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Fan Fiction, Finals, And The Eurovision Song Contest 2020 Written by and on May 16, 2020

Saturday May 16th would have been the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest. The EBU’s ‘Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light’ will take its place. For a community that delights in the story of the Song Contest, that’s not going to be enough. Ewan Spence explores the world of fan fiction, and finds our community’s need for an ending is not unique.

With the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest, and no official competitive element either in the EBU’s ‘Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light  tribute show or the online ‘Eurovision Song Celebrations’ of the semi-finals, the community is missing its definitive ending to the 2020 season.

For broadcasters, the EBU’s two-hour tribute show would help fill the four-hour slot reserved for the Song Contest. With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, programming is in short supply, another advantage in airing a marque Saturday night show. It also acts as an anchor to build other Eurovision programming around it. A large number of these shows will involve viewer votes to select a winning song – essentially replicating each country’s televote and providing a resolution for the general public

But the community? Well, that’s where things get interesting.

Fiction And Eurovision Fandom

Fandoms built around media properties – be they novels, films, television series, anime, or anything else – have existed long before the intent was here, but the internet has allowed them to flourish. Fan fiction is a strong part of these communities, as Bronwen Thomas lays out in “What Is Fanfiction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?

“While the activities of fans may take many forms, writing stories deriving from one or more source texts has long been the most popular way of concretising and disseminating their passion for a particular fictional universe.”

While it may not be a fandom built around a fictional property, the Eurovision community loves to tell stories around the Eurovision Song Contest. It provides a rich tapestry for everyone to enjoy, to debate, to discuss, and to engage with other members of the community. While there is very little fan fiction that would be recognisable compared to, say, the fandom of ‘Sherlock’, the ongoing coverage by the community in news reports, videos, podcasts, and social media reflects the storytelling that you find in every community.

(That’s not to say there is no Eurovision fan fiction, as a glance at Archive Of Our Own clearly demonstrates).

Culture, Rebellion, and Exploration

Fan fiction becomes part of the culture of community, and can have an impact on the property. Take the fan fiction writers of Doctor Who after the cancellation of the show in 1989. They have fed back into the world of the show itself. The Big Finish range of licensed audio dramas grew from fan fiction and early audio productions; a number of fans were asked to write the continuation novels (with many of these being the first books they had published), and of course the fans eventually found themselves in a position to bring back and run the show in the 21st century.

Fan fiction can be rebellious. It runs alongside a property in real time. When something goes ‘wrong’ in a storyline, not only will there be discussions online about the rights and wrongs of the decision, there will also be those ready to write – sometimes in great depth – about what should have happened. Many of these can prove to be more attractive than the parent property.

These alternatives can explore other more dangerous areas, where different ideas and relationships can be examined and discussed. Harry Potter fandom has a huge amount of fan fiction that explores countless different variations of the world of Hogwarts and beyond. You can find storylines that take a drastic turn from that of JK Rowling’s original timeline (with some of the best, in my opinion, diverging just after ’The Goblet Of Fire’); curious approaches to the basic story (what if Harry Potter was a prodigy that applied rational scientific methods to studying magic?); or different relationships between the main characters (“of course Draco and Ginny were the power couple who defeated Voldemort, why would you think otherwise?”).

The Song Contest Community

Let’s return to the Eurovision Song Contest and the three tenets of culture, rebellion, and alternative timelines.

For the EBU and its members Eurovision is a large scale event that allows new technology to be tested, a place to share knowledge, and to expand public service broadcasting as a whole, but this is mostly behind closed doors. For the public, the Song Contest is a few hours of event television on a Saturday night and a good reason to have a party.

The culture of the Song Contest? That comes from the community. Outside the week of the Contest, Eurovision is a much smaller affair, but with an incredibly strong fandom. The Eurovision Song Contest flame is kept alight outside of May by a community with its own tropes, cliches, and affiliations.

As for rebellion, the critiquing of the songs and artists selected starts with the announcements of internal selections of National Final contenders. Examinations of back catalogues to decide if these acts are Eurovision material; reaction videos to instantly decide an opinion on the songs; and the coverage around national selections all feed into the idea that the broadcasters are somehow ‘doing it wrong’.

Just ask which act was ‘robbed’ at a National Final or a Song Contest (pick any year, someone out there knows someone who was robbed of victory) and you will find parts of the community happy to rebel.

Every year, the community builds its own alternative timelines. Before, during, and after the Contest, countless polls and rankings allow different parts of the community to declare their own rightful winner. Sometimes that winner matches the winner of the Song Contest, in which case that part of the community has proven that it understands the culture (perhaps even leading it). If the polls differ then you have your fan fiction… it’s just not as nicely packaged as ‘The Paladin Protocol’s’ exploration of Sheldon and Penny in The Big Bang Theory.

The Contest That Never Was

Finally, the cancellation of Rotterdam 2020 and the Eurovision Song Contest. The story of this season started as Duncan Laurence’s ‘Arcade’ won in Tel Aviv… although someone could decide that the story started long before that – perhaps when Ilse DeLange phoned Laurence while he was shaving to tell him she had a song that he was taking to Eurovision, even if he didn’t want to; a call to action straight out of Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

Nevertheless, the 2020 season was building up with the familiar tropes being rolled out; multiple songs from Symphonix, Mariette not winning Melodifestivalen, and Ireland loudly reminding everyone it had won the Contest seven times. Other tropes were being challenged: the BBC having major label support, Samanta Tina finally winning the Latvian selection, and Sanremo finishing on time…

Then the Contest was cancelled. The community’s story was incomplete. There would not be a winning song, there would not be an ending for the songs and stars that many were following, there would not be closure.

That loss spilled over into popular culture. On the day of cancellation news reports covered the loss of the Song Contest, talk radio discussed the impact, and broadcasters realised they had a big hole in their schedules that needed to be filled.

Who would provide an ending to the story? The community.

The online polls took on a new meaning. No longer were these alternatives to the Song Contest; for many they became the Song Contest. They became the only way to judge what could have happened on that Saturday night in May.

For many in the community, the urgency to replace the Eurovision show was a call to action. Recreations of the Eurovision format sprung up.  The annual Eurojury from Eurovoix took on a secondary role as a replacement for the big show. New projects sprung up to fill the void, with the fan-produced Eurostream providing one of many alternative broadcasts.

These replacement shows captured the core of the Eurovision Song Contest community. They allowed the year-long culture to define the 2020 season, they rebelled against the narrative that there should be a Celebration instead of a Contest, and they provided closure in the strongest possible way to each section of the community.

It should come as no surprise that in the wake of the cancellation, the fans would simply carry on regardless and create their own ending.

Citations and Further Reading

What Is Fanfiction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?”,  Bronwen Thomas, Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies , Vol. 3 (2011), pp. 1-24

The bigger the plot hole, the better for the fan writer: Anglophone Weiß Kreuz Fandom“, An interdisciplinary workshop on Fan Fiction 14 – 15 February 2020, English Department, University of Zurich

Ingroup Identification and Ingroup Projection in Fanfiction and “Star Wars” Fans” / Stephen Reysen, Courtney N. Plante, Grace A. Packard, Diana Siotos // Komunikacija i kultura online. – Vol. 10, No. 10 (2019), p. 88-103.
(ISSN 2217-4257)

Fanfic As Academic Discipline”, Erin Blakemore, January 20, 2017, Jstor Daily

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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