Torture of a different kind

by Kieran Healy on May 13, 2004

Remember to watch the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. If you have no idea what this is, you can read my primer on the subject from last year.

Update: Never let it be said that the tools of empirical social science are not abused on this website. I decided to see whether my prejudices about the geopolitics of the Eurovision were empirically confirmable. To this end, I dug up data on voting patterns in the Eurovision from 1975 to 1999. (From a B and B in Stirling, too. If only all social science data were this easily available.) Confining ourselves to a group of countries who competed during (almost) all these years, we can aggregate their voting scores into a directed graph representing their preferences for one another’s songs over the years. Given that Eurovision songs are (to a first approximation) uniformly worthless, we can assume that votes express a simple preference for one nation over another, uncomplicated by any aesthetic considerations. We then abuse the tools of network analysis to see how the voting patterns cluster. And to think Drezner got published in Slate for calculating a correlation coefficient.

cluster analysis

As we can see, the main counterintuitive result is that Ireland and the UK form a distinctive group by themselves. It seems that their more-or-less shared language makes for a common cause against the rest of Europe, 600 years of colonial oppression notwithstanding. Though now that I think of it, the oppression is the reason the languages are shared in the first place. Elsewhere, as expected, Norway and Sweden sit snugly alongside one another, although surprisingly Finland is not included. Similarly, the BeNeLux nations cluster together. France and Spain show some similarities also. On the fringes, Israel, Germany and Switzerland are left out in the cold.

It’s well known that unscrupulous researchers can manipulate data to their own ends. This is particularly true of graphical representations of network data, so we take full advantage of this here. The following figure shows the basic graph data, with the layout determined by the structural equivalence distances of the nodes, based on the Hamming metric.

seham

The main benefit of this approach here is that it allows the UK to be separated from Ireland and placed firmly on the periphery. The central European core remains evident, as does the Sweden/Norway love-fest and the relative isolation of Finland from its Scandinavian so-called neighbors. France and Germany emerge alongside Israel in this picture, which should make American hawks ask just who is calling the tune in the Middle East these days.

{ 18 comments }

1

harry 05.13.04 at 7:04 pm

OK, how do we watch on the internet and simultaneously get your greatest countryman’s commentary (without which the whole thing is pointless)? You seem to be in the UK, which means you can get it on terrestrail TV. But what about the rest of us?

2

yabonn 05.13.04 at 7:53 pm

The current whisper here being that, as the winner has to organize that expensive … erm thing, countries send their worst on purpose.

That would explain a lot, and of course all why we lose (france, three points!) so consistently.

Now. Which drinking games do you use? We here usually chose a nation and drink at every mention of it, but i heard of more elaborate rules.

3

daithimacmhaolmhuaidh 05.13.04 at 7:58 pm

The current whisper here being that, as the winner has to organize that expensive … erm thing, countries send their worst on purpose.

Ireland generally sends the worst we have to offer, but we went through a period of being unable to lose the damn thing for years at a time.

4

Barry 05.13.04 at 9:10 pm

Come on, isn’t this the competition which brought the blessings of ‘Abba’ to the world? Ahh, sweet memories…..

5

nick 05.13.04 at 11:22 pm

OK, how do we watch on the internet and simultaneously get your greatest countryman’s commentary (without which the whole thing is pointless)?

It looks as if the BBC website will give you the choice of having Mr Wogan or Mr Bruce streamed into your homes. (At least, they’d better.) So buy yourself another computer, hope that the time delays sync up, and you’re there…

Come on, isn’t this the competition which brought the blessings of ‘Abba’ to the world? Ahh, sweet memories…

But also responsible for Michael Flatley and ‘Riverdance’, for which the Irish hosts have been saying Hail Marys in contrition ever since. Oh, and Celine Dion, representing Switzerland in 1998.

Now. Which drinking games do you use?

Ones built around Wogan’s commentary and the ineptitude of the performers/presenters/interval act.

6

Nick B 05.13.04 at 11:43 pm

Ireland generally sends the worst we have to offer, but we went through a period of being unable to lose the damn thing for years at a time.

Which, of course, had a greater benefit for humanity in leading to the ‘My Lovely Horse’ episode of Father Ted.

