This year, Italy has sent Ermal Meta (of Albania descent) and Fabrizio Moro with a plea for peace that I find a bit…problematic. The song opens with references to the recent terror attacks that have happened in Nice, Paris, and London – including a particularly evocative line about blood in the sewers. And then it goes into the major chorus:
You haven’t done anything to me
You’ve taken nothing from me
This is my life, and it keeps going
Beyond everything, beyond people
You haven’t done anything to me
You haven’t won anything
Because there’s more than your pointless wars
Now, I get what they are trying to say – stiff upper lip and all that. It’s supposed to be a defiant cry about how these attacks can never stop us from enjoying our lives and underneath the skin we’re all just human beings but, boy, does it come out wrong.
I’m personally having an unexpectedly visceral recoil when I hear this song and this message, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my entire adult life in places that have been disproportionately impacted by terrorism. I was living in New York during 9/11, and spent Fridays after the attack helping displaced people apply for benefits like air filters. Then I moved to Washington DC, where I was evacuated from the U.S. Capitol when a plane violated its airspace, and quarantined in a garage with coworkers, waiting to find out if we needed to be decontaminated after ricin was detected in our building. (Hot tip: Always keep a granola bar in your purse for times like this.) And then I moved to London, which has been hit by three attacks in the past few years. Late last year, I was caught up in the active shooter panic that hit Oxford Street, and was trapped in a Primark for several hours, during which time all I could think was, “Is there anything more embarrassing than dying in a Primark?”
I don’t want this to sound like whining over inconvenience, especially because I’ve never been anything more than mildly put out as I live my life away from war or poverty or famine, but I also don’t think the nuance of ‘You’ve taken nothing from me,’ captures the experience of resilience in the face of terrorism.
Add onto that a layer of visuals that express distaste with (predominantly American) methods of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the song’s message just gets even muddier. Was the war in these two countries a mistake? Absolutely. But the wrong of terrorism can’t be equated to the wrong of war in these countries, and it’s not as if there’s a simple cause and effect between the two.
Although a Eurovision blog is not the place to be taking a deep dive into global geopolitics, I get angry at the overly simplistic message in the song here. Oh, you think we’re all human inside? That’s great, but it’s not going to change the mind of an extremist religious group that’s interested in the apocalypse.
And I think that’s what bothers me the most about Italy’s Eurovision entry: it’s at once too real for Eurovision, and not real enough to exist outside of Eurovision. It’s a bloodier version of the peace songs that have come before it; a graphic interpretation that boils down to the same old, ‘We’re all the same’ plea that we’ve heard from people like Boggie and Diana Gurtskyaha and Dorel Giurgiu endless times before. A ‘no politics’ rule doesn’t mean a ‘no complexity’ rule; there are ways to comment on political issues that capture nuance (I’m looking at you, France) and aren’t simply clunky statements like, ‘war is bad.’
In fact, the arena’s own policies belie the Italian entry – the incredibly comprehensive list of what can be taken into the arena are partially inspired by the possibility of copycat terror attacks (although that still doesn’t explain the restriction on shopping carts.) As much as we like to declare our common humanity, there’s still someone out there who would very much like to end the immoral decadence associated with Eurovision.
It would be childish of me to suggest that the bright and fun Eurovision bubble not be marred by anything dark happening in the outside world. That doesn’t reflect the reality of the way people experience life. But to mix the darkness of the world with a childish solution for addressing it? That’s what’s so galling about the entry. Eurovision was founded on the hope that singing songs would heal a continent marred by war; Italy has brought the war and none of the hope.