Monday 10 October 2011

The best thing


Today, I feel it is my duty to completely destroy all of my hard-won credibility as a man of culture and intelligence by telling you about the best thing.

My favourite thing in the world is the Israeli entry for the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest.

It was a beautiful day (except in Holland, where a firework factory had caught fire with predictably disastrous results) and I was watching Eurovision on my own for the first time. I love Eurovision, which is a damning enough admission in itself. However, by 2000 I had reached the important conclusion that what the hell, I like it and that's what matters.

So, with such philosophical justifications filling me with righteous glee and in addition to my usual levels of excitement, I tuned in to be greeted by this as the opening song. It was an impact akin to being shot in the head by a cannon. My ears are still ringing, 11 years after the event. Everything about it is perfect as well as rubbish, and sums up all that is right with the world and Eurovision. It is bewildering, awful, really badly performed, tuneless and kitschy in the worst possible way. Who couldn't fall head over heels in love with it at once?

Later I found out about its rather difficult history. I'm going to surprise you all now by admitting that I am not a Hebrew speaker. As such, I missed a lot of the controversy which surrounded the lyrics - which refer to an Israeli girl working on a kibbutz falling for a Syrian man from Damascus and then doing all sorts. Including stuff with a cucumber. A cucumber, people.

I don't really boast a particularly in-depth understanding of Middle-Eastern politics (again, surprise!) but I know enough to fairly safely assume that even putting the cucumber to one side - or in a safe place - the whole Israel-Syria angle was likely to be divisive. And it was, as soon as Ping Pong (who entered the Song for Israel contest originally as a joke, who guessed?) started waving Israeli and Syrian flags at the end of their performances. Switchboards were jammed. So too were cucumbers. The Israeli Broadcasting Union disowned the act entirely.

The controversy continued onto the night itself. The flag waving remained and the group took the last minute decision to sing the song's title Sameach in English instead during the choruses. I think that this helps give the impression that it's a happy old song to the casual viewer, the European audience more likely to be English speakers than Hebrew speakers.

All of this tumult just adds extra layers for me, though. The fact that something so garish, shiny, awful and rubbish could also be a politically divisive issue elevates the whole thing to almost being a work of art. To achieve just one of those things was noteworthy. All of them at once just has to have been deliberate. Things like this just never stop giving, and work on so many levels. Its only possible failing, in fact, is as a song.

Be happy!

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