Why So Serious, Eurovision?

I am just going to say it.

Eurovision 2015 was a let down.

And my feelings have nothing to do with the U.K.’s getting just 5 points, although that doesn’t help.

I just want to know what happened to Eurovision’s sense of fun and quirkiness this year.

There were too many countries that were actually trying to win.  Why?  Delusions of grandeur on their parts, really.  Yes, countries are starting to break ranks with the voting, but they are not quite there in tearing down the borders just yet.  Germany and Austria didn’t even vote for each other and left each other with “nul points”.  That leaves the U.K. with bragging rights at least.

We were left with too many women singing power ballads in ball gowns with wind machines blowing into their billowing locks.  (The Boffin was trying to convince me that European women’s hair naturally does that.)  I had so much hope for Georgia’s entry, Nina Sublatti.  Here she was, the Goth Girl, going to belt out a song with the title “Warrior”.  YES!  Metal!  Guitars!  Heavy Bass!  Maybe there will be spears and axes involved? Cool!  But no, it was yet another sappy mess.  But she gained 51 points over Britain’s 5, so what do I know?

Just another in a long line of wind machine women.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Just another in a long line of wind machine women. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Actually, what I do know is that I am outlier when it comes to this Eurovision stuff. What I like is not what everyone else likes. Who did I think put in the best performance?  Serbia.  Watch.  Then I will tell you why.

That was Bojana Stamenov with “Beauty Never Lies”.  OK, the lyrics are cheesy.  The choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but they played it with a sense of humor.  However, Bojana is an incredible vocalist and brought down the house.  And it was obvious how much fun they were having, and their enthusiasm was infectious.  They embodied was Eurovision was all about.  Serbia only received 53 points.  If they were from a more popular country, they would have been in the top five.

Even the much criticized U.K. entry did not deserve just the mere 5 points it received.  The performance did need a more intimate setting, and the singers were a little off their game.  But there was a sense of jocularity and oddity about the electro-swing approach.  They was robbed.

This is not to take anything away from Måns Zelmerlöw and his song “Heroes”.  I give nothing but a sincere congratulations to Sweden and look forward to watching the contest coming from Stockholm next year.  As much as I question whether the public voted for the technical performance over the song, it did make its choice, and I respect that.

But like I said, what do I know?  I listened to Echo and the Bunnymen more than Madonna in high school.

The Highs and Lows of the U.K. in Eurovision

The United Kingdom first entered Eurovision in 1957 and has been a permanent fixture ever since. It has taken home the crown five times in its history

Much beloved and revered, Sandie Shaw took the top prize in 1967 with “Puppet on a String”. One of the most commercially successful female singers in Britain, she was known for singing barefoot, and people thought it was a gimmick. It was really because she had size 7 feet but could only find size 6 shoes, so she took them off when she sang. She was very much a 60s icon and deservedly so.

Lulu is another British household name. She is one of those celebrities who shows up in every variety and game show there is. You may know her voice from a couple of movie theme tunes: “To Sir, With Love” and “The Man with the Golden Gun”. Well, two years later in 1969, she gained Eurovision glory with “Boom Bang-a-Bang”.

This win from 1976 is a much debated one. The Brotherhood of Man’s song “Save Your Kisses for Me” provides an interesting twist at end.

You see, the subject of the song is the singer’s niece! Ah!

That leaves two camps. Is it a song sung by a devoted and loving aunt or uncle? Or is it a song sung by a pervy aunt or uncle? The fight has been continuing for almost 40 years. This is the Eurovision War of the Roses, folks. Which side are you on?

Next, Bucks Fizz and their less controversial tune of “Making Your Mind Up” struck the viewers’ hearts in 1981.  I am sure the dance routine involving the skirt ripping helped their cause too.  At least, that’s what most people seem to remember about the performance.

Katrina and the Waves, yes the “Walking on Sunshine” people, captured the title in 1997 with “Love, Shine a Light”. At least they finally made a song that makes Wagner’s Ring Cycle sound less appealing.  (My apologies, but, being a child of the 80s, “Walking on Sunshine” was an overplayed craptastrophy that, to this day, still sends me into eye twitches and aneurysms.)

I really hate to do this, but with the highlights have to come the lowlights.

The most infamous finish was the “nul points” Jemini received in 2003 for “Cry Baby”. By most accounts, the reason for this poor showing was Jemini’s performance being off-key, a general anti-British feeling for their involvement in the second Iraq war, and not having the right type of song for the contest.

Sometimes the judging is just unfair.  Andy Abraham came in last in 2005 with “Even If,” and I am still scratching my head why.

