Guys, I really fucking love Eurovision. In the same way other people look forward to the AFL Grand Final, or the birth of their first grandchild, I look forward to Eurovision. It all started when I was about nine – my mum called me into the living room to watch what she called “the best show in the world”. On the TV I saw glitter, wind machines and the tightest pants I had ever seen a grown man wear. I stayed up way past my bedtime and by the end, I was totally hooked. Since then, I have grown to appreciate the politics, musical nuance and theatricality that go into every competition.
But this year, I came to Eurovision with mixed feelings. The Australian obsession with the world’s biggest music contest has gone through an evolution of sorts, from the fringes of SBS watching-society to being prime-time viewing for pretty much everyone on my Facebook feed. And whilst our participation in the contest for the last three years makes me practically giddy with excitement, it also speaks to me of something uncomfortable within our collective national identity. As a white girl in Australia, I have to ask if this a symbol of our desire to reach back to our colonialist roots? We steadfastly refuse to accept our place in Asia, thinking of ourselves instead as a country of white people in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by nothing. Our participation in Eurovision highlights a Eurocentrism that sits deep within our culture. Or am I reading too much into it? Is it just because Australians are really into wind machines?
And yet, as I watched Eurovision this year (and the millions of “highlights reels” from years past) something inside my glittery soul started to beam. Because while I am critical of our self-image as it relates to whiteness and European colonialism, there is something about Eurovision that is about as anti the Australian image as you can get. Last year, I was lucky enough to go backpacking for ten months, and while I was away I was able to view Australia from a distance. And I saw what I always knew – as a society, we are undoubtedly conservative. As I looked in the direction of home, I saw a proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, I saw a tightening of immigration laws, I saw the proposed changes to 18c. It was hard to feel like my home country wasn’t full of straight white guys with deep pockets and zero feelings.
But when you look at Eurovision, it seems like the antithesis of those elements. It is undoubtedly queer, bombastic and over the top. And it felt like a reflection of the home I know – my beautiful friends who are still fighting for their right to marry, my friends who express themselves loudly and passionately, my friends who are immigrants and the children of immigrants, who continue to carve their place out in our society every day. And when examining the ways in which Australia has chosen to represent itself in Eurovision, you’ll find there isn’t a straight white guy among them. The Eurovision stage has been graced by Jessica Mauboy, Guy Sebastian, Dami Im and now Isaiah Firebrace – an Indonesian/Indigenous woman, a Malaysian immigrant, a Korean immigrant and a young Indigenous man. That’s not to mention Queen of Television Lee Lin Chin as our judges representative.
I love Australia, and since I came home a month ago I have been navigating what exactly that means. I am struggling to find a place that represents this country in the way I see it, with our uniquely beautiful landscape, the fierceness with which we fight for our rights, even if our governments choose to ignore us. Whilst Eurovision is by no means perfect (see: Italy’s cultural appropriation clusterfuck, or three white male hosts in a year celebrating “Diversity”) and still deeply entrenched with the politics of centuries past (though that’s part of what makes it so damn watchable), it feels like a beautiful alternative to other representations of Australian culture. Although we still have a long way to go when it comes to acknowledging and making up for our flaws – I don’t think that by having Indigenous artists in Eurovision that it makes up for hundreds of years of oppression – the spectacle of Eurovision feels like an antidote to the blokey-ness that permeates our reputation overseas.
Finally, I am seeing the Australia I love so much, reflected back to me in a thousand glitter canons.