When Michael Flatley, Jean Butler and the entire Riverdance troupe came stampeding out onto the stage during the 1994 Eurovision, they heralded in a new era in Irish life. They gave Irish people a reason to be proud of their Gaelic culture and heritage and this pride somehow, in a karmic way, partly led on to Ireland's remarkable economic boom.
That's what an increasing number of economists and social commentators have opined at any rate. It's grist for the mill in many Irish corporate DVDs although, strangely, its not given as a reason on the official website of the Irish State which lists a high standard of education, a commitment to open markets, the return of skilled emigrants to Ireland and good co-operation between Government, Industry and Trade Unions with regard to economic policy as some of the contributing factors. On the other hand, it is certainly valid for historians and economists to study the cultural life of a country as part of a wider study of its economic and social development; as Professor Simon Schama has shown in his recent BBC series, “The Power of Art”.
I don't know, I'm not an economist and I may be missing the bigger picture here but surely an economic boom needs more than a few photogenic hoofers on television to help get itself off the ground, or am I just being naive? Ok, let’s just say for a minute that there is such a thing as a Eurovision Theory of Economics. Where does that leave the future of Ireland's economy in the aftermath of Ireland's last place disaster in the 2007 Eurovision and the ongoing failure on Broadway of the "Pirate Queen" which is brought to you by the producers of "Riverdance"? Not too good I would imagine.
I, for one, feel genuinely sorry for John Waters, Tommy Moran and Dervish. If they went array anywhere it was in thinking that the Eurovision is actually about the songwriter's craft. In fact, the Eurovision was originally conceived not by the music department of any European television station but by a collection of broadcast engineers belonging to the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) in the 1950s. The EBU is focused on helping its members in regard to technological advances in radio and television broadcasting and in the 1950s the idea of a pan European live broadcast was floated by these guys at a conference. After all the technological issues were ironed out the last question to be asked was, "So, what shall we broadcast?". "How about a song contest?" came a reply from one of the techies. "Fair enough, we'll go with that". And so a monster was born.
Now, according to John Waters, the Eurovision is about "desire" and whilst that may seem a bit off the topic, he is actually right because if there is one thing that the host broadcaster of any Eurovision desires, it is to show how superior they are in their broadcasting skills. As a result, money is thrown at the contest. Engineers get the chance to buy all kinds of systems and equipment that, up until then, they had been denied in annual budgets and the top above and below the line talent available to the broadcaster is drafted in to deliver the show. Certainly, the appearance of “Riverdance” as the interval act for the 1994 contest demonstrates the very high level of desire the producers had that year to show RTE and Ireland in a good light. So great was the pressure on RTE to deliver a top show year after year during the early Nineties and so good were Irish acts at winning it in the first place, 1992 to 1994 consecutively, that many of the people drafted in to work on the shows went on to stellar intenational careers in entertainment elsewhere, such as Michael Flatley and Declan Lowney who went on to direct "Father Ted".
Meanwhile, back at my theory...I should say that I am something of a fan of John Waters. He is a formidable man with a formidable intellect who has fought and won battles in this country that; given Ireland’s legal and social framework, I thought were impossible to win. As a result I read him on a regular basis and thus I have noticed that he, on occasion, queries a subject on two levels and to demonstrate what I mean I will give you an absurdist example of this intellectual tactic. Let's say you were to ask me about a bottle of milk, I could answer you as follows, “There are two questions to be asked of the bottle of milk. Firstly, what is it? Secondly, what does it mean?”
So, if we apply that approach to our 2007 Eurovision loss, firstly we might say that it is a loss for a group of Irish musicians who drew on Irish culture to create a song that they hoped would win a song contest. Secondly, we might say that it represents a general failure of Irish culture to translate or connect with other countries within Europe. It means that Irish culture and society, just as it was virile and relevant in a wider context in the early 1990s, is now impotent and irrelevant in the early 21st Century and that this has deeper economic implications for us in the future.
In other words, we are now where Finland used to be; they came last in 1963, 1965, 1968, 1980, 1982, 1990, 1992 and 1996. Perhaps future Finnish economists will look back and talk of 2006 as the beginning of the Lordi generation, when Finns saw their love of, eh, heavy metal turn them into winners just as the economy was looking up after 16 years of recession.
So, in the event that the above is, in some oblique way correct, what do I then propose, dear reader, to solve our imminent economic demise? Well, given the Eurovision’s recent appetite for Sturm und Drang, combined with a tasteful display of female flesh, I propose that next year we send out the legendary Irish punk band Paranoid Visions along with a crack team of Leeson Street lap dancers to do battle on our behalf. That should put the wind up the Serbians.