They may not like the EU, but they’re the Eurovision’s biggest fans. (Photo: Daniel Pashley)
Guest journalist Charles Gittins tells us what makes the Icelanders so special when it comes to the Song Contest.
After we revealed the other day that 99% of the Icelandic available TV viewing audience watches the Eurovision final, we thought we really ought to find out more about the factors that could lead to such an amazing statistic. So we asked our friend Charles Gittins, journalist with Icelandic news website Iceland Monitor to give us his assessment.
So, 99% of the Icelandic TV viewing audience watches Eurovision?
Now, I know what you’re thinking – why such a low percentage? Well, I’m afraid that’s probably down to expats like me who elect to watch Eurovision on BBC, SVT, NRK or whichsoever… We are therefore not counted in the national TV audience statistics covering local channels. Taking this into account, the Eurovision TV share here is actually more like 100% – (in the voice of Åse Kleveland) just so you know.
But seriously, why this mass attraction of Icelanders to our beloved show? There are undoubtedly lots of reasons, most of which I shall probably fail to mention here. But here are a few ideas nevertheless – just like the semi-final envelopes, “in no particular order”:
1. Icelanders love to know what foreigners think about them
If you visit Iceland, you will almost never be asked about your country. Why would you? It’s not Iceland, so it must be rubbish there. You will, however, be asked, “So, how do you like Iceland?” Icelanders love to hear others’ views about their country and society – especially if it’s positive feedback, of course. Martians could land on Iceland and the first thing they’d be expected to do is visit the Blue Lagoon and report back on the impeccable state of the changing rooms.
And, of course, Eurovision is quantified ‘telling foreigners what you think of them’. Opinions translated into hard points and beamed out to millions. Icelanders still remember the six points the United Kingdom gave Páll Óskar back in 1997 and thank me personally for it.
2. Icelanders are unapologetic about having fun
Let’s face it – many of us are ‘shy ESC fans’. We love the Contest and the joy it brings. We adore each spangle and key change. But we sometimes get a bit sheepish when talking to Eurovision Muggles, probably worried that our fun will be sneered at. Icelanders adore fun and couldn’t give an Israeli sideways-strut what others think of them for doing so.
Somebody like me is always on their guard back home when waxing lyrical about Eurovision, lest some Q Magazine-reading misery-guts look down their nose at me with contempt. In Iceland, if something is fun, it cannot be wrong. And if something is good, more of it is the only sensible option.
3. Eurovision, the great leveller
The Eurovision Song Contest puts all countries – big and small – on the most level of playing fields. Same stage, same three minutes, same brief, same 0-point start. In this context, the usual dynamics of geopolitics are null and void.
Volcanic eruptions aside, Iceland is rarely on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Some might even have trouble finding Iceland on a map. But on Eurovision night, this all changes. Iceland’s name is in bright lights for all to see, their domestic stars take to an international stage, and they can (and often do) humiliate the mighty United Kingdom, France and Germany. This is compelling television, even if you’re not actually overly struck with the musical likes of ‘The Social Network Song (oh-oh-uh-oh-oh)’…
4. Eurovision is the one thing Iceland has yet to crack
Iceland is the best at everything. Fact. They have the most beautiful people, the best equality legislation and the finest landscapes in the world. But those pesky Europeans simply will not obey this simple law of nature, recognise Iceland’s superiority in everything, and vote them to European victory. It’s most tiresome.
Once Iceland wins Eurovision, it will finally be able simply to sit back, bask in the glory of simply being the best at everything, and let the rest of the world gaze longingly while desperately trying to achieve just one gram of Icelandic brilliance. An Icelandic Eurovision victory will be a stupendous moment and no Icelander wants to miss it when it happens.
5. There’s nothing else on telly
Viewing options on Icelandic television channels:
- Two tedious men in ill-fitting suits discussing an irrelevant political issue at a level of enthusiasm just sufficient to stop them and the viewers from flatlining.
- Various tedious people in horrific knitwear inspecting a sheep’s bottom and waiting for something to happen.
- A tedious static picture of the Icelandic Parliament informing one that some form of transmission can be expected in 2049.
- The Eurovision Song Contest.
Suddenly, 99% for ESC doesn’t seem too high now, does it?
Icelanders love the Eurovision Song Contest and I love them for it. There is talk of Eurovision on the television and radio and in the newspaper and supermarkets of Iceland weeks ahead of the contest itself. Put simply, they watch it because they love it – and who can jolly well blame them?