Watching the Eurovision Song Contest on my computer yesterday in the middle of a sunny afternoon in New Hampshire was odd. It’s the kind of live event for which people in Amsterdam and all over Europe have parties, or gather in bars to drink and scream at the television. It’s the most kitsch, gayest, pop-culture must-see TV of the year. And an audience of some 180 million people in 45 countries watched as a torch-singing bearded drag artist from Austria took home the coveted prize.
Here in the USA most people have never heard of Eurovision, or think it’s a brand of eyeglasses. And it’s hard to explain. “Like American Idol?” they ask. Um, no. I tell them it launched the careers of Abba and Celine Dion. “Like America’s Got Talent?” Nope. I try to make clear national pride is at stake, with a geopolitical element in the voting that runs parallel to the music competition. Their eyes glaze over in confusion. Not for the first time in almost thirty years of living abroad, I feel more than a little European.
Amsterdam turned gay overnight. That’s what happened in 1998 when 250,000 gay and lesbian athletes and fans descended on a city with a population of only 720,000 in one fell swoop. Not only was it the first time the Gay Games were held outside North America, Amsterdam was the smallest city thus far to host the Games. So for eight days packed with countless events the European capital was clearly, and never more visibly, the Gay Capital of the World. It was unprecedented in every way.
A week before Kris van der Veen was arrested in Russia, on suspicion of “promoting gay propaganda” to minors, he was reading about Ivan Dusak, or Ivan the Fool. A popular figure in Russian folklore dating back to the 16th century, Ivan is the youngest of three brothers who set out to seek their fortunes. Fairest of hair and bluest of eyes, Ivan is seen as simpleminded by his greed-driven siblings. But he follows his heart – always eager to help others, even if it puts himself at risk. Ivan’s naïve derring-do vanquishes the dastardly deeds of villains and wins the happily-ever-after love of princesses. Not such a fool after all. Kris van der Veen would be perfect casting.
I must admit to a weakness for Reality TV. Not the manipulated “real life” genre usually traced back to Big Brother, which was first broadcast in 1999 on Dutch television. Not the survivors, the amazing races, the housewives, or the shores that followed. The chink in my cultural armor is for programs where contestants battle to be crowned best singer or dancer, most creative cook or savvy apprentice. And I blame it on the immortal question, “Do YOU want to be Queen for a day?”
What a kerfuffle! A few days ago a story twittered through Blogville, most notably via HuffPost Gay Voices, about Philadelphia drag artist Martha Graham Cracker. She’d been invited by someone at a nearby New Jersey after-school program to delight the kids with stories by Dr. Seuss on his birthday, in celebration of Read Across America. But in a blink of the Grinch’s eye, the invitation was ever so rudely rescinded. Day-care officials deemed Miss Graham Cracker “inappropriate” to read for their children.