Sometimes, the song and performance is just plain awful. Come listen to Josh Dubovie’s 80s throwback last place finish in 2010. The out-of-tune background vocals add that miserable touch that leave you running to the bathroom with the dry heaves.

I could keep loading videos and have you miss important deadlines at work all day, but I will leave it here. Remember Saturday is the big day in Vienna. It starts at 9:00 PM Central European Summer Time. What does that mean in the States? If you are on the East Coast, that’s six hours behind, so it starts at 3:00 PM. That’s 2:00 PM in my neck of the woods. I even did the math. No excuses. Have fun!

http://www.eurovision.tv/page/webtv

Eurovision, How Do I Describe Thee?

Since World War II ended, the Europeans have been trying to find ways of channeling their mutual aggression without actually having to kill each other. Nations signed treaties and formed alliances like NATO, the European Economic Community, and the European Union, but that only kept tensions at a simmer.  Playing football matches was not good enough because the fans were not known for their fine manners and their “tea with the Queen” graces.  No, something else was needed to promote European peace.

The solution involved copious amounts of sequins and bad lyrics.  You think I am joking?  The acts can get quite comical to the point of bad karaoke meets the Gong Show meets children’s television on acid.

The Eurovision Song Contest was the brainchild of Marcel Bezençon, director general of Swiss television and chairman of the committee that the European Broadcasting Union assembled to create a light entertainment program.  The first contest was held in 1956 in Switzerland.  Seven countries participated and submitted two songs each.  (Now it’s only one song per nation.)  Switzerland won.  So much for being neutral.

The contest raked in 195 million viewers last year in just the 41 countries counted.  The U.S. definitely was not one of them.  Chances are, there are several hundred million more viewers that are off the radar. To put that in perspective, the Super Bowl had a viewership of 160 million and about 114 million of them were in the United States.  Eurovision is one of those cultural entities that elude us American types.  It is a pity because this is a television highlight of the year.

The most famous tune to come from the competition is this little earworm.

ABBA’s win happened in 1974, but their launch into fame was not the most interesting thing that occurred that year.  Portugal’s entry, “E depois do adeus,” was actually the first of the two signals used to start a coup against the Estado Novo regime, which eventually became the Carnation Revolution.  Imagine, a song contest was used to change the course of an entire nation.  Mindblowing.

If you watched the ABBA video, you would have heard the voice of Sir Terry Wogan.  Taking the hosting reins for the BBC from 1971 to 2008, Sir Terry was basically Mr. Eurovision.  Still, I find it still hard not to see him in his orange skinned glory, but Graham Norton is a most worthy successor.  Anything that camp needs someone flippant and irreverent to go along with it, and Graham was the right choice.

Terry_Wogan_MBE_Investiture_cropped
Not quite Oompa Loompa, but getting there.  Hat’s off to you too, Sir Terry.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I asked the Boffin, if there were one thing about Eurovision that was important to explain to the Americans, what would it be?  He said that the people get to vote on songs that they don’t understand, and they can’t vote for their own countries.   Yes, audience voting happened way before The Voice and the other talent shows.   Apart from language differences, I countered that the politics are confusing.  He summed it up like this.

“Germany and Austria vote for each other.  Greece never votes for Turkey.  Turkey never votes for Cyprus and Greece.  Greece and Cyprus always vote for each other.  What’s the problem?”

And the other countries?

Turkey and Azerbaijan always pair up.  So do Norway and Sweden, Lithuania and Georgia, Serbia and Bosnia, Portugal and Spain, and Russia and Belarus.

The U.K. and Ireland can’t be arsed to the same.

So, my dear Americans, please root for the United Kingdom in their quest for Eurovision glory on Saturday.  Their entry is below, and I think it is a catchy little number.  It’s called “Still in Love with You” by Electro Velvet.  Unfortunately, like our colonial days, we have no representation in this matter, but at least there is no taxation.

I have been getting inquiries about how to watch the contest in the States. You can watch the live stream of the finals on the official site on Saturday.

http://www.eurovision.tv/page/webtv

They also have been uploading the semis onto their YouTube channel, so I can imagine they would do the same with the finals.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRpjHHu8ivVWs73uxHlWwFA

Looking for Nigel

Mary Turner does an excellent job of using her photojournalistic skills to show just how Nigel Farage and his team touched almost 4 million to get them to vote for UKIP. They connected to people on a grass roots level. Very eloquently written and visually engaging.

‘I know what you want, you want a book.’

‘Umm, well…’ I started to say.

But standing in front of me on this unexpectedly sunny day in January, with the UK election still seeming a distant mirage, was Gobby, legendary former BBC producer for 30 years, lesser known as Paul Lambert and now Nigel Farage’s ‘Director of Communications’. And as countless heavyweight political leaders have found before this small photographer – when faced down by this man, it is generally best not to argue.

