Pop For Skeptics #5: Judging Eurovision 2012 Entries by Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’ Criteria

“Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility — unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it — that goes by the cult name of ‘Camp.'”
– Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp

The 57th annual Eurovision Song Contest kicks off later this month, and it’s no a secret that a lot of participating nations aspire toward a little American coverage of their perennially campy offerings. But America’s always had a contentious relationship with camp. It’s unfortunate, really, that despite living in a nation where the president now openly endorses gay marriage — albeit with a few caveats — our cultural consciousness remains so camp-ophobic. We are, after all, the people who failed to give Mean Girls an Oscar, John Waters the big budgets of Jerry Bruckheimer, and B*witched a chance at a career here that spanned more than one single.

Perhaps that’s where Eurovision steps in as our forbidden fruit. It’s distant enough that American audiences needn’t feel debased by (or risk identifying with) the camp, but simultaneously, it satisfies our curiosity. It’s not that we have no appetite for camp — it’s that our pop consciousness needs to be tricked into appreciating it. (Hello there, Lady Gaga.) Eurovision, then, is a delightful, drawn-out yet comfortingly foreign opportunity to revel in camp.

On a recent night, I sat through a viewing of all 42 Eurovision 2012 entries. I did this because I wanted to spare you, loyal legion of pop skeptics, from having to endure the seemingly endless parade of low-rent Céline Dion and Julio Iglesias clones that many nations are putting forth this year. There are only a handful of Eurovision entries that espouse the je ne sais quoi of camp so ferociously that they would make Sontag herself go, “Oh, hey girl!” and, as result, possess the potential to become novelty hits in America — a land where non-English songs can only wreak havoc on the Top 40 if they’re curiosities, past precedents including “99 Luftballons” or “The Ketchup Song.” With respect for (and, OK, apologies to) Notes on Camp, I’ve paired eight encouragingly campy Eurovision anthems with the Sontag tenet each embodies.


Valentina Monetta — “The Facebook Song”/”The Social Network Song”
In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails.

There is a rule in Eurovision that your lyrics can’t endorse any brands — so for the purposes of the competition, San Marino re-worked its entry as “The Social Network Song.” That failure, combined with a lack of self-awareness, makes Monetta a prime example of Sontag’s description: This is seriousness that fails. You can’t fashion a pop song about the virtues of social media and perform it with a straight face — to do so would be ridiculous. I mean, we’ll just call it here: Monetta gets the Ring Pop-studded tiara for Campiest Eurovision Anthem.