Prior to the first semi-finals on Tuesday night (or 5am Wednesday morning, for us stalwart antipodean viewers), Graham Norton spoke to the UK’s Sun newspaper to express his ire at the continued inclusion of Australia in Eurovision.
“I know some countries aren’t technically in Europe but, come on — Australia is on the other side of world," Norton said.
"I just do not understand why they are in the Eurovision Song Contest. Get rid of Australia."
He also added that "I’ve got nothing against Australia. I just think it is kind of stupid.”
In Australia, a land of delayed television and movie releases, geo-blocked websites, and slow internet, we are acutely aware of our geographic location.
To us, a 20-hour flight overseas seems reasonable, and getting up at 5am to watch a soccer match or, say, a song contest is just what you have to do in order to be part of a global culture.
So yes, Graham Norton, we do know that we are on the other side of the world – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t participate in Eurovision.
Norton’s comments seem to exemplify the British exceptionalism that colours UK relations with the rest of continental Europe.
For years the UK has been disdainful at best toward Eurovision. With their own strong, continuing cultural presence in global culture, it may be difficult to see the significance of Eurovision for the UK anymore, which in turn, blinds them to the importance of the competition for other nations, as well as the importance of the competition for articulating complex soft and hard international politics.
Because of these politics, participating in Eurovision is about more than just geographical belonging. Even so, the geography of Eurovision has been elastic for quite some time.
Israel, Turkey, and Azerbaijan are a handful of examples where the boundaries of “Europe” have been blurred. One could even argue that Russia, as geographically Asiatic – and ideologically less aligned with many of the dominant Eurovision states than Australia, is not really a part of it either.
Australia’s wild card entry was intended as a one-off occasion, so Sweden’s invitation for Australia to participate again this year was a surprise for us all.
But executive supervisor Jon Ola Sand’s comments at the announcement in November last year hinted at the possibility of something more: “We strongly believe the Eurovision Song Contest has the potential to evolve organically into a truly global event. Australia's continued participation is an exciting step in that direction.”
With the further announcement that a new Song Contest for the Asia-Pacific region looks set to be launched in 2017, this global vision for Eurovision has started to take a stronger shape. As Australia is slated to be the first host for the event, it makes sense to continue Australia’s participation, even if only in the short term, in order to solidify the association between Eurovision and Australia, and through this, promote a connection to Asia.
Australia first participated in Eurovision as a contestant in Vienna 2015 when the theme was “Building Bridges”. Reaching out to each other across Asia has built a bridge that could be expanded into a cultural crossroads.
The world comes together every four years to compete in the soccer World Cup and the Olympics, but there are very few global events that celebrate the cultural as spectacle. We could argue for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but their budget for wind machines and holograms is notably lacklustre. The Academy Awards attracts world-wide attention and is a spectacle in itself (they do have a good hologram budget), but with its US- and English language-centric approach to film, it is hardly global in its scope. Cannes is more of a contender for this, but its selection and even its locale reeks of elitism beyond the reach of the average punter.
When the modern Olympics were revived at the end of the nineteenth century, Pierre de Coubertin envisioned the inclusion of the arts, celebrating architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The Cultural Olympiad has since been abandoned. While cultural events are now aligned with the Olympics, they are not opportunities to showcase national talent in quite the same way.
Eurovision has the potential to become the Olympics or the World Cup of song in the truest, global sense. Beginning in Australia does make sense. Yes, we are on the other side of the world, but we already have a strong cultural connection back to Europe, forged through the problematic of colonisation, migration, and globalisation.
We spent years lamenting the tyranny of distance until we accepted our geographical place in Asia, and started to leverage it geopolitically. Just as Eurovision offered Europe a way of uniting culturally in the dawn of the age of broadcast television, Asiavision will offer our region an opportunity for cultural connection, which could in turn translate into something truly global.
This “Globalvision” of a song to unite the world is certainly utopic. But then, so was the idea of a games to unite the world in peace, or a song to unite war-torn and ideologically divided Europe.
Jess Carniel is a researcher at the University of Southern Queensland currently conducting a project on Eurovision fans in Australia. If you would like to be a part of the project, contact her via Twitter or email.
The Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast on SBS’s Eurovision Weekend - Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Grand Final Sunday 15 May, 7.30pm on SBS, with LIVE early morning broadcasts from 5am on Wednesday 11, Friday 13 and Sunday 15 May.
For all the Eurovision behind the scenes action in Stockholm make sure to follow SBSAustralia on Snapchat.