The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'ukraine'
Eurovision 2016 has been and gone. This time, much of the weirdness apparently fell by the wayside in the semifinals, thus arguably making watching the finals even more essential for fans of the Old Weird Eurovision. Further weirdness was lost when Romania failed to pay its EBU bill and was unceremoniously disqualified, depriving audiences of a few minutes of dependable gothic oddity (to their credit, Poland tried to fill that gap, though they didn't quite manage it; Poland, after all, is not Romania). And, for the second time ever, Australia was invited to compete; this time, they almost ended up winning. Also for the first time ever, the event was broadcast to the United States, undoubtedly causing mass confusion there, though perhaps not as much as it would have some years earlier. Also, this year, the voting system was split: first came in the votes of the nations' juries of experts, and then the aggregated public phone votes, a system apparently designed to maximise suspense, something in which it succeeded.
As for the songs themselves: Sweden appeared to walk the tightrope of showing competence whilst avoiding the risk of having to host it twice in a row (something that almost bankrupted Ireland in the 1990s), and sent in a hair-gelled teenager singing something unmemorable. Cyprus brought the hard rock, or at least hard-rock-flavoured dance music, and Georgia went landfill-indie (and got douze points from the UK, the spiritual home of landfill-indie, for their efforts). France, I thought, were decent, and the two Baltic states that made it through were as well. Australia entered with a very competent minor-key electropop ballad about intimacy at a distance, with lyrics about FaceTime and cyberpunk-style visual projections, and for a while, looked like it would win, running away with a commanding lead in the jury vote; but it was not to be: the night belonged to the geopolitical faultline between Russia and Ukraine:
Russia, it seems, tried very hard to win, throwing vast amounts of resources at it, as if it were a matter of national prestige. Their song was, by Eurovision standards, first-rate, and the setting was helped with some impressive projection-mapping effects. It was as if Putin himself gave the directive that Eurovision 2017 was to be in Moscow, and instructed everybody to do whatever it took to make it happen, up to and including having the performer, Sergey Lazarev, butter up the decadent liberals of Euro-Sodom by having gone on record criticising Russia's anti-gay laws and the annexation of Crimea. As such Russia had been the bookmakers' favourite to win, geopolitics notwithstanding. When the votes came in, though, the juries largely snubbed Russia, with them getting nul points from 21 juries. Even the torrent of phone votes, which overwhelmingly favoured Russia (and again, that could be anything between overwhelming apolitical approval of the song and/or Russia's formidable internet spammers taking time out from bank fraud to do their patriotic duty) couldn't reverse this; Russia only made it up to third place, coming behind Australia. To add insult to injury, the winner was Ukraine, whose song, 1944, was a sombre, harrowing and pointedly political number about the genocide and expulsion of Crimea's Tartars by Stalin (and, indirectly, alluding to Putin's annexation of Crimea, sailing close to the EBU's rules against political gestures). Set to skittering dubstep beats à la Burial, it was a decent song, though standing on its own, not overwhelmingly the best in the show. Had it not also served as a middle finger raised at Putin's Russia, it might have languished in the middle of the rankings; but geopolitics is geopolitics. (See also: the Israeli entry, which should probably have also done better. Their song wasn't bad, but voting it down was a chance for the cosmopolitan liberals of Europe to signal virtue and tell Netanyahu where to stick his security wall, so it was doomed from the outset. I imagine Dana International had the benefit of a period of relative calm and optimism when she won.)
Geopolitics may also have a little, though probably not a lot, to say about Britain's dismal result. Their song was not abysmal (the UK has done worse in previous years; there was the jaunty number performed by a crew of saucy flight attendants, or the middle-aged bloke playing a teenage hip-hop gangsta-wannabe, or various times when they barely made the minimum effort. Perhaps Britain lost points because the Frogs and Krauts and their wine-drinking garlic-eating buddies are sick of our ongoing national tantrum about wanting to leave the EU. Perhaps they don't like our aloofness and smug sense or superiority (though, were that the case, how does that explain Sweden consistently doing so well?) Or perhaps we just don't get it; when everybody else does minor-key anguish soaring to triumphantly defiant choruses on a wave of synth arpeggios and key changes, we remain terribly British and aloof, tossing off a cheery singalong, all the better to shrug off as no big deal when we inevitably end up in the bottom five.
