Conchita’s Victory – why it’s significant
Being in Austria just as Conchita Wurst wins the Eurovision Song Contest throws up any number of issues. I didn’t watch – in fact, I have never watched a Euro-Vision song contest – but everyone living in Austria will have experienced from countless television and YouTube clips the euphoria of her victory.
Does it belong on this Blog? Does it indeed deserve a place next to an article about Ursula Mamlok? Well, in a strange way, yes. Mixed with the feel-good intoxication of her win there have been many voices saying that what Conchita Wurst represented was ‘abnormal’.
If one takes the true meaning of ‘Entartung’, a concept developed by the Zionist sociologist, philosopher and medical doctor Max Nordau in 1892, paradoxically ‘Aryanised’ by the Nazis, we discover that it does not mean ‘degenerate’ as so often translated, but ‘abnormal’. Indeed, it is a literal translation of ‘ab-normal’ (‘Aus der Art geschlagen’).
Certainly the anodyne number that was performed was not ‘abnormal’, but according to quite a few reactions, the performer was.
On a few occasions, I have commented on the parallels between Jewish and gay emancipation and assimilation. The processes lay more than a century apart, but the similarities are surprising. The official ‘legalisation’ and the singular fights through courts and parliaments for individual rights are nearly identical with Jewish plaintiffs having to force through changes from existing laws to comply with the constitution of 1867, so that they could legally marry whomever they wished, live where they wanted, go to university and enjoy protection from officially sanctioned anti-Semitism in the work place. During this process, more and more representatives of a once rejected minority become pathological high achievers. There are even the parallels of Jewish emancipation in Western Europe in the late 19th century being met with greater prejudice and ever more draconian and repressive measures in Russia as we see today with their recent anti-gay laws. Those who perceive their hold on power to be tenuous assert a monopolistic concept of ‘normality’ in contrast to what it calls ‘anti-social’. It mendaciously claims legitimacy by stirring up hatred and fear.
But reaction inevitably follows hard on the heels of reaction. Britain, once the most racist of imperialistic nations appears now wholesomely multi-cultural. And mirroring its draconian anti-gay laws in the 1980s, it is today one of the most gay-friendly countries anywhere – and officially at least, far more accepting than Austria which still maintains barriers to same-sex marriage and child-rearing.
But largely rural Austrian society is different from urban Britain. It can be desperately conformist and traditional: Priests bless the openings of motorways and super-markets with holy water and its stifling conformity has created its own deviations such as Fritzl and Přiklopil who locked up young girls in their cellars: The net curtains in Austria may twitch, but they apparently never snitch. On the other hand, such stifling conformity can create its own exuberance.
The grotesque caricature of ‘Brüno’ was deliberately cast as an Austrian by Sacha Baron Cohen – and indeed, this tiny Alpine republic has form when it comes to gayness, starting with Colonel Redl and carrying on with Jörg Haider. Going any further back is difficult to pull off with absolute certainty. For example, there is presently contained outrage in Vienna aimed at a local exhibition on Prince Eugene of Savoy. It seems exhibition curators have malevolently slammed him into a straight closet. We’re told by those who know, that he was both ‘out and proud’.
Historians now maintain that this would also have been the case with Maria Theresa’s father, the Emperor Charles VI (who brought his male partner with him from Barcelona – anticipating a development that would gain greater currency some 250 years later), along with her son, the ‘Enlightenment’ Emperor, Joseph II. And since we’re dealing with Austria, I won’t linger on Prussia’s Frederick the Great with his preference for homo-erotic garden sculpture in the palace from which all women were banned.
And moving into musical matters, it’s worth mentioning that the only thing more pervasive these days than the ‘Schubert was gay’ debate is the shrill reaction of ‘why does it matter?’ This reaction comes, by the way, nearly always from people to whom it matters a great deal. And of course, it matters for the same reasons that people like to point out that so-and-so was Jewish, proving that social outcasts often make the greatest contributions to society – and society should at least acknowledge this fact.
I couldn’t resist watching a late-night hastily flung-together ‘documentary’ on Tom Neuwirth AKA ‘Concitta Wurst’. It was a marvellous example of conformity and non-conformity jostling comfortably together. His parents could hardly be more typically Alpine-Austrian, yet both father and mother were adored and adoring. It must have always been so as his father proudly showed off snapshots of Tom as a boy ‘always dressing up as a girl’.
It proved that in this rural community, ‘conformity’ is to love and nurture your child. The familial love that produced Tom aka Conchita seems strangely Austrian. Just as ‘everyone in Carinthia knew’ that Jörg Haider was gay, but nobody bothered to think it ‘an issue’. Another fascinating and uniquely Austrian variant on this theme is the Carinthian painter Anton Kolig, family man and father of heaven knows how many children, yet specialised on highly erotic portrayals of young farm boys from local mountain villages. Nobody thought it remotely peculiar as he placed them in suggestive poses for photos that he later used as a basis for paintings. According to later interviews, he never ‘interfered’ with his models or indeed, showed the slightest personal interest. Hard to believe when one views his work, which has been compared to Schiele’s erotic portrayal of pubescent girls.
Conchita appears to be the continuation of the Austrian ability of accepting non-conformity by deciding that it’s just the way things are: he was a little boy who was more comfortable being a little girl. As they say: ‘Nah, und?’ After all, it isn’t normal to be left-handed, or to be able to curl your tongue, or raise eyebrows independently of one another, but it IS normal that such people exist as a natural deviation.
So where does Conchita’s victory place gays on the Jewish-emancipation-assimilation scale? Difficult to say, but just as the Dreyfus affair suddenly made even the most assimilated and integrated Jews realise that they were different, Conchita may offer a mirror that shows difference as something to be valued. Banning what the majority rejects as ‘abnormal’ leads to hateful conformity. And perhaps the most devastating conformity is that which is taken up by those who live in fear of constant rejection. Conchita suggests that it needn’t be that way.
Hidden underneath all the controversy about Concitta is a seriously brilliant musical talent.
I suspect in years to come we will witness the development of an artistic skill we haven’t heard for a long time. Jazz to punk and everything in between are within the technical and emotional range of this extraordinary person. So, next time you find yourself focusing on the drag and the beard close your eyes and just listen.
I think you’re right. This aspect has been overlooked and one or two comments I’ve read in the UK press dismiss Conchita as a singer altogether. I thought every note was spot-on in tune, the voice strong and attractive and the delivery passionate and communicated. The bearded Lady has real vocal charisma. Once she’s allowed – as either Conchita or Tom Neuwirth – to move down individual Musical paths, we may very well see an interesting new pop-Talent.
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