SmallNigelPics_0016Unravelling flags with Beryl, Cliffsend Village Hall, March 31st 2015

I agreed that having spent the previous few months spent photographing migrants in Calais I was an unlikely candidate to be asking to document the UK Independence Party and their leader Nigel Farage’s 2015 election campaign, but it felt important to me to try and understand their point of view. One way or another they said yes. We…

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The Day After. What Happened?

The people have spoken, and they want the Conservatives (Tories) in the House of Commons.  Scotland overwhelmingly wants the Scottish National Party (SNP) to represent their interests, and Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are left crying in their pints and nibbling on their Twiglets.

The PG Tips monkey likes Twiglets during his benders.
The PG Tips monkey likes Twiglets during his benders.

So what happened?

Like an American who hasn’t lived in England for 20 years is able to tell you this?

I realize I don’t know everything, but from what I read and from the outside looking in, it seems several factors were involved:

1)  Labour did not make their case effectively.  It wasn’t enough to put their campaign promises on a huge limestone tablet like the Ten Commandments.  Their manifesto was vague.  The voters did not trust that they had the skills to handle the economy, especially with talk of going back to the borrow/spend model.  Ed Miliband did not come across as leadership material.  Even though they increased about 1.5% of the vote, they lost 26 seats.

2)  To piggyback on #1, Scotland has traditionally been Labour-ruled but completely lost all of their seats to the SNP.  Only one Scottish constituency did not vote SNP, and it voted Tory.  The Scottish people are obviously tired of playing by the rules of the parties established in England and want to do things their own way.

3)  The voters took more of their frustrations out on the Liberal Democrats.  The Lib Dems started out with 57 seats and are now left with 8.  After the university funding debacle, it was obvious that Nick Clegg and his crew were sitting ducks in Parliament.  Everyone knew they were going to lose seats, but this was devastating.

4)  The “shy Tory voters,” as the media has dubbed them. Evidently, there are branches of Tory Supporters Anonymous that I am not aware of.

“My name is Trevor, and I am a Tory voter.”

“Hello, Trevor.”

There were plenty of voters who were undecided or did not want to say that they were voting Conservative.  So when it came time for the undecided to vote, it was easier to “pick the devil you know”.

5)  Some of the pundits on the BBC last night discussed the Tories’ scare tactics in the campaign.  Be afraid of immigration.  Be afraid of a Labour/SNP coalition.  I don’t know though.  Aren’t scare tactics standard political strategy?

The Boffin summed it up by saying that the losing political leaders are basically left like this.

So what are your thoughts?  What am I missing?

It’s Election Day!

There isn’t much more to say than what the Boffin and I said in our three election primer posts earlier this week.  All I want to tell the British voters is I hope your candidate wins.  And if he or she doesn’t win, I hope the winner has better hair and more tact than the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

This is usual look.  I'm serious.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
This is his usual look. I’m serious. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

An American Primer to the U.K. General Elections – Part 3

To get up to speed, feel free to read parts one and two. Meanwhile, here is the Boffin’s take on what actually happens during the election.

Becoming the Prime Minister is not like becoming President.  While there is a first past the post system, it is the number of seats in Parliament which your party has that is important, and you don’t need to get past the post in order to be Prime Minister.  Confused? You will be!

The system is based around a simple premise that in order to hold onto power as Prime Minister, Parliament needs to have confidence you can get the job done.  While there isn’t a drinking competition to prove your ability to govern, there is a useful tool called a ‘Vote of No Confidence’.  In such a case, the members of the House vote on whether they think that the Government is a bunch of wankers.   If they get a majority of votes, then the Prime Minister has to go to the Queen and apologize for being a dickhead and resign.  The Queen can offer the opportunity to create a new government to anyone else.  Usually they don’t want to, and, instead, the opposition rub the nose of the previous government in it by forcing a General Election.

Therefore, the game of a general election is to get yourself in a position where you will survive a vote of no confidence.  The best way, of course, is to win more seats than everyone else put together, so you can sit around like the smug bastards you are knowing that, unless you have an internal revolt, you are safe.  However, this is not the only way.  One option, as we had recently, is to go into a coalition where one or more other parties get keys to the executive washroom and act as if they didn’t believe in anything they said during the last election about how bad you were.

Another way is to convince another group of bastards to not vote against you, then you can be the proud leader of a ‘Minority Government’.  In this case, the smaller party finds itself with all the power [Insert evil laughter].  They don’t have to vote with the government like they would if they are forced into in a coalition, instead they do it out of the kindness of their heart [More evil laughter].  First they only ask for small favors, so that they are seen to have done something in return.  Then they ask for a bit more, and then a bit more.  Finally, the government decides it’s better to go see the Queen than wonder whether the smaller party will be asking for your underwear next.  Minority governments don’t tend to last long.