After all the contestants had performed and the votes were coming in, there was the usual entertainment. This year, they had Justin Timberlake to perform a medley of his hits, in an event referred to by some as Justin Toiletbreak; this was done either to welcome the Americans tuning in for the first time, or as a showcase for the Swedish pop songwriting and production industry that powered Timberlake's musical career. Sweden's musical history was also showcased in a medley of international Swedish pop hits since the days of ABBA (I had forgotten, for one, that synth-led hair-metallers Europe were Swedish; for some reason I thought they were German). The highlight of the break, though, was this deconstruction of the formula for a Eurovision hit, bringing in everything from bare-chested drummers to little old ladies baking bread and incomprehensible folk instruments.
So: Eurovision 2017 will, it seems, be in Kiev. It'll be interesting to see what happens: will Australia (which, not being in the EBU, has been there on suffrance, though managed to do impressively well) come back for a third time, or take its seat as the Sweden-equivalent of the Asia-Pacific song contest being planned? (Will Eurovision itself, in a few years, pivot away from being merely Europe-plus-a-few-neighbours and become a set of regional contests, culminating in a global final?) Will the Russians compete in front of what can only be expected to be a hostile away crowd in Kiev, or will this strengthen calls in Russia to turn their backs on it set up their own “Eurasian” song contest, one without all that problematic gayness? And if Britain, by then, has voted to leave the EU, will it also take its ball and go home?
As Russia annexes Crimea and makes threatening noises towards the rest of Ukraine, many people have opinions, not least among them the Pick-Up Artist community, where the consensus is that anything that prevents Ukraine from joining the EU is good for the supply of beautiful, submissive women, uncorrupted by Western notions of equality:
“If Ukraine joins the EU, the girls will vanish like cockroaches when the lights are turned on,” one wrote. “It saddens me deeply because Ukrainian girls were always much more accessible than Russian ones,” lamented another. “Joining the EU may reduce overt corruption in favour of systematised ones, but feminism will spread like wildfire and destroy all the traditionalism that lays in that land.”
As of mid-March, gendered pontificating continued apace both among prominent conservatives and on Roosh’s “Ukraine Conflict Lounge” subforum. One PUA shared his thoughts on why it would be better for Crimea and East Ukraine to go to Russia: “It seems to me this will insulate Crimea from the feminism . . . that will over take Ukraine as they move towards the EU. Fat feminists, slut walks, and mass muslim immigration could be in store for the parts of Ukraine that wish to join Europe instead of Russia.” Meanwhile, Sarah Palin told Sean Hannity that the perception of Obama’s “potency” is one of “weakness.”Unsurprisingly, Vladimir Putin is seen as somewhat of an idol among such traditionalists, mostly as an exemplar of that most manly of ideals, the Alpha-Male:
“Putin sees himself as a macho man who’s going to do pretty much what he wants,” said Fox News talking head Bill O’Reilly. “The president sees himself as a renaissance man who wants to accommodate.” K.T. McFarland, another Fox News analyst, tweeted, “Putin seizes countries, Obama threatens maybe to kick Russia out of the G-8 club. Bet Putin’s sorry now! Winners write history, not whiners.” Fox even published a “must-watch highlight reel of Putin doing macho things,” including karate and riding a horse shirtless.If the name Roosh sounds familiar, it's probably from his previous news appearance, failing to pick up in Denmark and bitterly blaming gender equality and “Jante Law”.
There seems to be a new reactionary axis forming on the fringes: on one hand, you have the PUAs going from fedoras and subliminal crotch-pointing in bars to an almost Talibanic hostility to the very idea of unsubjugated women, and from there, to a hostility to any relations not predicated on dominance and submission. And approaching from a slightly different angle, you have the “Dark Enlightenment”, that odd offshoot of Libertarianism which contends that the Enlightenment, and the notions of democracy and human rights, were bad ideas, and longs for a return to feudalism.
