Imagine disinterring Charlemagne, Henry VIII or Julius Caesar from their vaults. Tell them that Europe is united, free, democratic and at peace, from Ireland to the Balkans. They wouldn't believe you. They did not watch the 49th Eurovision Song Contest, beamed over from downtown Istanbul on Saturday night.
It is enough to make you long for a war, but in Eurovision, Europe has created the perfect metaphor for itself. It is empty, confused and shrill, but strangely melancholic and beautiful. Its presenters, whom I named the Pretzel, in homage to her hair-do (she wore an outfit made of Ferrero Rocher wrappers) and a Lebanese Prince of Darkness, grinned as they introduced the 24 entrants. And, in an explosion of glitter, eye-shadow, tit-tape, gyration and caterwauling they came. Flags fluttered, plastic globes bounced off the ceiling and Europe screamed the blues into the camera's eye.
"You are the gentle falling leaf," three hungry men from Austria cried. Knut from Norway sang: "I want to heal every wound in you." Spain was represented by two pouts, four legs, a guitar and Animal from the Muppets, who had glitter dusted on his drums. Europe's regrets and hopes were warbled in a trite, bright jingle, by people wearing tiny clothes. It was Saturday night in Newcastle - all across the continent.
Serbia and Montenegro sang what I determined was a nihilistic parable with pan pipes and a banjo: "I bite my bruised lips trying to forget the real pain." Then two mulleted - at last, a mullet! - Maltesers from Malta, in pink ruffles, wanted "to take us for a ride". The Netherlands entered a pair of Oompa Loompas with guitars.
A German with an alarming monobrow sang: "I only want to make you understand," then vibrated. Had his prostate exploded? Eurovision reminded me of how fragile we are. Scratch us softly and you find Europe's broken heart, scarred with war, tyranny and greed.
Each nation came in turn. It was gloriously democratic. Albania took to the stage to make a sound that is usually found only in the most explicit pornographic films. Tony Blair, I decided, could legitimately invade Albania for this song, and this time he'd take the Labour Party with him. I will suggest it.
Then Xena, Warrior Princess from Ukraine (real name Ruslana), strode on in leather and an Iron Curtain pout to sing "Wild Dances". "Inside you my head spins round and round," she spat. The Bosnia entry, a paradigm of a Friday night at Heaven, snarled: "I'm losing my weight." (You wish.) Painted men (yellow, blue, green and red) arrived from Russia. Chernobyl victims, I wondered? Macedonia admitted to "new feelings of misery". Fat people smiled into their pizzas as Europe vomited its barren culture on to a screen.
Then the television too threw up. I had a Saturday night theory. Was Eurovision convened by American neo-cons in an attempt to discredit Europe? Eurovision was inexorable as death, but much louder. Across Europe, the corpses of our great intellectuals - Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare and Mann - spontaneously combusted in their vaults.
Like Celine Dion and the new expanded European Union, it went on and on and on. Cyprus regurgitated a fat Britney Spears. Turkey produced Clockwork Orange characters who sang like Madness would have sung had they been Jewish. Then came Sweden, who sang "Oh, it hurts, oh it hurts, oh it really, really hurts." Yes it did, but the competition was over.
But the music wouldn't die. After some adverts for Turkish ceramics, we watched what seemed to be a gay SS division, then a Turkish Riverdance troupe, tap dancing. The Pretzel and the Prince of Darkness returned to compere the judging, the iconic Casablancaesque nul points moment. Hello from London, from Oslo and Hamburg, they beamed; from Paris and Lisbon and Rome.
The voting was incomprehensible, another parallel with the EU. And the winner was: Xena from the Ukraine and her post-operative, trans-sexual dancers, with 280 wretched points. Norway was 24th, with three points, a gift (too late) from Sweden.
But, despite, or rather because of, the music, Eurovision had an incandescent humanity. Downtown Istanbul on Saturday night wasn't just a disco dance. It was The Decline of the West, played by a tambourine choir. I looked deeper and found two things: a metaphor for the European soul crisis and a lurid tunnel back to sunlight, through which we can all shimmy together, singing Johnny Logan songs.
Of course the entries were all rubbish. They should be. The songs had spandex equality and a tacky but sincere internationalism. We are daft and shallow, but we are united and wearing Rouge Absolut.
Next year I will be dancing in the Ukraine, and wearing a wig. Because Saturday was the Olympics for the ugly, the gay, the tasteless and admirers of Barry Manilow. You know, people like us, and the citizens of Europe today. It was victory for pastel breasts, hair extensions and mediocrity. Posh and Becks should sing the next United Nations resolution and let us vote. Hurl music and politics into a Euro blender and take it to the people. It's democracy, baby. It's reality. And it hurts. It really, really hurts.Reuse content