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Videos: Eurovision and Social Science

Over at The Monkey Cage, my friend and colleague, Erik Voeten– who hails from The Netherlands– posts on the upcoming Eurovision competition:

Tomorrow the annual Eurovision song contest will be held in Oslo. To the uninitiated: each European country submits a song that is performed live on television. Countries then vote on which song was “the best.” The song contest is one of the most watched non-sporting events in the worldand has given the world ABBA, Celine Dion, the Herreys with their golden boots (pictured above), and so much unintentional comedy that it is hard to know where to start. There is a book devoted to entries that were so terrible that they failed to acquire a single point and a web-site to ranking the worst Eurovision songs of all time (a tough job, please submit nominations in the comments).

Anyway, I am not here to tell you that you can watch all of this live on the internet but to talk about the politics of this all. Whenever “countries” vote on each other, suspicions of political conspiracies abound. With over half a century of data to play with, you would think that (social) scientists have something to say on that. You would be right. Here are some sociologists who think that Eurovision voting reveals the hegemony of the West, economists who find that voting is based more on cultural than political affiliations (other economists then used this as a measure of culture and found that it influences trade), and physicists (gated) who (surprise) use network analysis to analyze voting data. An interesting contribution is this piece in the Journal of Cultural Economics (ungated) which shows that experts are better judges of quality than the general public in that the order in which candidates appear has a smaller influence on expert votes than public votes. Oh, yeah, go check out the Dutch entry this year: it has “sha-la-lie” in the title and a hurdy-gurdy (barrel organ). It will surely do well.

Interesting! I’m not so sure about that Dutch entry! But who can forget Eres tú from the Spanish group Mocedades  from Eurovision 1973–

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2 Comments

  • Chaz P. says:

    I think your Dutch colleague was hinting that theirs was a blend of traditional folk influence and catchy hook – a historically winning combination. The other traditionally popular (and successful) formula is bubbly euro-pop, and often in English (most commonly understood language, surprisingly).

    The more interesting aberration of this trend was the winners of Eurovision 2006, the Finnish monster rock band, Lordi. (seriously – check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KFEtySs-nM&feature=related)

    As for the voting, in a number of cases it comes down to outright collusion – Greece and Cyprus regularly give each other the highest score possible, and I remember hearing rumors of similar relationships amongst the former Yugoslav countries, but that could be attributed to cultural and linguistic similarities.

    Lastly, I’m surprised the good professor left out a map of the Eurovision participants – and without noting that this is the only European organization that both enjoys broad success and gladly includes nations whose European inclusion is otherwise contested – Russia, Belarus, Israel, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Morocco.

    (For map, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EurovisionParticipants.png)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.