Three weeks ago the world’s biggest celebrities appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; dressed in layer upon layer of fragile lace finely detailed with florals, covering the ground they walk on, as if they walk a little bit lighter than everyone else. This year’s theme: “Garden of time“, encapsulates the god-like status celebrities are given, and enhances that they in fact are nothing like us. The meaning of “Garden of Time” is to re-awaken fashion, thus referencing that re-awakening of the sleeping beauty. According to Vogue, this was interpreted as a celebration of fashion so fragile that it cannot be worn again. It stems from the author Ballard’s “Garden of Time”, a novel representing dystopian modernity, painting a picture of fleeting beauty. Arguably, this year’s theme is almost mockingly ironic, seeing as the MET Gala seems to be completely disconnected with contemporary events, although portraying a theme that supposedly represents the constant change of time. This theme was blatantly amplified by the fact that the world looks significantly different compared to last year, something that not only caused controversies in entertainment such as the MET Gala. Eurovision 2024, which may just go down as the most chaotic one in history, has highlighted the stark contrast between the MET Gala’s flagrant extravagance and the current world state. A Swedish journalist wrote that this year’s Eurovision developed into an opinion poll about the Swedish stance on the war in Gaza. To a certain extent I would agree with her, nonetheless, perhaps more than an opinion poll it reflects a stance on social activism and how much we allow ourselves to turn an eye away from the world scene.

Eurovision in its nature is supposed to be “apolitical”, as reflected in this year’s slogan: “united by music”. But the last ten years tell a different story, with countries voting strategically to maintain diplomatic relations, the booing of certain acts, the banning of Russia in 2022 and Ukraine’s following victory. The founding pillar of democracy is the opinion of the people- inherently, politics is controlled by the people. In a similar vein, music is after all subjective, so how can a music competition between states, where the people choose the winner, in any sense be apolitical? This year Eurovision defended the claim that they have been, are and will remain apolitical, but in their decision to do so the contest was more politicized than ever. Calling Eurovision’s decision to not exclude Israel, and the MET Gala’s continuous excess of couture ignorant would be naïve. Eurovision rather became the symbol for trying to maintain a facade, an attempt to show that some things can and are allowed to remain the same despite the world’s ever-evolving state, even more so demonstrated in the MET Gala. Eurovision even started the entire show through a flashback to past winners; ABBA, Loreen, Duncan Lawrence, Måneskin, etc… Nonetheless, this facade was instantly ripped apart in the first act, when Eric Saade, the Swedish representative in 2011, tied a Keffiyeh in support of Palestine around his wrist whilst performing his act from 13 years ago, although forbidden by the EBU.  It was seemingly impossible to avoid the elephant in the room. It seems to be that the bigger the disparity, the more we seek avoidance: the more we cannot avoid it.

As Beyoncé opened her world-tour in Stockholm last year, the newspaper my family and I rigorously follow every day was flooded with articles about this phenomenon, and what it meant for little Sweden. Not long after, Taylor Swift announced that she would dedicate three of her concerts during her world-tour to Stockholm. This led to articles covering deeply rooted analyses of the effects these world-wide celebrities would have on a supposedly insignificant country who takes deep pride in being the birth-place of “Dancing Queen”. One article specifically stuck with me. Instead of being categorized in the blue culture section, the top part of this article glowed in green; economics. It explained how in times of economic recession and crisis, artists tend to release more upbeat pop-music. As opposed to the 1990s, which was infused with slow songs and ballads, the first years of the 2020s have been characterized by upbeat, lighter pop-music, such as Beyonce’s country album, or Taylor Swift’s “midnights”. Why? The answer is simple: people want to be distracted, they want to dance. Just like Eurovision did when taking a trip down memory lane; it gives us this euphoric-like feeling significantly distant from the real world. On one side of the coin, the ability to give a blank eye, to be so distant from a conflict that you can afford to not care, is an incredible privilege. But if you flip the coin, having the space and ability to care is equally privileged, a privilege that should be used. The god-like celebrities at the MET-Gala, and the platform provided by Eurovision arguably demonstrates an opportunity to use a privileged position to make a difference, and shed light on a contemporary discussion. However, instead, it encapsulates the distraction we all seek, and acts as a friendly reminder that we are those benefiting from a cruel division of the world.

