One year after he has won the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), the media hype around Austrian transvestite Thomas Neuwirth, aka Conchita Wurst, seems to be slowly petering out.
The writer of these lines frankly admits that he has never listened to Mr. Neuwirth-Wurst’s prize-winning song, nor compared it to other songs in last year’s competition. He is therefore prepared to accept that Tom-Conchita must be a very talented singer – otherwise he would never have won the contest, would he? After all, the ESC is about songs, not about exhibiting one’s normal, or less normal, “sexual orientation”, and we presume that it is always the best performer who gets the prize.
One year on, however, it appears that Tom-Conchita’s triumph at the ESC has not been, and is not likely to be, followed by further success stories. Two new singles were released in the first half of 2015: “You Are Unstoppable” rose to the 13th position in the Austrian and to the 67th position in the German charts – and in Belgium to position 129. “Firestorm” made it to place 45 in Tom-Conchita’s native Austria, but apparently was not listed anywhere else so far.
Even in Austria, where the wider public at first was delighted to see that a compatriot had won a prestigious international prize, there is nowadays an increasing sense of Conchita-fatigue. People are beginning to see Conchita as a sort of political protégé who is used as a figurehead for the social policies promoted by the Socialist-led Federal Government, the City Council of Vienna, and the national broadcasting corporation ORF. The problem is only that, given the population’s wide-spread dissatisfaction with, or outright antipathy against, the Federal Government and the Vienna City Council, the support and protection Tom-Conchita is receiving from that side is not really winning him a lot of sympathy. On the contrary, the fact that the city of Vienna has on the one hand poured many millions of Euro into the organization of events such as this year’s ESC, the controversial “Life Ball” (which pretends to be a charity for AIDS victims, but which in fact promotes the lifestyle that is conducive to the spread of the disease), and the installation of same-sex traffic lights, while on the other hand the public faces rapidly increasing prices for public services such as water, heating, or public transports, has prompted many citizens to wonder whether the politicians in charge of the Austrian capital have the right priorities. At the same time, there even are rumours that Austria’s leading bank, UniCredit, has lost many clients as a result of a PR campaign in which Conchita played a prominent role. The very name “Conchita Wurst”, combining a Spanish expression for the female with a German expression for the male sexual organ, raises some questions both with regard to the good taste and the intellectual standards of the man who has created it for himself – but what, if anything, does it say about a bank that uses it for its public relations? Will customers believe that their money is in good hands there?
In the ESC 2015, which took place in Vienna and was touted as the city’s biggest cultural event of the year, Tom-Conchita was allowed to play a role as conferencier – but the evening was spoiled for him when exactly at the moment where he performed his two new songs the ORF’s live-cast tuned out and instead brought a newsflash and some advertisements, prompting him to bitterly complain: “This was as if the transmission of a soccer final were interrupted exactly at the moment of the penalty shootout”.
However, the public saw enough of Tom-Conchita to observe that his appearance is less feminine than it used to be: apparently he nowadays spends less time and money on his make-up than he did one year ago. Is he getting bored with his role? After all, it must be quite tiresome…
In hindsight, one may with right ask the question what this hype was really all about. In the aftermath of last year’s ESC, mass media interpreted Conchita’s success as “the triumph of tolerance”. But what precisely does that mean? If tolerance is the willingness to peacefully and politely tolerate the manifestations of views and opinions one does not agree with, then Conchita Wurst can hardly be described as a role-model for tolerance – simply because it is not known whether there are any views he does not agree with. So it is apparently not Conchita Wurst’s tolerance that was considered worthy of praise, but the tolerance that our enlightened society extends towards figures like him. In other words, we have been padding on our own backs, saying: “oh look how tolerant we all are – we even let a transvestite win the ESC”. This certainly has made us feel good about ourselves – and maybe that was the main purpose of it all. But the question is, does this really do justice to Conchita? Is it really flattering to be tolerated rather than tolerant, i.e. to be the object rather than the subject of “tolerance”?
Thus it appears that Conchita Wurst is, in a metaphorical sense, the “ice bucket challenge” of contemporary music entertainment. We have listened to Conchita, we have clapped our hands and kept a straight face, we have exhibited our tolerance. We have been very brave, we all love ice buckets being poured over our heads, we really do. But now the hype is over, and let’s get back to business as usual…