How Many Divisions Has RuPaul?

Americans don’t pay much attention to something called “Eurovision,” and I supposed we usually shouldn’t. It’s a kind of pan-European version of “American Idol,” in which musical acts chosen to represent every country in Europe stage overproduced performances of inoffensive and quickly forgotten pop anthems. While it’s a competition, it seems to be less about the singing than about an intra-European popularity contest, and it’s common for viewers to vote in national and regional blocs to put their candidate—the one who represents, say, Eastern Europe—into the finals. The whole thing is a bit of European cultural nonsense, without much significance.

Except that this year produced an especially strange result. The winner is a former member of an Austrian boy band, now competing in drag as a woman. With a beard.

The bearded ladyboy’s performance probably has to be seen to be believed, so you’d better just check it out.

The whole thing is obviously a joke. It’s certainly not about the quality of the singing, which is middling at best; the song is described as a fake Bond anthem, but Adele needn’t worry about the competition. This is a combination of drag queen and sideshow act, complete with the performer’s cheesy stage name, Conchita Wurst.

So it’s not so much that anyone really likes it—statistically, the number of people for whom this is an actual esthetic or sexual preference has got to be minuscule—but rather that they wanted to prove some kind of point about how tolerant they are.

In the current geopolitical environment, this is being portrayed as a poke in the eye for Vladimir Putin.

For the majority of Eurovision fans, Conchita deserved her crown because she offered living proof that when it comes to sex, anything goes. Transvestites, trans-genders, cross-dressers, gays – even heterosexuals are allowed to express their preferences in today’s Europe….

Putin has depicted the West as the decadent incubator of gays and lesbians: too much freedom and diversity have created a soft and libertine people to be pitied and despised. The honest folk of Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine must steer clear of Western influence, lest they become infected by its perversions.

With her Eurovision victory, the Bearded Lady from Austria unwittingly fired the opening salvo in this culture war. Putin thinks that Westerners will prove a push-over when it comes to defending sexual freedom. I’m not so sure.

I don’t think Putin is going to view this as any kind of challenge. He will no doubt see it as validation of his appeals to religious tradition and his rhetoric about Europe’s “LGBT” agenda. It’s a domestic propaganda victory he could not possibly have achieved on his own.

But that’s not the problem. Putin has created a fascist regime that is casting about for a supporting ideology. If Europeans don’t give him this, he’ll seize on something else to show how decadent they have become—as opposed to the high moral standards of the drunken louts he has unleashed on Eastern Ukraine. So there is no reason for Europe to suppress its cultural freedom to appease Putin, just as there is no reason to do so to appease radical Islamists, who will hate the West no matter what we do.

The problem is what this really confirms: Europe’s failure to stand up to Putin, substituting symbolic gestures for real action. Europeans aren’t sending weapons or troops to Kiev. They’re not doubling or tripling their totally inadequate defense budgets. Instead, they’re voting in a singing contest for a bearded guy in a dress. Fine, you’re tolerant, but to paraphrase Stalin (it’s a very loose paraphrase): how many divisions has RuPaul?

There is a kind of decadence behind this. The appeal of “Conchita” seems to be entirely a form of cultural negation, the fact that he/she overthrows the cultural standards of the past. But what is the alternative? Poland’s entry in Eurovision, for example, offered what seems to be an anthem about how great it is to be Slavic, featuring buxom blondes with long, braided hair in semi-traditional dress, performing what can only be described as erotic butter-churning. No, this is not a figure of speech or double entendre; they’re actually churning butter. This, also, has to be seen to be believed. But it is dull ethnic traditionalism enlivened by camp. It’s not the kind of ideal that can sustain European civilization.

That sums up the central problem of the European Union: It’s not clear what it stands for other than bureaucracy and political correctness, or what positive values it has to offer to the world. I’m not expecting anything so highbrow to spring from Eurovision, but Europe has a rich cultural legacy as the home of great ancient civilizations, of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, as the birthplace of capitalism and of the scientific and industrial revolutions. Yet they can’t summon the confidence to rediscover that legacy and embrace it, preferring to define themselves as a negation of their past—not just of their nationalist or fascist past, but of everything else.

That produces a cultural weakness and indecision which makes Europe vulnerable to challenges from much less enlightened, less progressive challengers. Eurovision is just a symptom of this, and so, in his own way, is Vladimir Putin.


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