I’ve got a post on Fistful of Euros about this as well (never let it be said that we ignore the really important European issues) and, as I noted there, while many countries really don’t want to stage it, others are desperate to win, having realised that it gives them the chance to spend three or more hours telling the rest of Europe how wonderful they are. Hence the general joy of Estonia, Latvia and Turkey at winning the last three contests. It was pointed out in the comments that Estonia appointed a Cabinet-level Minister to take charge of the Eurovision arrangements, it being the largest event they’ve ever staged.

7

djw 05.14.04 at 12:48 am

The impact of telephone polling has resulted in some interesting networks, and no small amount of organized telephone campaigns.
Watch in particular for the network Turkey-Germany-Spain. The large Turkish population in Germany, as well as the Teutonophile population in Turkey could well result in an exchange of first-place votes, and large numbers of portable-phone carrying German tourists in Spain may once again be organized to support the German entry, composed by the popular German television host Stefan Raab.

8

Jason Kuznicki 05.14.04 at 1:35 am

I recall reading somewhere a long time ago that if you took several hundred people from the United States and put them in a large room together with no directions, they would show a strong tendency to self-sort into a map of the United States. There would be some reversals, inconsistencies, and the like, but still the sort would be far too much to be coincidental. It might be worth looking into this if you wanted to take the question any further.

9

Barry 05.14.04 at 2:16 am

“But also responsible for Michael Flatley and ‘Riverdance’, for which the Irish hosts have been saying Hail Marys in contrition ever since. Oh, and Celine Dion, representing Switzerland in 1998.”

Posted by nick at May 13, 2004 11:22 PM

Hey – there were *seventeen* invasions of the Earth called off by aliens who didn’t want to even orbit a planet which riverdance infested. So Ireland has done it’s part to save humanity.

10

Dan Drezner 05.14.04 at 2:54 am

But it was such an interesting correlation coefficient…

Sniff.

11

John Quiggin 05.14.04 at 3:57 am

“Torture of a different kind”

What Eurovision does to the viewers or what you’ve done to the data ?

12

kew 05.14.04 at 4:43 am

Can’t help wondering what song the Iraqis or Bin Laden might enter:

“Waterloo”

13

Rod 05.14.04 at 1:31 pm

In the aftermath of last year’s ‘nul points’ debacle, there was a lot of discussion about the effect of UK support for the war. On reflection though, Gemini were just rubbish.

Apparently, this year one of the entrants (I forget which) will include live wolves on stage during their act. Surely this could be incorporated into a drinking game…

14

Nat Whilk 05.14.04 at 6:10 pm

“Can’t help wondering what song . . . Bin Laden might enter”

Mike Scott’s “Malediction“.

15

Dan 05.15.04 at 12:32 am

Jason, do you have a citation–or even a vague memory where that comes from? It doesn’t strike me as intuitively obvious…

I’d kind of expect, for example, the coasts to all bundle up together; for Austin to go hang out with San Francisco and New York and LA; and so on. I do agree that they would kind of casually cluster after a while

16

John Isbell 05.15.04 at 3:38 pm

I refuse to knock an event which brought us Israel’s “I Wanna Be A Polar Bear.”

17

WJ Phillips 05.16.04 at 12:57 pm

More hilariously rigged than ever: all the little Balkan states scratching each other’s backs, ditto Scandinavia, Germany giving Turkey max points, Greece-Cyprus, etc etc. Not to mention Britain buying its way into the final despite scoring zero last time.

In short, a true cartoon of all “Euro” institutions: side deals, corruption, tails wagging dogs with Andorra voting at the same strength as Germany (why not just count the actual televotes?), grandiose sentiments being expressed through bad, outdated pop art, rampant mediocrity and worse tarted up with glitz… and hollow laughter, indifference or disgust from the “electorate” at home.

At least Italy, the land of bel canto, has the taste to stay out of the Contest. How cross that must make Romano Prodi, the most headbanging federast of all.

18

rdb 05.16.04 at 2:39 pm

Given the rules of the drinking game, did Turkey choose to be punish members of the coalition of the willing by choosing a Leonard Nimoy lookalike as a presenter? Did Tom Baker’s Doctor Who have a big
Ukrainian following?

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