Eurovision: Songs Sung Blues

Ukraine, Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria, Sweden, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia and Macedonia. These, according to Dr Derek Gatherer, are the countries that will make it past Thursday’s Eurovision second-semi-final.

I quote him with his permission. He also told me “Unfortunately I am sorry to say that I don’t think Malta will qualify for the final (although obviously I would be pleased to be proved wrong)”.

He gives nine songs, rather than ten. This is the number that will be chosen by tele-voting, the final one to bring the total to ten will be chosen by a jury, explicitly set up to select the song that deserves to be selected, yet does not garner enough of these votes, and his system does not cater for human foibles on an individual level,but rather, on the “herd instinct”.

What would make a Lecturer in Molecular Genetics assume he can surmise this? Is it enough that he predicted Serbia as the Eurovision 2007 winner? Is it enough that he has been poring over the results – and using data generated from thousands of imaginary scenarios to make him an expert? Are fractals (or anomalies) any use when it comes to quantifying shifting trends?

After all, not many people know who the Ukrainian comedian, dancer and singer Andriy Danylko is – but they might recognise the name of his alter ego, Verka Serduchka, the flamboyant middle-aged woman, who sang Dancing Lasha Tumbai and garnered 235 points for second place. No one – except the festival devotees – knows who Sharon Cohen is… but most people could point out a mugshot of Dana International from a gallery of portraits.

Part of Dr Gatherer’s job description includes writing computer programmes to study patterns in biological sequence data. This, he insists, qualifies him to discern voting patterns in the Eurovision festival. So, after generating thousands of random simulated Eurovision Song Contest results, and programming the applications using statistics from 1975 hence, he compared them with the actual results.

Meanwhile, the latest news is that there will be a Eurovision (!) Song Contest in the Middle East and North Africa (the format has been sold for production in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, purchased from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) by Nibras-Tanweer Media Ltd.

This is the leading television content provider in the region, having exclusive representation rights for several Hollywood studios and major international production companies.

The countries in the MENA region include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Closer to home, however, the Eurovision-related clip on One Television made for hilarious viewing. The presenters were asking people which one of three countries – none of them taking part in the contest – were likely to give us points. The edited version of the interviews indicated that not one of the respondents of the vox pop actually realised this.

And then there are people who actually get hot under the collar, treating a non-win as a personal affront, year after year. Of course, we came up with the Consortium Cacophony Conjecture ages ago – but at least, now it’s official.

According to; pundits, also known as conspiracy theorists, the voting has been rigged from the word go – the first contest in Lugano, Switzerland in 1956. It only shifts slightly, annually, to allow for really good songs that would otherwise have no lucrative business or coincidentally cultural back-scratching deals behind them.

Dr Gatherer appears to endorse this view, and indeed lists Malta as one of the seven countries who do not belong to any pact, and are therefore “above suspicion” – the rest being Monaco, France, Israel, Switzerland, Portugal and Germany.

He says that this group- despite the past successes of Mary Spiteri, Chiara and Ira Losco – is ‘quite unlikely’ to nab the covered prize, whereas the dice are already loaded in favour of singers coming from the centre of the larger blocs… Serbia, Russia, Sweden and Iceland.

Here, of course, it bears repeating that Dr Gatherer correctly forecast seven correct semi-finalists from the first heat; incorrectly indicating Moldova and Belgium, neither of whom qualified. Therefore, he says, if Malta’s song has the appeal of the Israeli song, it would still stand a chance.

Dr Gatherer is not Maltese. So he cannot by any stretch of the imagination be accused of coming up with his “voting blocs” collusion theory because of sour grapes… like most of us do, year after year.

Indeed, in his 2006 paper Comparison of Eurovision Song Contest Simulation with Actual Results Reveals Shifting Patterns of Collusive Voting Alliances, he says that he went about his studies methodically, isolating five leagues that he calls The Partial Benelux; The Viking Empire; The Balkan Bloc, The Pyrenean Axis and (inevitably!) The Warsaw Pact.

He came up with the term ‘eurovisiopsephology’ to explain the mishmash of input from the fields of politics, mathematics, computer science, and sociology experts to compile the research. His studies include reams of statistics and scenarios, and are not simply based on instinct.

Over the years, I have tried to put my finger on what it is that fascinates people about the Eurovision – just as I try to understand the logic behind so-called “beauty contests” and “best figolla” challenges. I never could.

It could be an insular obsession with being better than out continental neighbours at something, anything. And, as a nation with a good dosage of Latin blood running through our veins, we know how to shout… and what is singing, if not melodic shouting? Who cares?

Aficionados write to websites about how the singer, the clothes, the entourage, the backing vocals/ dancing, the lack of PR, the song, the lyrics, and /or the language in which they were sung, relegated us to second division (and usually much worse).

They put undue pressure on a singer who is already a winner locally, by expecting – nay ordering her – to bring back the coveted laurels.

This is unfair. It’s like picking out a couple of paintings from an exhibition and asking “Call that art? I could do it with my eyes closed…”

Well, then, why don’t you?

You may see Dr Derek Gatherer’s Venn diagrams here: http://www.geocities.com/derek_gatherer

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