So that was Eurovision 2007. A bit of a surprise; the Serbian entry which won it seemed rather lacklustre compared to some of the others, but romped home in the voting, presumably due to Serbia being located in a geographical/demographical sweet spot. Interestingly enough, Eastern Europe dominated the voting, with the highest-scoring western-European nation being well in the bottom half of the rankings.
There were a few highlights: Georgia's entry started off as a traditional torch song by a woman in a red dress, but then morphed into eurodance, and then the dancers whipped out swords and started dancing about, Cossack-fashion, with a wild glint in their eyes. France eschewed the usual white-gowned piano balladeer in favour of a troupe of Dadaist mimes in Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, highlighting the ridiculous side of Gallic culture. (Fat lot of good it did them, they ended up something like third-last. I guess it's back to the chanteuse and pianist next year.) Romania's entry was a bit like France's on a budget; five blokes dressed like the habitués of a slightly unsavoury tavern, singing "I love you" in every language on earth. The music was vaguely gypsyish, and sped up dramatically towards the end. Neighbouring Bulgaria's started off like Dead Can Dance with extra percussion, and then went electro. And, of course, there was Ukraine's entry, with its sequined, uniformed drag queen, looking like Elton John crossed with Austin Powers. It had camp and kitsch in spades, and raised a few questions. What, for example, was the significance of them counting in German, and did they really sing "I want to see Russia goodbye", and if so, how did that make it past the vetting process?
The lowlight was probably Ireland's entry, which was pure, unadulterated Celtic kitsch of the most obvious variety, and quite deserving of its final position at the bottom of the board. This year, though, nobody got a nul points, and they limped home with 3 points or somesuch. Britain did a bit better, largely thanks to Malta giving them 12, though their song was stuck firmly in the mid-1990s. And the teeth on that stewardess were frightening; granted, Scooch, as uninspired as they may be, were a lot less cringeworthy than last year's entrant (a middle-aged bloke pretending to be a teenage hip-hop street thug, surrounded by dancing "schoolgirls" who, apparently, were borrowed by Turkey this year). And I'd have to give a dishonourable mention to Russia, whose entry was a piece of soullessly machine-extruded commercial pop, trading on sex appeal (sample lyric from the three immaculately coifed girls doing the singing: "put a cherry on my cake and taste my cherry pie"; ooh-err!) lacking any of the madness or wrongness that makes for an interesting Eurovision entry.
The other competitors: Belarus (incidentally, the last remaining state with a KGB) had black-clad female dancers scaling walls like assassins and John Barry-esque strings over its power ballad. The full might of the Swedish culture industry was unleashed in the form of 1970s glam rock attired in monochromatic retro cool. Latvia's entry was in Italian, and like a low-rent version of The Divs. Germany had a bloke named Roger Cicero (son of Herr und Frau Cicero, I presume) doing a Sinatra-lite swing number, in German. Armenia's entrant seemed to follow, stylistically, in the footsteps of that other great Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour, only with an overwroughtly woeful and somewhat strained ballad. And Turkey's entrant was a short, hirsute man wearing a red jacket and a broad grin, surrounded by belly dancers Terry Wogan persisted in pointing out were British. Presumably giving the United Kingdom something to be proud of even should they have ended up with nul points.
While some speculated that Lordi's astounding triumph last year (reprised in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque opening video) would have opened the door for a flood of hard-rock/heavy-metal bands, this did not entirely come to pass. Finland followed up their win with a new genre, which could be dubbed, Tolkienesquely, MOR-Goth, consisting of torch songs with emo-esque lyrics and plenty of black clothing and gothic makeup. The other main Lordi-influenced act was Moldova, whose song sounded like the sort of alternative-rock song that ended up on Hollywood action-film soundtracks in the late 1990s; all minor-key strings, crunchy metal power chords and drum loops.
