Robert Weinland – self-proclaimed prophet (as if there were any other kind) – has declared the end-of-the-world to be May 27
But is it possible that rather than being another deluding soul in the business of our imminent destruction, Weinland could actually be correct? And could it be more than coincidence that the date follows immediately on the spangly, sequined coat-tails of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest?
At first glance, Eurovision looks like the antithesis of Armageddon. It exists in an alternate, primary-coloured universe, where war has been replaced with family-friendly televised singing competitions. Humanity at its campest. But in actual fact, Eurovision grew specifically from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Its roots are tied up in the East-West divide of the Cold War.
The contest was consciously designed by the eurovisionaries making up the European Broadcasting Union to unite the countries of Europe after WW2, using a mix of entertainment and technology. It was an attempt to create and foster a European identity that was specifically opposed to the identity of Communism in the East. It was to be one of the major symbols of Western Capitalist luxury, as opposed to Eastern Communist poverty. “Look, we have so much money over here – this is actually what we’re doing with it!” It was literally a Vision of Europe, as it wanted to be seen.
And it worked. By the end of the 1950s, Easterners wanted the freedom they saw on television. They saw the luxury of the West, and they wanted a part of it. Russia had the tanks to hold them back, for now – but Eurovision kept up its seductive ballads.
It was a culture war. Western cultural propaganda flooded into the East – and the European symbols of luxury took their toll on Communist morale. The Soviets built hundreds of television jamming stations to block western signals – an Iron Curtain of interference. But it didn’t work. The symbol of Eurovision was more powerful than all the ferrous upholstery the Soviets could erect. Eurovision burst through and continued to sparkle.
And then it all came to a head in 1961. The Soviets decided that if they couldn’t stop western culture getting in, they could at least stop their people from getting out. Tired of symbolism, they turned to concrete. The Berlin Wall was an attempt to beat the power of ideas back with brute force.
And in the same year, in order to combat Western culture and escape its influence – in a seemingly desperate move – the Soviet authorities decided the best idea was to imitate it. They created the Sopot Song Festival (later shamelessly renamed to Intervision Song Contest).
At once, the Soviets erected the physical Iron Curtain to keep their people in, and on the inside of the wall, sewed together a more ironic curtain from second-hand European culture. If Eurovision exists in an alternate universe of sequins and love-songs, then Intervision and Sopot existed in a Bizarro Soviet world of metal and industry – less of an imitation and more like a dystopian parody. Take the system of voting: not many of the audience had telephones, and so the viewers were encouraged to turn their house lights on when they liked a song. The energy company would then record the size of the power spikes, and pass the results on to the TV station, who announced the winners.
In 1965, Eduard Khil came second in the Sopot Song Festival, lending credence to the theory that the entire Soviet Empire was a huge exercise in trolling:
1961 also saw Yuri Gagarin’s first human orbit of the Earth. While Europe was broadcasting its singing competition – the Soviets were sending men into space. And yet, somehow – Eurovision remained a threat.
So, Eurovision grew from Cold War paranoia, to show off how great Europe was doing, and to undermine the Soviet’s own anti-Western propaganda. What’s to say it’ll destroy the world? It is, after all, at heart, a singing competition.
As Eurovision grew, its effects went beyond the stormy Cold War era, and countries within Europe saw its significance in regards to each other. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, European politicians decided that Eurovision was an important symbol. And so it became an important symbol for European politicians.
Without wanting to give a history of the Contest – a few examples:
In 1974, Italy banned the entire broadcast of the contest because they thought the Italian entry of that year could affect the vote of a referendum on divorce law – being held over a month later. The censors felt that the song, entitled ‘Sì’ (yes), could be accused of being subliminal messaging, and a form of propaganda to influence the Italian voting public to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum.
In 1978, when it became clear that Israel were going to win Eurovision, the Jordanian television service blocked the Eurovision signal entirely, replacing it with an image of some daffodils. It later lied to the audience, announcing that Belgium had won. The same year also saw the Contest be the symbolic spark of a revolution. The first note of Portugal’s entry to the Contest was to be the secret signal for the start of a military coup in the country. The freedom-fighters began the Carnation Revolution using Eurovision as a rallying cry.
In 1976, Greece entered a song about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Mariza Koch, the singer, had been notified of threats to her life – that if she stepped on stage to sing the song, she would be shot. In retaliation for this, Cyprus gave zero points to Turkey, and always gave points to Greece, right up until 2003. Similarly, in 1993, Bosnia’s entry had to escape the country under gunfire from snipers, in order to enter the competition. Eurovision is diplomatically important enough to risk your life for.
Even the UK was not exempt from Eurovision’s striking effects. In 1981, we won with Bucks Fizz’s ‘Making Your Mind Up’, and as a direct result of their performance – which included skirts pulled away to reveal shorter skirts beneath – Velcro sales went through the roof.
More recently – in 2009, people were being called in for questioning in Azerbaijan and asked why they voted for Armenia. They were seen as somehow being unpatriotic, and asked to explain themselves.
So though it has little power in and of itself (the quality of Eurovision entry can hardly be said to reflect anything about the country in question) – the symbolic importance seems to have taken on a life of its own. As long as people continue to believe in this importance (and politicians evidently do) – the potential for wider-reaching effects is massive.
The contest has enough perceived power that governments are willing to rig it, ban their entrants from performing, threaten to assassinate other singers, censor entire television broadcasts, and interrogate their citizens on their musical preferences. And in turn, it gives people the opportunity and courage to fight language-bans, break airspace restrictions, vote differently in referendums, begin political revolutions, and buy more Velcro.
So it has a certain amount of political influence. But the apocalypse?
Well, firstly, bearing in mind its origins as an advertisement for European luxury, and considering the latest financial collapses throughout Europe – is it not conceivable that the middle-class swagger once used as a weapon against Communism could perhaps have a similar effect on the elements of Europe currently struggling under enforced austerity? When shown to the Soviets, it made Europe seem like something they could perhaps aim for – something possible if they changed their communal ways. But shown to the young people of Greece, and other nations in financial trouble? The message becomes something more like: “this is what you could have won”. Which seems a rather dangerous message to send, in a continent already torn apart by riots.
The other aspect, is of course the financial challenge of hosting the Contest. As we all know solely from Father Ted, there comes a point even outside a recession where hosting the Contest can bankrupt your entire national television service. Considering the current state of Europe, who are we showing off to? Who are we advertising our frivolous spending to, if not the Soviets? China? What happens if Greece wins and has to host next year? What will they do when faced with having to admit their financial incompetence to the European community yet again?
Looking at it like this – there’s a small chance Robert Weinland is more astute than the other peddlers of ruin we’ll be facing as 2012 rolls on. The pop-anthropology ‘2012 Myth’ stems from the Mayan codices – calendars of agricultural activity and sacred feast, which were cross-referenced so that the the priesthood could predict years in advance what everybody would be engaged with in their minds on any particular day.
If I were going to predict a date for the end-of-the-world, I’d look through the modern version of these codices. I’d look through our TV Guides, and examine our big media events – our modern religious festivals – and cross-reference it with current political situations. And I’d probably come up with Eurovision as a likely candidate. When you have somewhere between 100 million and 600 million angry people watching the same thing at the same time – it’s hardly impossible that someone could do something silly. (Let’s just be thankful we haven’t entered Franz Ferdinand in this year’s competition – that would just be asking for trouble).
And hell, if that doesn’t come to pass – I could always revise my prediction.
There’s always the Olympics to worry about.
Peter Kissick is a writer based in northern England, find him on twitter at @Pk1yen.