What with the recent devastating loss of so many of our cultural icons, and the genuinely frightening state of world affairs, we’re all keen to flex our smile muscles and bask in a ray or two of hope. Whilst the Eurovision Song Contest can be enjoyed (or dismissed) as camp, shallow escapism, it also offers the kernel of a promise of something ‘better’ to escape into. That something is a joyful and celebratory sense of togetherness. And if something can be imagined, then maybe it can be realised?
YOU can help it become a reality. There are plenty of reasons why we should forget our collective troubles and get happy by organising a glut of Eurovision parties across the UK this year. At this moment of political unrest, the irony of a celebration that so blatantly unites Europe is not lost on us – but whatever your political stance, this type of celebration offers the ultimate team building experience with (not so) surprising hidden depths.
“Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? … Actually I do, I’ve seen the rehearsals” Sir Terry Wogan
Of course Eurovision isn’t going to change the world, but its message of unity has been there from the start. Born in 1956 out of the effort to unite Europe after the devastation of WWII and the onset of The Cold War, it has always been more than just a song contest. So despite being an apolitical event where explicitly political songs are banned, it unites diverse people in an international network. It also shines a spotlight on the languages and (sub)cultures of Europe by creating an environment in which our differences are positively part of the fun.
Moreover, because it is a competition in which you can’t vote for your own country, it gives us a lesson in supporting our neighbours and helping restore our faith in one another. These are not bonds created from religion, race, language, sexuality, or culture – nope! This is European unity forged entirely on the power of dubious song.
If you recall, despite the backdrop of hatred that led to Dana International’s win in 1998, audiences from across the continent voted the first transgender pop star straight to No.1. Seventeen years later the contest featured the first wheelchair user, as well as the first group to perform with learning difficulties. And of course 2014 saw the first (bearded) drag queen and openly gay man win, despite vocal condemnation, ridicule and controversy.
Like a giant parting Red Sea of Marmite, Eurovision divides us into camps of lovers and haters
Whether you love it, hate it or enjoy it as a guilty pleasure, Eurovision’s message of unity has made an undeniable cultural and social impact, watched as it is by nearly 200 million people continent-wide. Proof, in the words of Susan Sontag, that “one can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”
So let’s do that for a moment and get (very mildly) serious about plans for your forthcoming ultimate Eurovision Party. The TV extravaganza will be broadcast live from Stockholm on Saturday 14th May, giving you plenty of time to:
- Deck out the venue Eurovision style
Make the preparation of the venue a collective effort by allocating a country to each guest, and asking them to bring an item of decoration as well as a plate of food that best represents it. This could be anything from a national flag, some stuffed vine leaves, national flowers etc. The possibilities are endless, offering an imaginative and fun way to learn about/guess other cultures whilst getting to know your colleagues.
- Encourage outrageous Eurovision attire
Encourage guests to dress up in the national costume or in iconic Eurovision costumes from yesteryear. Award appropriately kitsch prizes for the best (and worst) costumes. While fancy dress isn’t everybody’s idea of fun, it does encourage creativity and allows us to momentarily let go of our own identity in order to assume a totally new one (change is as good as a rest even from ourselves!). We also benefit from new perpectives and can build bridges through play.
- In a grand final that will last well over three hours, don’t underestimate the importance of keeping well refreshed
As Sir Terry Wogan (much missed) demonstrated so well over his years as presenter and commentator, Eurovision is best watched with refreshments. The chance to hobnob with colleagues over a beer, Retzina, creme de menthe or whatnot can strenthen and encourage new relationships as we relax and connect outside of a workplace role. But make sure there are interesting non-alcoholic beverages for non-drinkers, and of course some moderation is advisable. Indeed, Wogan himself had a rule of “not to start drinking before song nine.”
- Add your own extra sparkles
If you’re really going for it, why not make score cards and play for prizes throughout the evening? Alternatively, you can download or buy SingStar’s Eurovision range and stage your very own micro-competition. After all, everyone knows that singing is not only good for the soul, but a very effective group development activity. The likelihood is that barely anyone in your office will agree with this.
- Don’t take it personally if getting help is like herding cats
The law of averages dictates that some people will come out in hives at your suggestion of a Eurovision party. That’s OK.
Like a giant parting Red Sea of Marmite, Eurovision divides us into camps of lovers and haters. Lovers may appreciate the pop, the spectacle and high camp aesthetic, whilst others tune in solely for the affectionately scathing and witty commentary. Encourage non-believers to help with organisation or the handing out of prizes. You could even ask your most scathing colleague to commentate your evening.
It’s hard not to smile recalling Wogan’s opening lines to the 2007 finale: “Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? … Actually I do, I’ve seen the rehearsals” or Norton’s “it’s three minutes we’re never going to get back” but don’t mistake this mischievous appreciation for irony as disrespect or dismissal, it’s quite possible to love what you find magnificently awful.
There’s no denying it – Eurovision is funny, but it can also genuinely incite warm feelings of togetherness that we can all absorb, especially given the events of the year so far. So, with that in mind, good luck with the preps, get creative – and tweet us pictures!