There's nothing new about bearded ladies. They had them in the freak shows that worked the roads long before there was a Europe or television. Not that I've got a problem with Conchita Wurst--he seems an admirable young lady, and anyway, who wouldn't be on the side of the freaks in a world run by the likes of Vladimir Putin?
But to listen to some of the commentary on his victory in the Eurovision Song Contest you'd think it was a sign of some great social upheaval. As if no one had ever done anything outrageously camp at Eurovision before.
All Conchita's done is put the bearded lady right back where she always was. What is Eurovision but a successor of the old carnivals and freak shows, where anarchy and disorder were kept safely contained? You could get your cheap thrill staring at the weird and different, and still sleep easy in your bed at night.
But the way people are reacting to Conchita Wurst, it's like somebody left the stage door open and...something got out.
Perhaps old Nietzsche was right: gaze too long at the bearded lady and she'll gaze right back at you. Part of the attraction of the freak shows was always that the freaks stared back. Who was looking out and who was looking in? Maybe the reason Conchita's got everyone so excited is she's got them asking who the real freaks are.
Is it the bearded man in the dress or the fleshless men in frameless spectacles who cram onto the Tube every day and stare at their cold reflections in the windows, wondering how long it is since their hopes and dreams died?
After all, if you want to see something really twisted then you need look no further than Vladimir Putin, a man so determined to prove his manliness that only a war will do. All those bare-chested photos of him wrestling alligators and taming tigers weren't quite enough. Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town, and you're just in time for World War III!
But it doesn't stop at Putin, not by a long way. All the world's a stage, and we all play our part. The grotesque is never far away.
People starve to death in a world where chefs are millionaire celebrities. Our hearts bleed for the victims of Boko Haram and the Taliban--until they want to come here, that is, then we stand by while the Border Agency patrols round them up, because there simply isn't room for everyone, you know.
A soldier points a gun at the head of a child and people cheer, and we're worried what Jeremy Clarkson mumbled in a out-take.
The global financial system's based on make-believe. Half the money doesn't exist, and if you stop believing, it will vanish--but don't worry, have you seen the rise in house prices round here?
Once you've got the mortgage and the credit card you can't afford to question it. That's how Mephistopheles makes his deals these days: souls are going cheap. One day you look up and catch your reflection in the window of the Tube carriage, and you're one of the lost.
We're the freak show alright, and the real monsters wear suits and ties, and shave perfectly.
Justin Huggler's novel, The Burden of the Desert, a thriller set in occupied Iraq, is available from all good bookshops.