Apparently the Eurovision Song Contest last night (on BBC1) was watched by as many as 180 million people. Really? Despite the competition in this country from other channels? For instance, the showing yet again (on BBC3) of Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl, which was my viewing choice until I lost interest in the excessive swashbuckling, quite apart from having seen it at least three times before. I then hauled out the tablet and fired up another kind of programme entirely on BBC iPlayer - more on that in a moment.
I haven't watched the Eurovision Song Contest all the way through, nor even much at all, since the early 1970s. In its first years it was, for me, a quite exciting annual ritual with, it seemed, a genuinely lofty purpose - to bring together all European states in a spirit of friendly TV rivalry. The UK was of course not in the European Commumity until 1973. Until then, a pan-European event like this was tackled from the position of an outsider. It was novel and interesting to get a flavour of the national music from other countries.
I was for instance entranced (at age 16) by Massiel's astonishingly powerful rendition of La, la, la, the Spanish entry for 1968, which pipped our Cliff's Congratulations for the top spot. Despite my knowledge that political forces within Spain had suppressed an alternative national song to be sung in Catalan. The music and the sound of the language inspired me to learn Spanish. I also bought a few maps of Spain. I didn't get very far with my juvenile dip into Spanish culture, but that's not the point: the Contest had moved me to do something new and different, and to explore the ways of another country.
A general article about the Contest is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest. And about the winners each year here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Eurovision_Song_Contest_winners.
Ah, those were the days, when Katie Boyle would ask each participating country in polished tones to give their votes. Her French seemed very good to me. And she never dropped her smile, even when there were nul points for Blighty.
And so to last night, the 2014 Contest, won by Austrian drag act artist Conchita Wurst, alias Tom Neuwirth. Here is a Guardian correspondent's report of the proceedings: http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2014/may/10/eurovision-song-contest-2014-live. As I said above, I wasn't watching. Apparently Miss Wurst's message was of hope and peace. She also sported a beard (there's a picture in the BBC News report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-27358560), and I read somewhere that it was like watching Russell Brand in a nice dress. Why Austria would want its national image associated with a bearded man in female attire is hard to see, but, hey ho, I suppose it was intended as an inclusive cross-gender and cross-cultural gesture.
The Russians didn't like it though. It smacked to them of homosexuality. And the way things are, gayness and anything else that deviates from the stock image of Russian Manhood and Womanhood is to be officially frowned upon. Sigh. I can't help thinking that if such things really do matter to them, then the Russian psyche - or at least that of its leaders - is weak and vulnerable, and not strong at all. It's a general rule, surely, that the ones who strike the toughest poses are in fact the most wobbly. People who are genuinely sure of themselves don't have to thrust their toughness in your face. It's just there when needed. And everyone knows it, without having to be told all the time.
It's also a possibility that those who cry shrilly against something they say they don't like are in fact concealing a secret yearning for that very thing. You know, like apparently straight men who say they hate gay men, and want to destroy them all. Or straight women who say they hate lesbians, and regard it as a mortal insult to be mistaken for one. You really have to ask why it matters to them, the existence of others of their own gender who are sexually different. One suspects that they too are gay or lesbian, as the case may be. I am not personally worried where on the spectrum they are, so long as they are honest with themselves and stop trying to hide it. A hope unlikely to be fulfilled though: in the world as it is, it takes huge courage and strength to come out and stand out from the crowd. And although taking the easy option, to conform to the norm, is the weaker act, it may also be the optimum survival strategy.
Such thoughts might be relevant to the programme I watched on iPlayer. It was from a few days back, BBC2's documentary called Blurred Lines: the new Battle of the Sexes. It was all about the way some men, particularly younger men - abetted by a minority of women prepared to behave like men - are happy to say abusive things about women in the public arena. Insulting things, intended to denigrate the professional standing of the woman concerned, and belittle her. Rude things, intended to make her seem grotesque. Sexually explicit things, intended to hurt and mock. And in some cases, especially on the Internet, vicious and criminal things, threats so extreme that the perpetrators seem to possess a blood-lust bordering on insanity. A collective howl of it, recycled, amplified, and very disturbing to all but the most confident and strong-minded of women in the spotlight. Enough to discourage women entering public life at all.
The presenter Kirsty Wark was trying to find answers. Why is this happening? What happened to the feminist gains between 1970 and 2000? And where might it lead?
The answers from men, not all young, were confusing and inadequate. Some maintained that this misogynistic stuff was basically harmless, and that women should just 'man up'. Others agreed it was more serious, and thought they knew why men might be inclined to indulge in anti-female stage humour, online comments, and sundry put-down remarks out in public, or even on TV. Men felt threatened and basically angry; they no longer had any obvious masculine role in daily life; they needed to be strong and dominant, and this was a way of getting control again. (A bit like Russia's role in the world?) They had 'lost their balls': and insulting women with pornographic imagery and savage remarks was simply redressing an imbalance. These men were prepared to go much, much further on the Internet, asserting that not only did women need to be put back in the kitchen, women needed to shut up completely and accept rape whenever a man felt inclined. Dreadful, but that is what certain tweets were saying.
There were commentators who thought this new cavemanism was deplorable, and encouraged by the very nature of the Internet; but no man had an action plan for stopping the abuse. The will did not seem to be there.
The answers from the women interviewed, all young, were disturbing. There was a general feeling that men who sang offensively sexist rugby songs on trains, or made lewd remarks in pubs, or were a bit too touchy-feely, were just being silly and showing off to their friends (nothing new there). It was not nice, and not welcome, but it needed to be tolerated. (Why?) And again, no girl had a proposal on how to to stop it. No girl suggested, for instance, ganging together and meeting violence with violence as a simple solution. Resort to the police was not mentioned at all.
Kirsty Wake interviewed veteran feminist Germaine Greer, for the older woman's viewpoint. She said frankly that feminism had secured legal victories, but had failed in a social sense. We were back to square one again. She seemed pessimistic and resigned.
This was dispiriting. But the documentary ended on a more hopeful note, giving examples of websites run by women and devoted to the female cause, fighting back at online attackers. As most of the abuse was on the web, this was seen a promising way of halting the rise of crass male misbehaviour.
I wonder. I think the real answer lies in promoting the face-to-face engagement of men and women. And a move away from simply viewing women on a screen. Women in the flesh are complex human beings, and any man up close to a woman can sense that. I dare say that many men can't cope with the complexity, and their 'mate culture' doesn't enlighten them. Some find women extraordinarily difficult to know, and frightening to speak to. That might help explain men's retreat into the safe online world, where diffidence and lack of self-confidence do not matter; where there is detachment, no immediate consequence, no restriction on what to look at, no restriction on what to say and how to behave. It was appalling to see men lusting and fantasising in front of screens, playing shockingly realistic games that might involve beating women up for very base motives.
I heartily agree that such things influence attitude and corrode. I am shocked by it. I could not trust a man who was hooked on such stuff. I'd have to assume that, for him, the line between fantasy and reality had become fatally blurred. Literally fatal for me, perhaps, if ever he lost his self-control.
Lads having a loud laugh at a girl's expense might like to bear in mind that a bad attitude breeds nothing good, and makes each of them figures to be feared and mistrusted. And if society shifts in that direction, it'll be a poor lookout for the men who wish only to be respectful and caring, and want a stable and rewarding relationship with a real woman who trusts them without reservation.