Jacki Lyden speaks to Neil Johnson a physicist from University of Miami.
Jacki Lyden (JL): Tell me why a theoretical physicist wants to examine the Eurovision results?
Neil Johnson (NJ): That's a good question! We're interested here in my research group in how objects or entities interact with each other over time, and how that may change. A while ago, I was thinking to myself, ‘Wait a minute!’ As a kid I lived through the Eurovision each year and heard these numbers thrown out of countries voting for each other. What if we looked at how countries voted for each other over time and maybe got a glimpse of the true colors behind each countries feeling about the other neighbors and further neighbors in Europe?
JL: I'm going to come back to what the voting says about how the countries feel about one another in a moment. But first of all, I just want to describe it. You have maidens from Poland tearing off each other's clothes and you've got women sprouting butterflies as they're singing about butterflies. The costumes and the earnestness is something to see. People travel from all over the world to get there.
NJ: I'm a citizen of the European Union and when I look at some of these songs, I can't quite believe we're all part of the same continent! This is part of its attraction. You think to yourself, ‘How on earth could this country have thought that is the best thing that represents them this year?’ We're only a few hundred miles away from them, watch out!
JL: Have you got a favorite act?
NJ: In terms of the outrageous, it was in Greece in 2006. There was a band from Finland called Lordy who really looked like Kiss on drugs. Or a nightmare vision of what people might look like genetically crossed with extra-terrestrials. The sound was equally strange and they won by, I think, the largest margin ever. I sat there and thought to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what Europe is all about.’
JL: You and your colleagues published a study in 2007 about the connections that surfaced when people started to vote. You examined that data and you crunched the numbers. What did you find?
NJ: We have to realize – before we mention about the votes – that some of these songs have titles as complex as things like “Boom Banger Bang” and “Ding Dinga Dong” and actually these were past winners!
So the actual kind of content of the songs is somehow kind of uniform gray. The way in which the voting occurs, we thought, would be showing something about attitudes towards the other countries. We took the votes and the number of points that each country gave to the others in the past. Greece and Cypress by far came out on top. But it's interesting that it's not just geographical because Turkey wasn't with them at all. So, they'll give points to each other but no steady stream of gifts or points to Turkey.
JL: So you saw that, diplomatic agreements aside, that some old enmities continue?
NJ: I think that's right. You've got to remember the voting is by the public. The voting is not by politicians. It's not by some touchy-feely ‘Wouldn't it be nice if we had an economic arrangement.’ This is the public voting on what they think.
JL: You mention that you got mail and you heard from people who didn't like being told that they were out of tune or just what your prognostications meant. We are now considering the question of the future of the European Union and I wonder if you think that the upcoming Eurovision contest will have anything to say about that? Or is it a sign that, despite concerns, Eurovision endures so will the EU?
NJ: I think now they're rapidly expanding into new countries – eastern countries. Where else is there a forum that can show, on the level of just public voting, what countries feel about other countries? And therefore indicate, maybe, where more cultural or even diplomatic efforts should be placed. There is a sense in which one could say, ‘Just abolish the European Parliament – just work it out in Eurovision,’ because I do think it really does kind of show the true colors of what's going on.