in ages!
I enjoyed my first Eurovision viewing experience in 2011 while in Turkey. The sole American among a group of European students, I was the only one dressed up in the colors of the country I was rooting for. At first I scoffed at the Europeans and their lack school spirit but I soon came to understand the party. As soon the show was on, a variety of expletives were shot at the television screen. Trash talking is an enormous part of Eurovision viewing. Many times the singers were mocked most cruelly by their fellow countrymen. Trash talking is an enormous part of Eurovision viewing.
And, like any other television event worth its salt – there is a drinking game to be enjoyed. The songs are so sugary sweet and positive that if you drink every time you hear the word “love” your body will hate you in the morning. Include peace has a cue and you’ll essentially be declaring war on your liver.
But watching Eurovision isn’t just about drinking or being too cool à la Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were some genuinely enjoyable moments and we did enjoy – usually in unison. We held viewing parties all three nights of the competition – as much as to bop our heads as to mock.
As soon as my eyes feasted upon the lights and costumes and choreography, I tried to plot a way to get America in on the competition. We surely don’t fall into the into the European Broadcasting Area – the loophole that allows decidedly non-Euro zone countries like Azerbaijan (2011’s winner), Armenia and Israel participate - but it’s all for the better.
We are America for cripe’s sake! We do everything bigger and better than those jerks anyway. It is time for USVision. (Isn’t it all about US anyway?)
Yes, America has multiple singing shows. Yes, Idol fatigue is real and some of those other shows aren’t really doing much for TV audiences either. To be frank, I’m not surprised. Despite the fact that I love pop music, I’ve never been able to get into Idol or the like. While Idol winners have stolen my heart (“Since U Been Gone” = the best song in the entire universe and it shall remain so forever and ever, Amen), it doesn’t do it for me. The auditions can be fun to watch but it eventually begins to take itself too seriously and that is something I simply cannot do.
Pop music is great because it is synthesized by experts to appeal to our most primitive and base instincts. It may be the musical equivalent of high fructose corn syrup but our brains evolved to find such flavors sweet and addictive well before childhood obesity was a problem. The need to dance to MJ is in our DNA! Love her or leave her, Early man would have danced his face off to Katy Perry before violating her. And unlike high fructose corn syrup, which holds no nutritional value; pop music isn’t always low art (“Hey Ya”)
What we have here is the difference between camp and kitsch. Camp is in on the joke whereas kitsch was never meant to be funny. They’re both so much fun but in very different ways. Both American Idol and Eurovision genuinely take themselves seriously – the difference is in the audience. Idol devotees don’t seem to recognize the ridiculousness while Eurovision can be watched with cynicism intact – the good is great and the bad is even better.
Eurovision 2013 had it all. For camp, see Finland’s Krista Siegfrids “Marry Me”, a girl begging for a proposal while referring to calling a trip down the aisle the walk of shame. Then a vampire-like man with the voice of a female angel from Romania surrounded by barely clothed contortionists was kitschy gold. Azerbaijan’s man in a box was also silly kitschy with a bit of “How’d they do that?” sprinkled on top. Plus, the downright bizarre - a real life GIANT from Ukraine. Then for the traditional non-competition number by the host, Sweden performed a tongue-in-cheek explanation of their country and culture complete with dancing meatballs which was campy, kitsch, and fucking cool.
Caring about the contestants is the keystone of reality TV contest viewing. American Idol isn’t fun to watch if you aren’t in love with the music or invested in the contestants but with Eurovision you don’t have to care. Curiosity counts as caring. So you might hope your country performs well but it’s fun to laugh about it if they don’t. And it’s titillating to see what crazy shit the other people came up with.
Plus, Eurovision is short term. Three telecasts in one week get you in and out. Other singing show fans can’t get enough but I can’t commit to 102,783,359,403 hours of television viewing over a long period of time.
USVision wouldn’t replace other singing shows. There’s enough room in our hearts and viewing schedules for the two to co-exist peaceably. In fact, USVision would be good for their castaways – almost like a television talent show halfway house. Ireland’s Jedward enjoyed a two year run on the Eurovision stage after losing X-Factor in 2009. USVision would help the Idol/Voice/Whatever alums hold onto the spotlight for just a little longer. As much as we love their mug shots after they fall from fame, let’s help those dreamers keep the dream alive.
But isn’t the music which has established the need for USVision. This is a matter of national unity. It was believed that Jasmine Trias lasted so long on Season Three of Idol because everyone in her home state of Hawaii was voting for her as much as they could (and possibly more than was allowed.) This example of state unity: haoles and Hawaiians voting together demonstrated that these contests can bring Americans together.
The first Eurovision contest was held in 1956 with just seven countries. To date, fifty-one countries have participated at least once. This year’s contest included 35 contestants, each with an original song. The semi-finals weeded out some of the weaker acts before 25 countries competed in the finals with all countries participating in the voting. 1-7 points are awarded based on the call-in votes - all voting takes place via text messaging. There are also judges in each country who award the top contenders with 8, 10 or 12 points.
Here’s the catch: you can’t vote for your own country, at least not from within your country. Likewise, in USVision, you wouldn’t be able to vote from your own state. So, unlike the Electoral College which is responsible for the disproportionate power of swing states or the Senate which allows dipshit states which shall remain nameless to have as much representation as states with sensible electorates – the votes would go to the states with the better entries.
It’s not an entirely objective voting process – expatriates living abroad can vote for their homeland. Plus, there is the voting block phenomenon with countries consistently voting for neighbors, especially if a common language is shared. For example: as a Western New Yorker, I may be inclined to vote for entries from the Rust Belt. It’s not exactly the same as solidarity among the former Soviet states but omni-recession is quite the connection.
It has been suggested that this influences the final results but experts argue if it impacts who will be champion but this may not even be an issue in USVision. Consider this: the fiercest football/baseball/etc. rivalries are generally between cities/universities within a relatively small radius, right? Would an LSU Tiger vote for Alabama? Me thinks not.
It must also be said that the economic implications would be enormous. Just think about the boost to the miniature state flag industry.
So how about it networks? Any takers? I argue that in time the USVision semi-finals and finals will top Idol in ratings. The potential for Superbowl-like advertising revenue should be enough to start a bidding war for the broadcast rights this very instant. It hasn’t broken into the American market but Eurovision is broadcast in South America and Asia. Likewise, American Idol also has an international following. It is only a matter of time before USVision shows Eurovision what a real song contest looks like. More importantly: what unites Americans more than showing the rest of the world how much better we are?
It goes without saying that there will be plenty of high quality, uniquely American goods. Although we may not enjoy anything as organically bizarre as an act from the Balkans, I am sure that some states will be able to provide their own brand of homegrown insanity. What god-awful garbage will Utah send in? What sort of family act will come our way from West Virginia? Maybe we should let the territories in – do they have pop music in Guam? All I am saying is give kitsch a chance.