Secret Combination (Of Words And Presentation)
Firstly, I am not disappointed by the choice of ladies. I don’t know any of them but I’ve read their biographies and done a bit of googling, I am sure they will be professional and will distil their duties with grace and polish. This is not about our hosts for Lisbon 2018, I don’t mind that they’re all female – in fact redressing the balance of history and lack of women on prime-time TV shows perhaps we need a few more Eurovision Song Contests with a purely female hosting team.
As we know the Song Contest does take a combination of presenter and script to make it work. I would argue the past three years have been the text book examples of how to do it and how not to do it. In Vienna we had a great script that pretty much fell flat in the hands of all but one of the presenters, and she was farmed off to the Green Room. Last year in Kyiv we had three great gentlemen, who in interviews were lively, chatty and funny yet were given a doozy of a script that made them fall flat.
Sandwiched in between is Stockholm 2016. We had excellent example of the scripting genius of Edward af Sillén (listen to his interview with Ewan here) working alongside the hosting expertise and pinpoint accuracy of Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw. Their success shows the required combination of charismatic and quick-thinking hosts with a writer who knows their style and the tone required to deliver an entertaining contest.
Obviously, only time will tell what sort of material our hosts are given to perform, and how they eventually handle the world’s biggest music party.
Party For Everybody
My disappointment with the presentation was that it confirmed to me everything that is wrong with the expectations of women on television. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, women are all sizes, shapes, colours and backgrounds, but women through the ages have been constantly fed a rhetoric of what makes them acceptable to men, by men. Perhaps even more dangerously, that message has been handed down through generations of women, whether subconsciously or overtly. The ultimate message is that women’s lives should be lived to please men, and if that means hours of exfoliating, buffing, waxing and styling then that is the price we must pay.
In recent years a new and much healthier message has been told to women and girls: there are multiple ways of being a woman and many ways of expressing your femininity. We are teaching our girls in school that all women should be able to feel beautiful, admirable and respected. A surprisingly important part of this message is for girls to see all sorts of women succeeding in all walks of life.
So let’s take a look at just how are hosts were announced yesterday and whether it really is the female empowerment that it is attempting to be, or whether something is missing.
She’s Got Her Lipstick On
We start the introduction video in the make-up room, because the most important thing for women on TV is to look ‘perfect’. This reinforces to the viewer that an initial judgement of you as a woman is based upon the hairstyle, the designer dress and the makeup. Who you are, what you’ve achieved, your CV, your voice even are secondary to this. The video’s message suggests that the prominent reason these ladies were chosen for this challenging presenting job is because of their look.
The hairstyling is also all the same, Sílvia has had her hair dyed to a dark blonde colour, but ultimately the styling for all four ladies is that same perfect ‘Hollywood’ look of slightly tousled curves reaching to just below the collar bone.
Of course, as I am a makeup artist you’ll be aware that it’s not the actual makeup or hair styling that I have a problem with. The problem is that all of the looks are exactly the same – even down to this season’s on-trend brow shaping. Believe me, no two women’s faces are the same and it looks spooky when you try to make them the same.
At last year’s London Eurovision Party, the look I created for Levina from Germany (a super fresh girl-next-door look) would not have been appropriate for Agnes of Latvia’s Triana Park (hers was pale skin and a matte powdered finish), or Anja from Denmark (bronzer and super glossy lips), or even Conchita (ultimate highlighter and cheekbones I’m sure you could have seen from space!).
The beauty industry is (or at least should be) a tool for women to express their own style, creativity and femininity. It can do more than create one uniform look. This is a potentially beautiful thought until you realise that some looks are given more value than others in front of camera.
Don’t Call Me Your Sweet Cheesecake
Returning to the host’s introduction video there is a shot of Sílvia’s legs as she stands for the camera. As we know legs are a very important part of a woman, far more important than her brain (insert sarcasm here!)
