I love the Eurovision song contest. Forty countries celebrating humour, kitsch, high camp, chanteuse and song. Then there’s the voting which tells me more about Europolitics than any news outlet.
This year it was great to see an increase in the number of non-solo women performers. Pity about the other underrepresented groups. Celebration of disabled performers hasn’t been a feature. Since its inception, there have been only four singers and one band with disabilities who have qualified for the finals. And the last one was a Russian contestant, Yulia Samoilova, in 2018.
Given the intricate staging and lighting now required to wow the audience, it is no wonder that physical disabilities might prevent disabled artists performing at their best. That is not to say that performers with non-physical disabilities have any more success. In 2015 the Finnish punk rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat, whose members have Down’s syndrome and autism, held the record for being the shortest song ever to be in Eurovision – much shorter than the required three minutes. Needless to say, they didn’t make the finals.
When you double down disability and religion you can exclude more. The Shalva Band, a group of musicians with various disabilities, made it all the way to the Israeli finals to become its 2019 entry to Eurovision but then withdrew rather than having to perform on Shabbat in the rehearsals. Interestingly, none of the shows take place on Sunday.
It is not just disabled performers who are discriminated against. First, there are the language challenged viewers such as me. Surprisingly, there is no provision for subtitling. The show is clearly directed at international record labels, who are looking to capture the lucrative English-speaking market and so the rest of us suffer. I am fortunate that I speak a type of English and understand an occasional word. You might say that is the basic tenet of modern music, not to understand, but after all, this is a competition for songwriters. If you don’t have a basic understanding of English, half the songs are completely unintelligible to you. And the other half that are not in English are also unintelligible.
Language aside, there is the lack of consideration of the disabilities of the viewers. For example, there is no signing for a deaf or age affected viewer. And those of us who are sensitive to flashing lights are not warned about when they will occur.
I’m not sure a Paralympian solution of separation is required, but next year, unless things change, I’ll only watch the voting.