Wednesday 26 October 2016

Chill out you Eurovision detractors, it's only telly!

Darragh McManus asks where's the harm in a bit of harmless nationalistic fervour?

Published 10/05/2016 | 07:00

Nicky Byrne with backing band Ian White, Jennifer Healy, Jason Boland and Janet Grogan at Dublin Airport. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Nicky Byrne with backing band Ian White, Jennifer Healy, Jason Boland and Janet Grogan at Dublin Airport. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

Eurovision is back, a few weeks earlier than normal (my theory is that they want to get it out of the way before ISIS destroy the planet/humanity, but I have been wrong before).

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Will you be watching? A hell of a lot of people will – nearly 200 million saw last year’s final. Despite the annual, and ubiquitous, critical mauling, Eurovision is basically bullet-proof when it comes to audience figures.

For myself, some years I tune in, some years I don’t bother. Most years I do the usual trick of switching on for the half-time act and voting. I can take or leave Eurovision, personally speaking.

But I am, on the whole, very much in favour of it, for many reasons. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s ridiculous and often totally surreal – all very worthwhile things.

Also, it’s highly amusing to watch TV snobs get so irate about the contest, as if the fact that they watch serious documentaries or gloomy dramas – or, shudder, listen to podcasts – instead of Eurovision, makes them somehow better than all the plebs.

Hey pal, television dramas are not “the new novel”. Yeah? You’re still just staring passively at a screen, same as Eurovision viewers, not some intellectual powerhouse. If you really want to impress me, read the entire Proust. In French.

And what I really like about Eurovision is that it allows people to indulge in some harmless nationalistic fervour. People moan a lot about modern life, but I love the fact that the 21st century Europe version of jingoistic flag-waving is sending off Nicky Byrne and Marty Whelan to a daft talent contest, shouting at the screen, getting drunk and ranting on about “block voting”.

A hundred years ago the equivalent was sending off young men to kill and be killed in war. That had been the pattern for pretty much the entirety of history. The modern way is better.

There’s no harm in a bit of nationalism – we’re all atavistic and tribal on some level; I imagine it’s genetically hardwired into us by now – so long as it’s benign, silly, happy, ultimately meaningless and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In other words, Eurovision.

Sport used to fulfil this function, but then people started taking it so bloody seriously – Saipan, the Billy Roche controversy, that sort of thing – which really sucked the life and fun out of it. Not to mind the administrative corruption, the individual degeneracy, or the fact that many sportspeople seem to be borderline morons who literally never say anything remotely interesting.

Which leaves us with things like an Irish Oscars win, or one of our writers on the Booker shortlist, or a compatriot making their mark abroad in some field or other…or Eurovision. We feel a vicarious pride when other Irish do well, and what harm? It might be dumb and illogical, but it’s clearly something we need psychologically, and it still beats mass slaughter.

So wrap yourself up in the green flag for the next few days, have a bit of crack, sing along, get drunk, cringe, laugh, cry, laugh when you’re supposed to be crying and vice-versa, tell the person next to you that Marty’s doing “a fine job as usual”, begrudgingly cheer on Nicky Byrne, try to work out the voting patterns before the Stockholm computer can do it, mutter about the interval act not being “half as good as Riverdance”…and don’t forget to give out about that bloody block voting.

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