Legs are very helpful for TV producers because they are a way of putting sex on the screen without actually putting sex on the screen. It has been decided by our society that legs are sexy. Eurovision is prestigious, and things that are prestigious require high value, sexy presentation. Therefore, you use legs to advertise Eurovision.
The video then brings the ladies into the studio that has been set up for their photo shoot, where we see snippets of their individual moment in front of the camera. They are not shown posing as serious broadcasters or charismatic individual personalities – their poses are more coy, shy and flirtatiously demure. The signal this sends is that these women may as well not have individual views or personalities because their value is in how they smile and look delightfully down the camera.
The video in fact could be a trailer for ‘Real Housewives of ’, ‘Sex in the City’, ‘Portugal’s Next Top Model’, ‘Loose Women’, or ‘Made in Chelsea’. Seriously, it could be any entertainment show anywhere on the planet.
To top it all off the video was put up on social media with the caption ‘Here come the girls’. They are not girls, they are professional women who in this video have been reduced to one generic expression of femininity and then patronised by calling them girls.
What About My Dreams?
What this says to me and many other women like me who have tried and tried and tried to break through the media battlements and actually have a career on TV and radio is that if you don’t express your femininity in the way deemed acceptable by male TV bosses, then you have to be super intelligent or downright funny or you will never have the career you long for. This is not the case with men. Men can be ordinary looking and still get the big presenting gigs.
Men can be older and still given the leading parts in films, for example Hugh Jackman (49) in ‘The Greatest Showman’ is much older than his on-screen wife Michelle Williams (37) when in reality Charity was two years older than Barnum, but it would never have occurred to Hollywood to cast a 51 year old woman in the role, no more than I think it would cross the minds of a major network to cast a 50+ woman as the host of a prime-time show. (By the way I do still think that film is utterly brilliant!)
This is a continuation of a conversation from the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, and something I said during my ‘Musical Moments’ piece on ESC Insight a few weeks ago. In that I was talking about Murieann McDonnell from Ireland and how she had a pretty nasty ride on social media because she doesn’t look like what people expect of an 11 year old girl singer, she has a purple pixie-cropped hairstyle, wears DM’s and plays football in her spare time.
Remember back to Marija Serifovic’s appearance for Serbia back in 2007, the first thing a lot of people had to say about her was ‘she’s gay’ or ‘she’s fat’. She wasn’t a conventional beauty in a long ball gown so a lot of people just didn’t know what box to put her in. Then there was Bojana Stamenov, also from Serbia, in 2015 again the amount of abuse thrown her way on social media in the run up to the contest because of her weight was unbelievable.
I’ve had it myself too, when I was working with Eurovision Ireland in Stockholm during the 2016 Contest. We were doing our live Periscope show and a number of the comments coming in from men as I was presenting were along the lines of ‘you’re fat’, ‘you’re ugly’, yet we can put a larger, more ordinary looking chap on an Eurovision screen and they won’t get these comments, they just won’t.
So whilst I am thrilled for the ‘Fourtugal’ as I have seen them named over on Whoops Dragovic, please remember our 2018 hosts only represent one expression of what it means to be a woman. Where is the more masculine woman in an awesome tux? Where is the disabled host? Where is the host who is bigger than a US size 4? Where is the older woman with years of experience? Where is the woman of colour? Where is the woman who has a short pixie crop hairstyle? For that matter, where is the ginger-haired woman?
I’ll tell you where they are, they are watching the Eurovision Song Contest. They are your sisters, your girlfriends, your mothers, aunts, grandmothers, you best friends, your daughters; maybe even yourself.
They are waiting and hoping for their chance, waiting and hoping for change. They are in the audience, in the press room, in the production teams, on the delegations, watching on screens around the continent and the world,and when they see these ladies walk on to the stage they will feel conflicted.
Pleased that at least there are women at the forefront of a major prime time entertainment show, yet a little sad because yet again those women don’t represent them.