TCS Daily

Political Spinal Tap

By Andrew Ian Dodge - May 25, 2006 12:00 AM

A foreign policy crisis is roiling the European Union. Ambassadors have been mobilized to defend reputations and assert national pride. What late-breaking political or geo-strategic event has precipitated this drama? Actually, it's a cultural event - one that is being treated as an act of musical terrorism: the overwhelming victory of Finnish heavy-metal band Lordi in the Eurovision song contest.

Finland's ambassador to Greece, where the hugely popular contest's final round took place this year, has had to defend the band from charges of Satanism leveled by the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos. In his Sunday sermon, the day after Lordi's victory, the archbishop declared that the win showed that "people are seeking something to prop themselves on and fill their empty souls." He suggested that Finland's entry was attempting to convert souls to Satan. (He obviously hadn't heard their track, "Devil is a Loser".)

This is heady stuff. European wars have been fought over less. The fact that Finland sent the band to the Eurovision contest has angered both Eurovision purists and Christian fundamentalists even in Finland itself. Complicating matters further is the fact that Finland will soon take over the presidency of the EU - and as this year's Eurovision winner will host next year's contest.

For those who haven't heard of it, Eurovision is a massively popular European phenomenon. The song contest has been held annually since 1956 - predating the EU - and was originally conceived as a way to foster a spirit of pan-European togetherness. In fact, over time, this bit of cultural fluff has merely exposed the deep divides, prejudices and angst that are rampant all over Europe. There are disputes between secular and religious countries (as with this year); "Old" and "New" Europe, North and South. There are age-old hatreds: Turkey vs. Greece, France vs. England, a "Viking alliance".

Winners are chosen by phone poll from all over Europe after each entry is performed. For example, staunchly Catholic Malta gave Lordi's song zero points. In many parts of Europe, this song contest is "an event" - though in the UK the viewership has been dropping every year. It is said that Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president, once declared that Britain's lack of interest in the event showed its lack of interest in the whole European project.

But back to Lordi and its winning song "Hard Rock Hallelujah." The full makeup and rubber-besuited heavy rockers were inspired by Finnish mythology - and, no doubt, by countless other comic rock acts. Its five members play music that is not far removed from Alice Cooper and Kiss. Their style is fairly brain-dead mock horror metal that does not require much thought and is meant to be anthemic.

Music, you would have thought, is exactly what Eurovision fans would want. For years the contest has showcased the worst of mass produced Euro-pop with non-challenging music performed by the likes of Celine Dion, an Israeli transsexual, a white rapper a la Vanilla Ice, and a grandmother in a chair. In short, to many, especially in the UK, Eurovision represents everything they loathe about the EU: A bland mush of all that is twee about the European continent.

This annual musical love-in no more reflects the music of European nations in the 21st century than American Idol reflects the charts in the US. Rock, despite being chart music in the UK, Scandinavia, and Germany, has rarely made an appearance in the contest. Nevertheless, metal-heads and hard rockers star in dozens of huge festivals all over Europe that attract hundreds of thousands of fans a year. Perhaps this is why so many official types are so upset about the Lordi win. Rock, the music that dare not speak its name in Brussels, has invaded the venerable institution that is Eurovision. Thousands of rockers Europe-wide now see the possibility that they might get to represent their own countries (and make their reputations) in front of millions of Europeans next May.

The reaction in Finland, a rock friendly country with bands like HIM, Nightwish and the Rasmus earning international fame, has been ecstatic. The Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat said: "It's official: Hell has frozen over. Finland has won... Years of humiliation, frustration, and 'zero points' were wiped away as the Finnish entry blew everyone off the stage in Athens. When the United Kingdom voters gave Finland 12 points, one knew somehow that nothing would ever be quite the same again."

Does Lordi's win reflect the rot in Europe, a final admission of rock's power on the continent? Or is it merely an unintentional blip that Eurovision's chiefs will seek to keep from ever recurring? Will heavy-metal find its way into Finland's EU presidency? Is it just a silly music contest won by a bunch of rubber clad nut-cases? Oh no dear reader. It is far more than that.

Andrew Ian Dodge is a TCS contributor.



Multiculturalism in a funny mask
Orthodox ministers may have denounced the song but the Greeks voted for it. To the extent that the Eurovision Song Contest is a cultural icon rather than a bit silly this shows that the differences between countries are less than the differnces within - just like the rest of the world.

Lordi, while officially Trolls, look like nothing more than Orcs, as interpreted by Peter Jackson's film (filmed in New Zealand)(produced by Hollywood) of the book Lord of the Rings (written in England)(based on pan European mythology). No foreign policy divisions there.

Can you help me with this one?
As an American married to a Scot living in England I get exposed to a lot of trash talk about the US. For example, my brother in law has true disdain for just about anything American apparently mostly based on the ubiquitous nature of American culture in his beloved Scotland. (Oh - I LOVE Scotland too, for sure.)

But, and here is the question, how is it the "fault" of Americans that American culture is everywhere in the UK?

When I was in university one of the things I learned is the rule "A less developed culture will always borrow from a more developed culture." The culture isn't lent - it is borrowed. With the borrowee "taking" the culture, the lender doesn't do a thing.

I bring this up because frankly one of the strangest things ever was seeing those Germans dressed as an American country band. What the heck was up with that??????

Mad Germans
Well the Germans probably realised that Euro-pop that they normally peddle is going no-where so they tried something a bit more amusing. What really annoys the French of course is the fact that everyone now pretty much sings in English.

Mad French
Mad French!

Having boycotted the French for several years now, I am actually breaking down and going to Normandy. I have an opportunity to go to pay my respects at the the beaches, so I am going to take it - the fact that they happen to be in France is just a co-incidence of geography.

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