My dear readers,
I am very sorry that I have been absent these past few weeks. While abroad I have missed much, the judicial decisions in Arkansas and Idaho, the oral arguments before the 4th Circuit, the goings on in Oregon, where a decision is expected to be handed down in a matter of hours from the time of this writing. And, as warned, I missed my Eurovision recap.
Nevertheless, I do want to write a little about things on my mind related to the Eurovision Song Contest. Being in the audience is a completely different experience than being at a party. It is a little like Plato’s cave. If watching online is the shadows, and a Eurovision party is the fire, then actually attending is like seeing the light of the sun. Everyone should do it at least once. Most of the acts are actually designed for the stage, and television obscures all the goings on–Azerbaijan’s act with the acrobat is a good example. The cameras can show the woman or the acrobat, but not both. Or at least not often. In the audience however, you can see it all. (On the other hand, the excellent Dutch entry benefited from television because the song was free of gimmicks, and the cameras could focus on a specific musician and nothing was lost. That however, was a rarity.) Television also cannot show the stagecraft so well, such as the interesting way lights were used (Sweden).
But the best part of the show is the audience and watching the way the performers feed of the audience excitement. Being in Copenhagen, Denmark’s entry got a very warm reception (as did neighbors Norway and Sweden). But the real story of course was Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian drag queen who won the competition. The largest applause of the night was for her. You can sort of hear in the television feed the audience singing along Conchita whenever she get to the chorus, particularly the “Riiiiiiiiiiise like a phoenix” line. I can assure you that it was much louder in the hall. When the song ended, the cheering was so boisterous and the excitement so palpable, my partner turned to me and said, “We have a winner.”
It should come as no surprise that the live Eurovision audience is comprised largely, perhaps mostly, of gay men. In the run up to the competition, Eurovision and Copenhagen had been doing everything possible to make gay men feel welcome (the amount of emails I got telling me to get gay-married in Copenhagen would make a Jewish mother blush). There were practically as many pride flags at Eurovision as national flags. This embrace was a sharp contrast to the homophobia coming out of Eastern Europe in the past year, particularly the Russian government. After watching Russia pass laws designed to demean gay people and tear about their families, gays had the further humiliation of witnessing the world not care. The Sochi Olympics proved exactly how little regard we are actually held in when money and diplomacy are on the line. When members of the Russian government (and from Russia’s annoying little sibling Belarus) started attacking Conchita, a gay man when in not in drag, she became the symbol of the LGBT community’s resistance to Russia. In Eurovision terms, Conchita won the all-important gay bloc vote, a bloc that had not come together in such solidarity since 1998 for Dana International’s win. (The animosity toward Russia also extended to the Russian entry, the Tolmachevy twins, who received loud boos after their performance and even louder one every time they were awarded 8, 10, 0r 12 points during the voting. They themselves did not deserve such treatment, but it underscored the anger at Russia.) That Russian government officials completely flipped out afterwards, combined with the knowledge that Conchita came in third in the Russian televote (and that her song went to the top of Russia’s iTunes chart), only made her win that much sweeter. Conchita has before and since been an eloquent and elegant spokesperson for the LGBT community, which is another reason for the rallying behind her. She fended off the ugliest homophobia with grace and panache.
2014 may well the year of the European drag queen. Earlier this year, the Irish gay rights activist and drag queen Panti Bliss (real name Rory O’Neill) discussed homophobia in Ireland and called out certain journalists and institutions for their homophobic actions and writings. Those who were named threatened to sue O’Neill and the broadcast network for libel. (Ireland, like Britain, has ridiculous libel laws.) The network settled, and in response, O’Neill, as Panti, gave a speech in response at the Abbey Theater in Dublin. It is a remarkable speech about the events and about homophobia that deserves to be watched in its entirety. The video has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
So to date, an Irish drag queen gave one of the best speeches in that nation’s history and an Austrian drag queen won the world’s biggest music contest. And the year is not even half over.