Audiovision: Voiced-over pop, hateful audiovision

Philip Brophy: SBS TV, Eurovision Semi Finals 2016

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

You’re a presenter for SBS television. How proud you must be to work for a renowned multicultural broadcaster, delivering content for the multitudinous diasporas who have washed up on Australia’s fatal shores since WWII. And you’re a commentator on the SBS broadcast of Eurovision. I can’t tell you how hilarious it is to have a wog like you nudge-and-wink at the broadcast audience as you make fun of all those awful woggy pop singers. Lithuania, Albania, Macedonia, Slovenia—unlike cool Australia, they’re all so embarrassing they make for an easy target.

Who am I? I’m just a sarcastic intellectual, trying out the same septic spittle that you pour onto the contestants of Eurovision. I figured that you like hateful remarks: you’re so good at them. And like all the intelligentsia of Australia, I revel in mocking pop music, degrading its artists, dismissing its cultural worth, lampooning its gaudy theatrics and dishing smarmy drag-bitch snipes at televisual images which will never turn around and bite me.


Why trash Eurovision?

Why is the concept of Eurovision such an embarrassment to so many people? Why do they feel so empowered and elated by being so insulting toward every aspect of its production—while shedding tears of wrought empathy when their own national anthem is played at the Olympics? Why is there any sense that Eurovision is different from the Olympics? Both are politically deluded, economically cynical, emotionally manipulative and aggressively disingenuous. But am I alone in seeing their similarities while feeling equally involved in the theatrical drama of each of them? I’m no sports fan of any measure, but the Pavlovian response to the adrenaline moments of Olympic conquest are undeniable. For me, the sentimentality and pizzaz of Eurovision are equally engaging and affective. And this is despite not liking the music.

Eurovision—like the Olympics—is capable of generating a schizophrenic identification with the show’s pyrotechnical staging and self-absorbed performance. Institutionally, Eurovision is plainly the Olympics with songs. It’s nationalistic, competitive, international and reflective of how individuals can be willingly employed as nodes in a showy fabrication of diplomatic exchange and assessment. This year’s Eurovision returned to Stockholm, Sweden, following last year’s winner Mans Zelmerlow and his song “Heroes.” Eurovision originated in Switzerland, largely as a white-paper proposal for promoting Swiss cultural identity within the global arena of diplomatic exchange following the establishment of the European Broadcast Union, an organising and inter-sharing body for many post-war public broadcasters across Europe. The crowning glory of Eurovision’s impact was its levering of Sweden’s ABBA into the international pop industrial chain with their 1974 win “Waterloo” (in England, the host country that year). Of course, smarmy pop-haters wouldn’t notice what’s in a name: ABBA competed against Britain’s stranglehold on disposable pop which in the early 1970s had reached the point of critical meltdown through the most outrageously facile concoction of songs and artists. ABBA effectively distilled this acidic Dickensian musical bile and played it back to the UK, copying the saggy baggy para-Glam pub-boogie of the time and referencing Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of the British. How perversely ironic: the Waterloo here was not ABBA’s, but Britain’s inability to keep Eurotrash from infiltrating its closely guarded WWII-era radio waves.


Origins of the assault

The Eurovision 2016 Semi-Finals went so far as to include a tediously smarmy fake-documentary about the origins of Eurovision. Replete with fake digital scratched film and ‘dag’ iconography (making it look like the 70s, despite Eurovision being formed in 1951), it was as funny as every ad which lampoons cardigan-wearing nerdy office-workers today (as if late-20-something advertising ‘creatives’ these days are style icons). The sad thing was how Eurovision itself had succumbed to the international subversion of its purpose and programming: to ridicule its production and disparage all those who treat it seriously. It was the British who pioneered the smarmy para-racist attitudes towards Eurovision’s contestants via the infamously droll commentary of Terry Wogan (over 30 times intermittently until the mid 2000s). Contrary to the country’s pride in being well-mannered, the sound of British broadcasting has always borne the sound of something in its mouth, be it plums, tongues, silver spoons or plain bile. It’s a remarkable sono-oral effect, born of vowelling and tonguing words so that a counter-tone modulates the meaning (hence America’s infinite misreading of British comedy). But with the Eurovision broadcasts, this gained global momentum in English-speaking territories where the show’s broadcast was franchised.

By the 1980s, the broadcast commentary had become the ulterior motive for many audiences to watch Eurovision. It was like travelling into the hellish chaos of woggy Europe while sipping bitter tea in a mouldy bedsit armchair. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, laugh at the woggy pantomime of awful pop music while Cool Britannia intones snide remarks like Oscar Wilde sitting in the peanut gallery during a House of Lords session, close-miked and broadcast without the downstairs auditorium in hearing distance. Before long, numerous countries employed their own presenters to provide sportscaster-style commentary in their native tongue atop the lowered volume of both the host nation’s presenters and the BBC-sanctioned commentary. Some kept things straight; many couldn’t resist poking fun. After all, it’s not like it’s the Olympics, right?


Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

SBS joins the club

SBS started showing Eurovision in 1983, following the slimy smarm trail left by Wogan. By the late 1990s, it had approached the broadcast as a multi-layered revoicing of the event: part-hacking, part-cackling, like all smarmy media interventions it believes it invented the word ‘subversion.’ Its format now includes a ‘team’ of wanna-be comedians falling over each other’s words as they struggle to get in their pithy snarks betwixt the cacophonic voicing of the original broadcast. The show also adds snippy behind-the-scenes interviews by some guy who ranks himself with Norman Gunston and Chris Morris. Dude, you so ain’t: taking pot shots at foreign singers—most of whom can speak at least three languages plus English—and implicating us in your double-entendre Anglo mocking is a massive fail.

It gets harder each year to filter out the ‘de-broadcast’ voiced-over noise of racist-not-racist tap-dancing and lip-synching of SBS’s broadcast of Eurovision. One can almost miss the actual songs. And in case you were wondering, Eurovision 2016 Semi-Finals televisual staging was far more advanced in terms of screenic projection, calibrated lighting, choreographed camerawork and post-Broadway spectacularism than most 90s-lagging media artists. Sure, their ‘content’ might be dismissible—but believe me, so is the ‘content’ of most international arts festivals, in case you were wondering. Additionally, there were some well-crafted pop songs. Crack harmonic modulation, on-a-dime emotional shifts, melodic multiplicity and generic atomisation ruled. When I could actually hear and see the acts, I found little to hate.

SBS TV, Eurovision Semi Finals 2016 10, 12 May

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

© Philip Brophy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

23 November 2016