Eurovision! May 21, 2008Posted by Emily in fiesta, Spain.
If you bring together nationalism, broken English, and the cheesiest music imaginable, complete with background dancers, you’ve got Eurovision. It’s sort of like American Idol, but on a national scale–and then the representatives from each country, from Spain and France to Azerbaijan and Slovenia, compete against each other in the finals of Eurovision, held this weekend in Serbia. Some sing in their native language, plenty sing in varying degrees of English. Despite my ever-expanding vocabulary, I have yet to encounter a Spanish equivalent of “cheesy”–I’m not really sure one exists. When I try to explain what it means, I am met with blank stares…perhaps this explains why people don’t seem to understand just why I find Eurovision so hilarious. It’s the best/worst thing on Spanish TV all year, and that’s saying something. I’m just not sure what.
You can watch last night’s semifinal in all its glory here: http://www.eurovision.tv/splash/index.html (works best with Internet Explorer) or here: http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/player/86977.html (with Spanish commentary).
I particularly recommend watching Russia’s performance, which involved a male figure skater with a Dorothy Hamill haircut and a gyrating man with very tight white pants.
Also of note was Estonia’s performance, which was three large old men, at least one with a mustache, singing in red, yellow, and blue suits in Russian and Serbian jibberish.
Sadly, Estonia didn’t made it to the finals, although Greece’s repulsive “Secret Combination” did, perhaps having something to do with the singer’s skirt, which got smaller and smaller throughout the song, making me reminisce about Janet at the Super Bowl.
He was originally a character on a humor program on TV and then made it to the Eurovision stage. People voted for him in plan cachondeo–goofing around–but then, he won. RTVE, the Spanish national television, tried to block his win, but he received the most votes and their hands were more or less tied. Despite the fact that plenty of people joke about Eurovision or recognize how bad it is, this whole “Chiki Chiki” thing has evoked some pretty intense debate.
There are those that defend “Chiki Chiki,” noting how catchy it is. Some also like that it’s in Spanish, that it pokes fun at current politicians, or did before the final version was cleaned up–Eurovision doesn’t allow any political lyrics. There are plenty who think this went too far, who are embarrassed that Rodolfo and his creepy dancers are going to represent Spain on an international level. And then there are those, like me, who think that this joke is better than in past years, when the Spanish reps have been horribly traditional and lame but taking themselves VERY seriously. There is nothing serious about the “Chiki Chiki.”
All of the kids at my school not only know all the words, they know all the dance moves as well. The most famous part consists of counting and doing certain dance moves. It goes:
Uno: el brikindans (for those of you not versed in Spanglish, that’d be “the break dance”)
Dos: el crusaíto
Tres: el maiquelyason (Michael Jackson)
Cuatro: el robocop
Rudolfo Chikilicuatre and his dancers have appeared at every major Spanish sporting event in the last few months, have made commercials for everything from cell phone ringtones to the national lottery. The song is everywhere.
But one thing that’s really interested me is that some of this debate has reflected something larger about the changing Spanish culture. There’s a lot of talk about the idea of democracy, even as it transfers to Eurovision. I’ve been asked more than once, as an American, for my point of view on certain aspects of the American government and democratic system, especially as it pertains to the upcoming elections. I’ve heard the argument more than once that “Chiki Chiki” is what the people voted for, like it or not, and that Spaniards are still learning to accept and understand the democratic process. It’s worth a second thought.
El Semanal, the Sunday magazine that comes with the newspaper El País, published a really interesting article a few weeks ago titled “El triunfo de los frikis and los gafapasta” (“The triumph of the freaks and the plastic glasses”). Gafapasta is another way to say hipster, geeks, the people who wear Ray-Bans, tight jeans, striped shirts, Converse All-Stars–the older the better. The term friki is one I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. If you are a big fan of something, especially something like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Queen, etc., you’re friki. But it’s also used when it seems like someone knows too much about something, whether it be movies or video games or books…it’s used sometimes to keep people with lots of knowledge, however silly, in line. When I sang all of the words to the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” song, I was friki. (Let’s be honest, I’ve been called friki quite a bit.) But Rosa Montero, the author of the article, talks about how being friki is now in style. (Ha!) The article is accompanied by a photo of Chikilicuatre playing his baby-sized plastic guitar, his huge Elvis-style wig not moving an inch. Montero quotes Lord Byron, who wrote that Don Quijote has shown generation after generation of Spaniards that dreamers are crazy and pathetic, something to laugh at, something removed from normalcy. She talks about the Spanish fear of being laughed at, the hesitancy to appear ridiculous, of being different, and that this fear often has affected “action, innovation, and audacity.” Theme parties are not a Spanish institution–it’s just too goofy for adults. The line between kids and adults is clear, with the adults doing what they can to appear always adults and (almost) never childish. She notes that the discovery of America, Christopher Columbus’ crazy idea, happened before Quijote was published. There’s something liberating, she writes, about the changing face of frikismo, something that has to do with the changing face of Spain. Before, she says, perhaps people were too poor and from origins too humble to poke fun at themselves. But things are changing. She writes, “Pero ahora, bien comidos y bien vestidos, y conocedores de nuestros derechos como ciudadanos, tal vez podamos permitirnos ser todo lo disparatadamente frikis que queramos.” My rough translation: “But now, well fed and well dressed, and knowledgable about our rights as citizens, perhaps we can allow ourselves to be as absurdly ‘friki’ as we want to be.” Power to the frikis.
But back to the main event. In addition to Eurovision’s singing and the dancing, which is painfully bad but taken so seriously that one with even mild taste can’t help but laugh uncontrollably, there’s the presenters. They’re caked in makeup and reading really, really bad dialogue but in English, which is clearly not their native language. The tone is all wrong, the painful punchlines come too soon or they fake their laughs too late. As an English teacher and someone learning a second language, I probably shouldn’t laugh. I, too, make mistakes and I’d like to avoid the role of the stuck-up American, laughing at everyone else’s English. But I can’t help it. They just make it too easy. It’s just so bad.
So bad that it’s awesome. Saturday evening before heading out to the fería, I have a date with the TV. I’ll be giggling and booing at those who take themselves too seriously and will be keeping my fingers crossed for Chikilicuatre and the emergence of Spanish pride in being friki. Sometimes being different isn’t so bad.