So while the other parties just try to fuck it up for the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives go into a general election with the goal of getting a majority.  Having played the game dozens of times, they are quite good at the tactics.  At the end of the day, it is less about beating the other party and more about stealing his wallet, kneeing him in the nuts, and slashing his tires.  You only care that, when the votes are counted, you have more seats than everyone else put together.

So how do you win an election?  With 650 seats in play, how do you walk away with the magic 326 (or 323 because of those nice Irish lads).  First of all, Labor and the Tories come to the starting line with at least 165 safe seats.  These are seats where your candidate could be Genghis Khan, and he would still be elected.  There are 16 seats in Northern Ireland that are ignored, and the other mainland parties have 34 safe seats.  So while you think you are looking at 650 seats, the real number is about 270 seats which matter, and if you are one of the two major parties, you need about 160 of them to win a majority.

Now you start your tactics.

  1. First you figure out where the other party is weak.  If it is your candidate who is second, then you don’t go after the first party’s voters, you go after all the other votes.  Because a seat is won not because you have the majority of the votes, just the most, you can try to bundle up the other voters in order to get ahead. Phrases like ‘A vote for the Liberal Democrats is the same as a vote for the Labour Party’ are very common.  It is a weird tactic, but it works.
  2. Now in the case that your candidate is third, and has no hope of amassing enough votes, you strongly consider pulling out or at least capitulating. Whether they learned this from studying European political tactics during WWII, I am not sure. However, it has merits. Basically, as your secondary goal is to prevent your main opposition from also amassing a majority, you have an opportunity to screw things up for them. You start playing up the strength of the second place candidate so that your votes go to them and not the bastards in the lead. Of course, this is not done unilaterally. Instead, you may agree with another party to do the same in another seat at the same time. That helps you with your #1 strategy.
  3. This is probably the most diabolical tactic out there, and only works if you are Labour or the Conservatives.  In some areas, there is a vote ceiling. Here, you might have incensed the majority of the voters due to your policies, something your leader said, or just because you’re a bit suspect. The result is that there is no way most of the people will vote for you. You’ll never get a majority in the constituency, but you will come a very strong second, as there is no way your voters would vote for anyone else. Therefore, strategies #1 & #2 will not work. If these are the only weapons in your arsenal, you might as well go down the pub and make stupid faces. However, if the third place candidate is also strong, then you play your ace and start ensuring that they do well. It sounds like they’ve already been down the pub, but hear me out. If due to your cooties you can only get 40% of the vote, then by de facto, one of the other parties could get 60% and wipe the floor with you. However, in a three party system you can try and ensure that the people not voting for you are evenly split amongst your opponents. As long as neither of them has more than 40% when the counting is done, you win. In this strategy, you attack the stronger party in a way that some of their votes go to the third place person. (Remember, they will never vote for you.) You might suggest that the two opposition parties are really the same, and there is very little to distinguish between them. Finally, you might even talk up the third place bastard and explain that they have better ideas than the other party. Remember, your sole intention is to have the voters not voting for your candidate fairly evenly distribute their votes amongst the opposition candidates, so that neither of them have more votes than your candidate.  As long as you can make this happen, then your job is done. If you are really good, then you can win a seat with only 34% of the votes (with your opposition each having 33%). Add in a 4th party like UKIP, and you might even get yourself down below 30% and still win. This is British politics at its finest.
  4. Finally there are a few seats, not many, where it is a two horse race, and you have to get in the mud and throw it.  Generally, you will pick a pit bull candidate who rip the jugular out of their opponent and piss on his remains.  With only 6 weeks, this is a street fight and only one person will come out standing. Oh, and you do it in the old fashioned way by knocking on doors and talking to people.  There are campaign finance limits in the UK, with the result that each local candidate is limited to about $50,000 in total spending money. After you’ve printed off a load of leaflets and hired someone to make the tea, you don’t have much left.  Therefore most fights are done in the streets, door-to-door, actually talking to the voters during a national campaign. Now there’s a concept.

Karen here.  Did you get all that?  I thought so.

For what it’s worth, it is all going to be over come Thursday, and the Britons will be watching the results on the telly.  We will be tuning in through our proxy server and VPN, and I am looking forward to seeing the Swingometer in its cool 21st century computer graphic form and not the Monty Python version that most Americans know.

I would like to end this on a serious note though.  My wish is that the U.K. finally have relief and resolution and get a government that truly serves the people’s needs.  They deserve better than what they have been getting.