It is still early evening, and the nation, wearing its finest, radiates with anticipation and joy. The clock in the room strikes loudly seven times, and people noisily attempt to quiet each other down. Then, as the clock concludes its countdown, all sit down as one, champagne in hand. All of course, except for the youngest, who are already vibrating in their seats with excitement. Finally, the moment has arrived. But what is the nation celebrating; the birth of a saviour or the coming of yet another year? No, better still. It is Eurovision night.
In this country, Eurovision is numbered among the major events. People gather together after many weeks of prayer and preparation in so called Eurovision parties, and nobody can be counted among those that matter unless they are hosting, or at least invited to, one of these.
As the performance begins people hold their breaths and out on the streets not a straggler is to be seen, save for a lonely leaf blowing in the breeze past a solitary tourist lost in a desolate city. The moment the show is over, however, Ghost Town metamorphoses into Party Town. The solitary tourist becomes joyful once more as cars run the hapless leaf down and the city explodes with overdressed locals drowning their sorrows after yet another failed attempt to win the respect of the world through success in Eurovision.
The reason for this is embedded deep in the national consciousness of this ancient Viking culture. Every year Icelanders think of their contribution as being most likely to win, and to prove this they quote examples from polls and comments from foreign reporters who always seem to predict an Icelandic victory. For some reason, we never get to see these polls or reporters directly, relying instead on indirect quotes from faceless prophets.
Iceland first participated in Eurovision in 1986 when three spectacular songbirds sang about the “Joy Bank” wearing glimmer bedecked jogging suits and glow in the dark headbands on their sweaty foreheads to complement the look (Editors note: This was the 80´s, you were supposed to look like that).
It was not just the banks that were joyful in those days, the nation as a whole seemed more optimistic than at any time since the foundation of the Republic. People seemed so assured of victory that it hardly seemed necessary to send the contestants to Oslo. But the rest of Europe did not seem as attuned to glimmer and gladness, for the steamroller stalled in 16th place. Somewhat less optimistically, but still with a great deal of enthusiasm, an entry was sent out the following year, but alas, once again stalled at 16, as it did the year after that. All hopes were then finally, brutally crushed in 1989, when Iceland wound up in last place, with not a single point to its name. Still the nation that survived famine, plague and oppression for 700 years weathered the storm, and every year hope was rekindled in our hearts as the media yet again started predicting assured victory, contestants were elevated to the status of national heroes, and some people suggested they be inducted to the Order of the Falcon by the President. Until, of course, they lost. And in Eurovision, as elsewhere, it seems everyone who isn’t a winner is a loser.
This one night a year the nation experiences a communal spirit in front of the tube, and 290.000 hearts beat out tune of the national anthem out of sheer patriotism. The few pariahs who dared to critize the competition for corniness or just general silliness still find themselves glued to the screen and holding their breath as points are counted.
I belong to that sizeable minority which says every year that they are not going to watch it and it would be for the best if Iceland got no points at all since we never win anyway. Nonetheless, whenever I hope no one is noticing I frequently find myself watching and feeling that pang of pride when they play “our” song. Then, when the points start rolling in I quickly come out of the closet, jump to my feet and do a tribal rain dance on those rare occasions when we get points. When we don’t get them, I wholeheartedly support the Icelandic announcer who threatens a trade ban on those countries who ignored us, until I find myself having made a vow to only buy products from Estonia and the Republic of Malta.
Sadly, at the end of the night it transpires that Iceland has lost yet again. As the announcer bids goodnight the blue glow from the screen fades along with the country’s hopes for victory in Eurovision. Disappointed and shocked, the nation as one reaches for the hard stuff as the moment of truth has passed and the time for oblivion is at hand.
But who knows what will happen next year…