What ges me about 'Eurovision' is not the naff but the naif ...
How do I love the Eurovision Song Contest? Bring forth Gina G, British representative at next Saturday's extravaganza. (altogether now): Ooh aah, just a little bit - and a little bit more.

I am not alone. In one, well practised movement, many, many gay men fall to their knees before the extravaganza. We are the true faithful, spinning the previous winners' greatest hits for weeks beforehand so we can study the form, venturing into alien environments like Ladbrokes to place our annual bet, and throwing almost pagan parties on the night, even though it's a Saturday, and every fibre of our Body-Body Lycra tells us we ought to be out cruising, clubbing and blowing whistles. It's programming versus programming, and Eurovision invariably triumphs.

Yes, yes I know what you're thinking: camp. Eurovision certainly fulfils the Susan Sontag criterion for camp of "failed seriousness"; you start out promoting "universal brotherhood" but end up with the Brotherhood of Man. You make a plea for unity and Abba's musical arranger decides to conduct Waterloo disguised as Napoleon. The dictator did indeed dream of a united Europe, but not the sort aspired to here.

If you can't appreciate camp, then there's always naff. Naff basically being camp that doesn't know that it's camp, camp without self-consciousness or context or a care in the world. Yes, the singers really are pleased to represent their countries. Yes, they really do take the sequins and stage business - arms up, out and wide open for the climax - at face value. Yes, they really do believe that 300 million people in 39 countries are hanging on their every lyric.

That's what I love about Eurovision. Not the naff, the naif. What gets me - what moves me - is its indestructible innocence.

What you see is what you get: in an era locked in the cool embrace of irony and cynicism, the Big Hair, Big Ballads and Bouncy Ditties that characterise Eurovision remain, as ever, perfectly straightforward and touchingly sincere. Which is, of course, why the furrowed of middle brow and narrow of hip award the contest nul points. To them Eurovision is overblown in appearance, silly in substance, entertaining in a low yet unnatural way, and maybe just a touch threatening too, because no matter how hard, or how loudly, or how actively the ridiculous creature is despised, it carries on regardless, shrugging off the hostility of those who misunderstand or wilfully do not wish to understand. A screaming queen of an event, in fact.

Gay men are experts in being misunderstood (and treated like foreigners) And in understanding. We understand Eurovision's encrusted cabaret style, its eagerness to dazzle, to affirm itself in rhinestone and rhyme, just as we understand its cabaret feelings, the extremes of giddy optimism - "Congratulations!" - and brazenly flamboyant despair: "Go/Go before you break my heart..." Eurovision looks and sounds fake, but in its heyday it couldn't have been more emotional, more real. Then it was "cheap" music at its most potent, proof that music was a universal language even when it was talking basics: of loving, longing and escaping. And wasn't it a revelation and a comfort to know that despite the accents, the weird customs and national costumes, that we were, on some level, One?

So, gay men will not sneer, not even at Luxembourg. And there's no point in being bitchy. Terry Wogan has the market cornered, every year lazily denouncing the presumed "bad taste" of the very audience that pays his wages.

No, it is the duty of gay men to rescue and redeem Eurovision. Which is why Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant got fearfully excited when he thought Sonia was poised to win in 1993, and why Tim Luscombe and Jonathan Harvey penned the plays Eurovision and Boom Bang a Bang respectively, works about how we identify with a dream that wants to gather us together, even if it's only for a one-night stand, and gazes wistfully beyond our confining shores to imagined paradises that might hold a happier ending.

How does Luscombe's lead character, Gary, put it? Like this: "Once a year I stayed up late. And there, on the telly, other worlds, other languages, other ways of living. I didn't know I was gay then... not sexually. But I knew I was different, and the world I was living in wasn't the world I should be living in. Leeds was so timid and introspective compared to those people on the telly, with their raucous pop voices and big clothes. And my sweet, kind parents, who loved me but didn't understand me, would wrap me up in bed at 11 pm, my head full of the melancholy roundabout music of Holland and the sexy murmurings of Italy."

Predictably, Luscombe's Eurovision got exactly the same treatment from critics as Eurovision gets from the critics. But that's because some British institutions can't tell the difference between sentiment and sentimentality ... or come to grips with a phenomenon that cheerfully includes All Kinds of Everything.

Comments