Eurovision Song Contest: Unifying around pleasure, irony and difference

Austria Last week millions of people across Europe watched one of the longest running television shows in the world (last year 170 million tuned in). The annual Eurovision song contest was established in 1956 by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the stated purpose was to “unify postwar Western Europe through music, encourage cultural exchange and sharing, and construct a common European popular sphere[1]”.   Since then the show has ebbed and flowed in popularity, initially growing and then fading for a while until it was revitalised after the fall of the communist bloc, and the expansion of European Union to the East. It was re-invigorated as New Europe seemed to relish their opportunity to partake and ‘strut their stuff’ along Old Europe at this ‘cultural festival’.   Yet for some it became an object of ridicule, as the BBC presenter Terry Wogan testifies in his opening remarks of the Kiev 2005 final: Oh there’s a bit of singing as well. You remember when this was a song contest, do you? Back in the days of Katie Boyle? Forget it! The Eastern bloc has taken over. It’s now, ‘Never mind the music, we’ve got the neighbours to think of!’ Who cares? This karaoke of a thing… All spectacle and show and stuff strutting…—Terry Wogan, 2005 opening sequence in Kiev Wogan references the banality of the songs and also the ‘bloc voting’ that has became commonplace whereby friendly neighbouring countries score each other highly, with little reference to quality of performance, thereby distorting the results.   For some it remains a serious contest,and for others it has become a talentless farce. The Eurovision has many elements, there are displays of nationalist pride and identity, and also joy of belonging to Europe, whilst regional loyalties, tensions and differences are exposed through voting. There are naive, glitzy performances alongside displays of self-deprecating humour. However, many who look down on low culture, and once condemned the Eurovision as Eurotrash, now embrace is as an iconic event, seeing it as offering the perfect post-modern performance, an ironic send up of popular culture and a wonderfully camp extravaganza (highlighted by this years winner ‘Conchita’, a bearded drag queen representing Austria). The Eurovision survives as a unique carnivalesque spectacle and in a strangely subversive way- it maybe has achieved the original aims as the European ‘emotional economy’ becomes united for an evening through pleasure, irony and difference? In contrast people across Europe will soon vote in a context dominated by the financial economy, which since the financial crisis has created mayhem for many, and a right-wing nationalist backlash against austerity is predicted. Here we see the ‘emotional economy’ become hi-jacked and distorted by dangerous right-wing zealots . The Eurovision song contest is an example of how important it is for political, business and social leaders to address the emotional economy alongside the financial economy. For if the emotional economy becomes too fragmented, distrust and hatred can spread quickly- and we all know where this can lead. The Eurovision seems to achieve 3 things: 1)    It provides light relief and uncomplicated escapism from our daily troubles 2)    Working alongside other symbolic events such as the European soccer cup, it enables differences to emerge in a competitive environment, whilst at the same time creating a unified European emotional economy…. 3)    The Eurovision sends out a strong counter-message to nationalists and zealots- it says with a loud voice- the emotional economy of Europe is essentially tolerant, we enjoy and celebrate difference, and we have a strong identification with the marginalized. That’s why through the popular vote-  the bearded man in the dress won! Leadership lessons

  • Do not deny difference- it needs to find its expression- it’s the only way to find authentic unity!
  • Aligning culture is a nice phrase, but not reality- culture aligns itself if you value difference
  • Check out your biases and assumptions against the maverick voices- Like Conchita, they can become unifying characters and shouldn’t be marginalized, but tolerated and engaged with. Creativity and difference is a powerful winner over conformity
  • Focus and invest in the Emotional economy- not just the rational and financial-business side of the organisation or politics your involved in.
  • Focus on social trends as well as in-house trends- emotional economies operate across boundaries- and they can spread like viruses.

Coaching lessons

  • Check out with leaders whether they are in-touch with the emotional economy of their workplace, and how they engage with it.
  • Do they tolerate difference and find space to engage mavericks?
  • Reinforce to leaders how the emotional and financial economies are completely entwined.
  • Help leaders realise the power of irony- it can be subversive yet  it can also show us our blindspots,  and sometimes it generates tolerance and humility through allowing us to laugh at ourselves

[1] Raykoff and Tobin 2007:xviii. In Raykoff, I. 2007. “Camping on the Borders of Europe.” In Raykoff, I., and R. D. Tobin, eds. 2007. A Song for Europe: Popular Music and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest. Aldershot. (source


3 thoughts on “Eurovision Song Contest: Unifying around pleasure, irony and difference

  1. I like how you have pulled these lessons out of the Eurovision Bash Simon and I couldn’t agree more with them. Encourage mavericks, hire them and use their wackiness to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions. Celebrate difference, even plan for it. Very useful blog.


  2. Interesting insights! There is always something to be said – out of seemingly non-event…


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