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XTRA Debate: Should Eurovision be more philanthropic?

Does Eurovision mix with charity and challenging socio-economic struggles?

A Eurovision ‘peace’ song has become cliché. Three minutes to depict a potential utopia, where everybody is or could be happy and how everything is or should be wonderful. It has become so common it was parodied in the 2016 interval act. However, should the contest go further than mere parody or cliché, and instead aim to be more philanthropic in its presentation and purpose?Global movements like Extinction Rebellion, increased plights for socio-economic equality and human rights have entered the periphery of public consciousness.

Can the contest do more? Perhaps a more realistic question… should the contest do more? The idea and/or theme of ‘philanthropy’ can be read and interpreted in different ways. Here are three differing approaches to the same proposition:

Problematising the ‘apolitical’

Eurovision is about promoting peace and civility across the continent. It is a carnivalesque spectacle, designed to provide universal entertainment through the form of music and performance. Politics are supposed to be put to the wayside, just for a few hours for three nights in May.

However, as the years go on the contests insistence of the apolitical has increasingly become an uncomfortable position for myself and many fans. Indeed, whitewashing major problems in the world becomes disingenuous to the struggles faced across the continent and beyond. To name a few:

  • Climate change
  • The collapse of precious and delicate ecosystems
  • Disease
  • Global displacement
  • Humanitarian crisis
  • The troubling rise of discrimination
  • Human rights abuses

Yes, we all deserve a momentary pause from the horrors of the world. But in doing so, we are somewhat naively turning a blind eye to them. It is untenable to pretend all is well if we just close our eyes and believe everything is perfect while enjoying ‘bops’.

It’s all a little too ‘there is no war in Ba Sing Se’ for me…

Everything is fine. Nothing is wrong. Enjoy this key change and sparkly light!

For non-Avatar fans, a more apt Eurovision analogy would be the Donny Montell’s blindfold…

Everything is fine. Nothing is wrong. Enjoy this chorus and sparkly blindfold!

However, how much power can the contest actually have to address the global issues I’ve outlined above?

Philanthropy and reality

Let me be clear, there are many issues the contest cannot ‘fix’. Frankly, there are some issues the contest wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Although Eurovision is officially apolitical, in existing it is immediately a platform for political causes. As I have previously argued, the contest has actively highlighted and shone a light on some issues. For example, the EBU had no problem condemning Chinese broadcaster Mango TV for censoring the LGBT+ flag and Irish performance in Lisbon, which featured a same-sex couple dancing.  In response, the EBU banned the broadcaster from broadcasting the contest. Given this apparent flexibility to take an official standpoint to defend and promote a cause – gay rights/visibility – why can this framework not be applied to other issues on a bigger scale?

Notably in recent years, the host broadcaster and venue have attempted to be ecologically self-aware, trying to make the contest more ‘green’. Reusable bottles, eco-friendly transport, local and organic food, recycling initiatives etc. Indeed, back in 2014 Copenhagen was praised for its attempts to go green. Yet how do the attempts to be environmentally mindful link with the official rules on a ‘political cause or other cause’? I’m not sure. The specifically vague nature of the rules make for a somewhat confused reading:

The ESC is a non-political event. […] The ESC shall in no case be politicized and/or instrumentalized. […] no organization, institution, political cause or other cause, company, brand, product or service shall be promoted, featured or mentioned directly or indirectly during the Event. No messages promoting any organization, institution, political cause or other, company, brand, products or services shall be allowed in the Shows and within any official ESC premises and/or event.

Eurovision rules

Junior leading the way?

One solution to this nagging discomfort would be to take a page from Junior Eurovision’s book. From 2007-8, any profits made from televotes of the 2007 and 2008 JESC contest respectively were donated to UNICEF. The 2008 Junior contest is especially fascinating, with images of children in less fortunate positions being spliced between footage from the “Spyros Kyprianou” Athletic Centre in Lemesos, Cyprus. Audiences, presumably the vast majority being children, were consistently reminded of the very real lived experience of other children across the world. About 7 minutes into the opening segment, there was a short piece about UNICEF. This included a message from ambassador Whoopi Goldberg. She wished the contestants good luck while outlining an abbreviated premise for the goals of UNICEF.

Fun fact: the following Eurovision/Eurovision-related acts are all national ambassadors for UNICEF (I’m sure there are more I’m missing!):

  • Maarja-Liis IIus
  • Katri Helena
  • Dustin the Turkey
  • Rambo Amadeus
  • Trijntje
  • Mariza (interval act Lisbon 2018)
  • Lill Lindfors
  • Rita Ora

Of course, UNICEF is one example. There is a direct link between the demographic of Junior and UNICEF, so it may be tricky to find an organisation with a link as strong. Nevertheless, the fusion of the global/local in the editing of the show removes the harsh competitive elements of the contest, detracting from the potential clinical-tone of singing for votes to get votes on a scoreboard. Instead, the contest has a multifaceted purpose: one of celebration and humanitarian relief. You can enjoy something while still engaging in a philanthropic cause.

Counterproductive impartiality?

Ideally this is a noble solution, but I’m unsure a 100% donation from televoting could be viable. After all, broadcasters with tight budgets need to ensure all costs affiliated with the contest are covered. Similarly, I’m sure the active promotion of a single charity or organisation would need to pass additional checks and balances with broadcasters who have specific impartiality rules. The BBC comes to mind. When the beeb was home to the UK version of The Voice, the eventual winner would receive a record contract, but the broadcaster could not proactively promote said act after the winner was announced. The same principles are applied within a Eurovision context. As a public broadcaster with a pretty rigid set of guidelines, it may be difficult to promote an organisation/cause without signing it off first.