In the name of being apolitical, and providing yet another space for distractions; Mark Zuckerberg recently hopped on the same train as Eurovision and the MET-Gala through introducing a setting limiting our political content on Instagram. On some phones it’s an opt-out setting, meaning that you actively have to choose to deactivate the setting. This raises the question of what is political or not. If Eurovision’s attempt to be apolitical only politicized it more, and the MET Gala’s silent, detached worldview only amplified the consumerism and capitalism it represents, how can something ever avoid being politicized? It seems to be that silence only makes some voices stronger. The more important political content seems to become, the less room is given to it. As regards to instagram, it questions what type of content will be excluded and what not. To quote Zuckerberg: “one of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over our services”. The notion of “community” not only excludes the big part of instagram users who use the media as a political content, but also portrays how Instagram seems to act as a further distraction. Through limiting its “politics and fighting”, it creates a platform that allows and prompts for celebrities and influencers to remain neutral and “apolitical”. META, formerly the “Facebook company”, who owns Instagram, defends their upgrade with the fact that they want to make Instagram a great experience for everyone. When hearing this, I cannot help but to be reminded of the article I read last summer, and of the escape people seek in pop- and dance music. Instagram has become another forum where we seek escape whose purpose, much like pop music, is to distract and make us feel better. How do you create a great experience for everyone? By excluding anything that does not increase your dopamine levels, and anything that might make you feel anything other than a slight taste of euphoria? Anything that creates dissenting opinions shall be removed, leaving us only with so-called “apolitical content”.

I do not believe that everything has to be political, or that everything is political. To some extent, making everything a political symbol can be dangerous and polarizing. Most of all, you cannot expect everyone to be informed on everything. It is tiring, and frankly not possible. When our media gives us the opposite of what we want, it is only natural that we seek distractions, that we want something easy to digest. As someone who has not missed a single Eurovision since 2011, I was torn on whether the decision to boycott was really the right one. Of course this was colored by a deep bias and disbelief that one of my childhood favorite events, that seemed to be so uniting, suddenly became such a controversy. One part of me wondered if boycotting the show only contributed to politicizing it even more, and contributed to an all the more polarizing world? Is that not something we should resist? When Joost Klein was disqualified, the reasons disseminated on TikTok diametrically opposed what most Swedish news agencies were portraying. According to TikTok, Joost Klein’s reaction to the Israeli competitor at the press conference two days prior and his disqualification could not merely be a coincidence, while the Swedish news repeatedly emphasized that Joost was under police investigation for unlawful threats. When I told my mom about the information I gained from TikTok, she kept on repeating the same questions: where did you hear that? What is your source? If I were to watch Eurovision, could that not indirectly be a statement of resistance to polarizing facts? Proof that I do not believe everything I hear on social media but in the “neutral” third power, the mass media. Maybe Zuckerberg’s decision to limit political content falls in the same argumentation. Through limiting political content Instagram arguably becomes more “neutral”. Nonetheless, with the same reasoning, the line becomes dangerously fine between neutrality and censorship. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that Eurovision had already made the decision for me. Including Israel, yet disqualifying Joost Klein hours before the final is in itself a polarizing action, and ignoring it would merely be a justification for me to hold on to something that perhaps no longer exists. In a different world, Eurovision may have been apolitical, but just like Instagram, the attempt to do so now only feels inappropriate.

To motivate myself to get through this article, I have solely resorted to listening to pop and party music. Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti” is on repeat, mixed with Dasha’s “Austin“, Swedish so called “EPA-tractor-music”, and some childhood Eurovision favorites. It seems to be that the reminiscence of nights out is the only thing that gets me through writing this. A counterbalance. A throwback acting as a distraction. Recently I was introduced to the theory that our generation, Gen Z, is the generation with no future hope. In older generations, the mindset has always been that in the future everything will be better. As suggested in Miguel Benasayag and Gerard Shmit’s book, “L’epoca delle Passioni Tristi’, 40 years ago we thought that sooner or later we will cure cancer. Today, the view on the future is less bright. When the future is uncertain, which it is now more than ever, people tend to look back to “better days”. When there is a lack of future hope, we want to restore the world as it was. Eurovision remains apolitical, as it always has and always will be, because that is what it used to be. Perhaps the MET gala’s theme was more relevant than the organizers could have ever guessed. In his novel Ballard writes that “holding onto (beauty) is like trying to keep every grain of a fistful of sand intact in your palm”. The MET gala’s theme of wearing fashion so fragile that it cannot be worn again holds on to the excessive consumerism and glamor from pre-covid times, that is in the contemporary times no longer relevant. Remaining apolitical may simply be a way to pause time. As we all know, the world was not a better place back in the days, and going back in time, or even trying to pause it, is in fact impossible.

By Fanny Thiel

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