The promotional videos played before the musical numbers were done quite well, executed as whimsical stories featuring elements of Finnish culture. Some of the odder ones featured a goth riding a rollercoaster, hackers coding computer demos at the Assembly festival, a heavy-metal festival full of corpsepainted teenagers, a troupe of clowns giving an athlete an instant makeover so he could enter a restaurant, a twattish-looking bloke in DJ headphones playing the pipes at the Sibelius monument, and Santa Claus playing chess with one of the Moomins. Oh, and lots of mobile phones (Nokia, of course); the Finns, it seems, use them at the dinner table, and even propose marriage with the help of their cameraphones. Other than mobile phones, heavy metal appears to be a big part of the Finnish national identity; other than the promos, there was the entertainment during the vote-counting break, which featured the heavy-metal string quartet Apocalyptica, as well as acrobats.
Last but not least, one has to mention the astonishing phenomenon that is Krisse, the somewhat frightening-looking young woman with the pink puffer jacket and big ponytails plucked from the audience to interview competitors, stumbling through questions and going on about herself (sample question: "on a scale of 9 to 10, how beautiful am I?"). For some reason, she reminded me of Leoncie.
And Greece's entry is Bonnie Tyler trapped in Anastacia's body, and a rather unique costume.
And here comes Finland, with the mighty Lordi doing "Hard Rock Hallelujah". They're a bunch of blokes in sci-fi monster/alien latex costumes doing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek metal-pop, replete with unusually comprehensible Cookie Monster vocals. Check out the impressive bat wings on the lead singer (that's the chap raising the battle axe towards the sky). I am informed that Lordi are a mainstream pop radio fixture in Finland.
Ukraine, meanwhile, have Eurodance with cossack dancing.
An interesting account from the recent Ukrainian election, which pitted the country's Russian population (a legacy of Stalin's mass population transplants) against its Ukrainian-speaking one:
The sense of persecution was not alleviated by a spectacular official cock-up in the run up to the election, which left many disenfranchised. Computer software translated Russian names into Ukrainian ones. Mr Shkvortsov (Mr Starling) became Mr Shpak and could not vote because his passport did not match the electoral roll.
Medical specialists from Britain, the US and France claim that Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko was poisoned in the run-up to the country's (now invalidated) presidential election. Who ordered the poisoning (believed to have been done with a rare poison) is unknown, though it could go all the way to Moscow (which stands to lose influence if the pro-Western Yuschenko comes to power).
In the background of a protest rally, Ukrainian pop music sounds a lot like Stock/Aitken/Waterman Hi-NRG from the 1980s.
Ukraine recently held a presidential election; exit polls suggested the pro-Western, reformist challenger was to win. Imagine the surprise when the pro-Moscow incumbent declared victory. Russia immediately announced that he had won fairly, but observers from the EU and US claimed widespread voting irregularities (and the Ukraine didn't need butterfly ballots or Diebold trick voting machines, when a few thugs intimidating voters and pouring acid into pro-opposition poll boxes would suffice). The public didn't buy it and took to the streets in mass protests; several cities have also refused to recognise the result. The "winner", Viktor Yanukovych, is ready to put down the protests "quickly and firmly". I wonder whether we're going to see another Ceaucescu-style fall of the ruling regime, another Tienanmen Square, or something in between. And whether anyone's blogging the unfolding events.
In the Ukraine, cars with certain number plates are exempt from road laws. These are normally given to the ruling elite (naturally) and police, though they can be yours for a price:
KM gives you total immunity, EO works only in the east and 777 looks cool but doesn't really mean anything.
This reminds me of the situation in the Soviet Union, where, apparently, the Communist Party nomenklatura had a wealth of privileges, including special reserved lanes on the motorways, a special phone system (which worked better than the one the ordinary plebs got) and even a private underground railway in Moscow.
Some good news: of the 2,400 nuclear warheads that were in the Ukraine, over 90% have been accounted for. That's a load off everybody's mind.