Climate change

In 2010, Alyosha, representative for Ukraine warned Europe about ‘the end [being] really near’. Throughout her performance of ‘Sweet People’, she never explicitly outlines what the impending, apocalyptic doom facing mankind is. However, audiences are warned that whatever it is it will steal ‘the things so dear’. Indeed, the songstress cites the idea of ‘saving the planet’ from the dangers of climate change. This is reflected not only in the haunting music video shot in the abandoned city of Pripyat, devastated by nuclear fallout, but a cartoon video firmly pointing responsibility at a lack of political will to make policy changes to reverse the damage.

Of course, Alyosha is not the first nor will be the last to use the contest to shine a light of serious global challenges to the Eurovision stage. The following year Finland’s representative, Paradise Oskar, makes a similar plea to Europe. The lyrics depict a vignette of a nine-year old boy called Peter who tries to save the world after being informed by his teacher that ‘his planet is dying’. The literary student in me wants to suggest an interpretation could be a wider metaphor for growing up and leaving childhood behind… but I think reading the lyrics at face value is more fruitful. Indeed, a backdrop of the globe made the message of the performance pretty clear!

I like the idea of a portion of the money converted through televotes is channelled towards a cause that can make a difference. I’m not suggesting turning Eurovision into a complete telethon, but an element to promote and assist a cause would be a welcome change. Audiences would feel good and do good.

Philanthropy through entertainment… What do the others think?

Costa: Is sceptical, as always

Inspiring? Yes. Thought-provoking? Yes. Philanthropic? Um…

‘Philanthropy’ is a fairly broad term. The promotion of the welfare of others can take various forms. For a music contest, the most obvious form that comes to mind is through the medium of music. I think the topic of this debate needs to be placed into the context of where the contest sits within popular culture. In the past, we’ve literally had entries in the past that have soundtracked revolutions. We’ve also had Eurovision stars lead revolutions. But in the face of an unprecedented need for global solutions…I’m just not so sure I could see the scope for tangible philanthropy.

Over the years, the ESC stage has been graced by songs that aimed to touch the hearts and minds of viewers across the world. A few examples from the 2018 contest in particular spring to mind. “Mercy”, though often sold as a song about one child’s journey, could also be viewed as a commentary on the refugee crisis. The French broadcaster having such a song performed to millions of people (predominantly Europeans) is a statement. Choosing to write a song about a child that would otherwise be invisible and shine a spotlight on her story is a philanthropic statement. That very same year, Italy presented what I deemed to be a highly politically-charged song about war. The official video for “Non mi avete fatto niente” heavily featured children among the footage of chaos.

Is it enough?

Of course, “Mercy” didn’t exactly compel the Italian government to reverse their anti-refugee policies, nor did it compel the British government to take in more refugees from mainland Europe. “Non mi avete fatto niente” hardly compelled Erdoğan to commit to ensuring Syrian stability. I also don’t think songs about climate change, performed by actual children at this year’s Junior Eurovision will permeate The UN’s agenda.

I guess my point is that Eurovision only has a certain level of influence. An international song contest can bring about discourse of a trans-national level, and it can bring messages to the consciousness of millions of people. But can it be philanthropic to the level that can genuinely help the world’s most vulnerable? I don’t think so.

The way in which most star-studded, televised spectacles act ‘philanthropically” is by pumping millions into marketing, showing footage of starving children and then generating millions of dollars. Could Eurovision do this? Absolutely. Call me a maniac, but I would like to see the contest continue to represent the voices of vulnerable people, and these messages to form the basis of movements and political agendas in the future. It may sound crazy, but a platform of 180 million people presents a rare opportunity for collective messaging, in a world where we each consume customised streams of information.

Tim: Yes, but it’s up to the organisers/participants how it’s being executed

Philanthropy should be in the contest, but the way it’s presented in the contest varies

As Costa has mentioned, Philanthropy is such a broad term that it can take place in various forms. I mean most Eurovision participants use their entry, as a way to spread their message. An example of this, would be Belgium’s entry this year, where Eliot has said that he wanted to subliminally send a message to the viewers.

I want people to think about some things that happens in the world, I want people to ask themselves some questions, but I absolutely don’t want to tell people what to do.

Eliot speaking to ESCXTRA at the Madrid Pre-Party about his Eurovision entry.

However, it doesn’t have to be that you use your Eurovision entry to show your support for causes. Some Eurovision participants even used their participation as a platform as sort of a voice to show the importance of having discussion of some of the things that goes on in the world.

An example of this can be found in 2012. Loreen met with human rights activists during her time in Baku for the competition. She has mentioned in interviews that human rights are important for her and it’s something she fights for until now.

Overall, I would love it if organisers pro-actively made the show more philanthropic and raised funds towards these causes. There’s still a lot of things that needs to be done. However, I feel that even with the songs being sent in the recent contests, that it’s heading in the right directions, and I would personally like to see more of it.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think the contest should – or more importantly can be more ‘philanthropic’? Or does taking a charitable or moral stance warp the purpose of Eurovision itself? Perhaps a different perspective altogehter? Let us know! Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates!

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