There are certain inevitabilities that we, as members of society, have to prepare ourselves for. The feeling of uncertainty, fear, excitement, and anxiety as we anticipate a long-awaited result is impossible to escape, no matter how much the logical portion of our brains tell us that things will be okay in the end. However, the emotional, reptilian, reactive parts of ourselves perch on our shoulders and whisper into our ears that the worst is coming, so brace for impact.
Hilary Clinton? Donald Trump? American citizens and politically-minded observers the world over are feeling that visceral squeeze as we wait to see who emerges victorious from the clutches of the voting public, giving many of us ulcers in the meantime. This isn’t limited to the American election, of course; just ask anybody with an emotional investment in the UK’s EU Referendum vote, Scottish Independence, or the Marriage Referendum in Ireland, the Chilean Plebiscite of 1988, or one of a million other situations where important decisions hang on the will of the people.
As strange as it may seem to some, the parallels between what I’m seeing at home and what I’ve witnessed at the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final are eerily close. Who hoists the trophy at the end of the Grand Final is much less weighty issue than who takes the oath of office in January (assuming nobody’s given Jamala access to nuclear codes); yet the buzz and vitality of the moment before results are announced, and the jubilation and relief of a winner aren’t that dissimilar.
This is especially true in the eyes of the fanatical voting public, whether that fanaticism is for a political party or an OGAE-darling entry.
You tend to see running themes in the endless parade of characters that pop up in an election cycle as well as at Eurovision. You have the heavy-hitters, backed by powerful forces and finances, who you can’t help but pay attention to when they pop up on your screen. Democrats, Republicans, Sweden, Russia…they simply take up all of the air in the room and the lion’s share of the attention. With popular support and media coverage, they often come into their respective campaigns with a leg up over smaller organizations, despite the merits that an underdog might provide.
Then you have the also-rans, left by the wayside as singers and politicians are winnowed down to the eventual options on the night of the Final. On my local ballot, I’ll have nine Presidential Candidates to choose from, plus the option of a write-in. On Eurovision Final night, voters have up to twenty-six songs to work with. While this may seem like a broad selection to choose from, in the eyes of many, the finest options may have been left by the wayside earlier on, having fallen at the Primary or National Final level despite having energized a loyal fan base. This may, in fact, be the only way in which Bernie Sanders and Winny Puhh have anything in common.
Despite the weight of what is on the line at the end of the campaign, there’s still room for levity. Even when governmental control or national bragging rights are on the line, humour and satire still pop up in places that others may consider hallowed ground.
Here in the United States, for example, we have perennial candidate Vermin Supreme, who wears a rubber boot on his head and runs on a platform of dental hygiene, zombie awareness, and making sure that every American gets a pony. (And before our non-US-based readers start snickering, may I remind you that the UK gave us the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, and the Australians had, for a brief time, the Sun-Ripened Warm Tomato Party.) Sometimes it’s oddly refreshing to step back for a moment, ponder the ridiculousness of the machine, and laugh at something we’re a part of, much like the mirror that ‘Love Love Peace Peace‘ shone on us, as Eurofans, this year. Some people roll their eyes at what they perceive to be joke entries, but it’s often times those off-the-wall moments of parody that can act as a palate-cleanser from the heaviness and self-importance that we get ourselves into.
As we begin to see rehearsals, and a nation’s three minutes are finally fleshed out, commentators and pundits are pouncing on every piece of news that could possibly be seen as relevant to predicting the future that will be revealed to them in due time:
“Sergei and Greta have got projections like Måns had…will they be seen as too ‘copycat’?”
“Will the release of that incriminating email or video be this year’s ‘October Surprise‘?”
This continues on into the night of the Final itself:
“In the absence of other Nordic nations in the Final, will Sweden’s score skyrocket?”
“There’s a snowstorm in Ohio…how will this affect turnout in rural regions?”
Let’s be honest, this tendency towards hyper-analysis is especially true in the number-crunching, fact-devouring, statistics-obsessed family that is ESC Insight. We are all aware of the trends of voting patterns, both among Eurovision nations and political precincts… culturally similar nations may tend to band together, just as certain states can be reliably predicted to swing red or blue. But surprises do often happen, like Ell and Nikki’s win in 2011 or Harry Truman defeating Thomas Dewey in in 1946, leaving mouths agape, arms flailing, theories tossed out the window, and premature hotel bookings sheepishly cancelled.
Then there’s the heart-racing conclusion as the votes roll in, the culmination of a year’s worth of work for a delegation, or a lifetime’s work for a candidate. At the Eurovision Song Contest, the tension is drawn out as nation by nation reveals its jury votes, and the suspense builds and bubbles until the final numbers are revealed from the public’s verdict.
With 2016’s change to how scores are announced, the tension is downright agonizing to witness. But Eurovision’s score reveal is relatively fleeting compared to the six time zones that roll across the US. As people in New York are soundly asleep, Hawaiian voters are still in line at their polling stations, and television commentators are mainlining espresso just to get through the evening. The press center in Baku didn’t close the night of the Finals until about 5am local time, and most of us shuffled off, bleary-eyed, to the airport soon afterwards; you can bet that Wolf Blitzer will just be getting his second wind at that hour.
And as the proceedings draw to a close, the bubbly is consumed and fans on each side of the aisle are left to pick up the pieces. One candidate will win, one song gets a reprise over the credits, and life, for better or for worse, has to move forward. A winning nation gets to plan next year’s event, and an administration begins to assemble a plan for its term in office.
Disappointment is also inevitable, as songs and candidates are left by the wayside. Those who are blindsided by a loss often turn to finger-pointing and conspiracy theories to mitigate the pain of defeat. Once the shock wears off and life returns to some semblance of normalcy, it’s up to the observers to figure out how to move forward, whether that means sitting in front of a computer and grumbling about it or by finding productive ways to change the trajectory of the future (by running for office themselves, or sending a song to an open selection).
In the end, you’ve got to find a nugget of value in loss. If you can’t get over a singer’s beard, you may still be able to appreciate their entry’s staging. If the winning candidate or result breaks your heart at first, you might still be able to find a policy in their platform that’s not as diametrically opposed to your beliefs as you expected, or you can enjoy a bit of schadenfreude when they get hit with their first scandal. Maybe the best you can do is imagine the brilliant political satire to come over the next political term, or simply a vacation in a country you never expected to visit.
And at the very least, it’s only a little while until the midterm elections, or Junior Eurovision.