Warning: Spoilers for Black Mirror’s The Waldo Moment
I have been a stranger to the tv-drama series Black Mirror until recently, and now I can’t stop watching. One episode I recently watched, in particular, got me thinking on the state of politics, one that stars a lewd, crude, blued bear, and follows how he almost won an English parliamentary election. In season two’s final episode, The Waldo Moment, this delightful, titular character demonstrates another aspect of the worldwide political spectacle, a concept I discussed in a previous column: the desire for authenticity, or at least its appearance.
The episode follows comedian Jamie, who voices and puppeteers the blue cartoon bear named Waldo, who interviews political figures to mock them. After lodging a complaint from Conservative party candidate Liam Monroe, the network decides they want a Waldo show, which ends up being Vote Waldo, where the bear is entered into the campaign. Waldo is projected onto a van where Jamie and the network follow Monroe to harass him.
Jamie meets the Labor party candidate Gwendolyn Harris, a newcomer to the political realm that acknowledges at the beginning of the episode while being vetted that she has no chance of winning, who develops a relationship with the comedian and they eventually sleep together. While door-knocking, Gwendolyn’s advisor tells her to stay away from Jamie fearing the damage to her reputation, and when she breaks the news, Jamie takes it personally.
Monroe, Gwendolyn, and Waldo all are asked to be a part of a televised question session, which is where the bear/Jamie truly get at the heart of the episode. Monroe in response to the bear’s antics, begins attacking Jamie personally, exposing his failed professional history and personally attacking him. The response demonstrates my point so well, that I feel it should be included in its entirety:
“You’re a joke. You look less human than I am and I’m a made-up bear with a turquoise c**k.
Who are you? You’re just an old attitude with new hair. Assuming you’re my superior because I’m not taking you seriously. No one takes you seriously and that’s why no one votes.
It’s bulls**t. You think you deserve respect. Because you went to public school and grew up thinking you’re entitled to everything. Something’s got to change. No one trusts you lot because they know you don’t give a s**t about anything outside your bubble.
What about your mate Gladwell, the kiddie flasher? You knew him for 20 years; did you not know what he was like? Yeah, because you’re all just front like him. Sly and pretending and in that way you’re all the same.”
Then the host asks Gwendolyn a question to which Waldo responds:
“Oh shut up, you’re worse. Seriously, she’s as fake as him. Why are you here? Tell them why you are here.
She’s here to build a showreel. I’m not kidding, that’s literally it. She knows she’s not going to win. This is all just experience to get on tele. She actually gives less of a s**t about anyone around here than she does because he’ll actually have to represent you. Am I wrong?
A career politician, someone else less real than me…”
The irony is that even Waldo becomes just another fake person prancing about the political sphere as Jamie eventually loses the character when he tries to encourage his fans to vote for the actual politician’s, fearing he got too deep into the spectacle. His employer replaces Jamie with his producer and he finishes the election to ride the wave of his popularity. But what Waldo and Black Mirror exposed was that the voting public craves authenticity even if it only appears as more authentic than other options.
The Conservative Monroe was another rehearsed man of the people doing the same song and dance without enacting much change. Gwendolyn likewise was only a child beginning to craft this same image. Waldo, on the other hand, appeared to be a voice of truth with a foul mouth and a taste for jokes relatable to people, and filling their need for an authentic appearing candidate.
It’s a trick that is not new, as Sacha Baron Cohen would perform an alike stunt when he would assume the character of Ali G to interview politicians. Through Cohen’s clownery, he would often make public officials give a peek behind the mask of the political spectacle at the time and reveal their true character. Again though, it’s an ironic situation, for Ali G is a character and not Cohen’s true self, but he still appears more authentic.
Authenticity is perhaps one of the biggest factors in why the political spectacle seems to be shifting internationally. A man who had an affair with a schoolteacher many years his elder is more relatable than a personification of the “two kids and a house” dream permeating the 20th century because he has a flaw like the people. A man who frequently said racist and sexist things and seemed to glorify dictators and murderous military men was more relatable because he didn’t try to particularly craft his speech, and he acted angry like everyone else.
With this shifting spectacle, people might be more inclined to relate to a cursing, phallic presenting bear because as Waldo said: “You look less human than I am.” They believe authentic people act more like cartoon characters: unrehearsed, apathetic to public opinion (or, again, at least the appearance of it), and with a certain openness to their dramas and flaws.
Waldo fits all of these descriptors. He had no platform or plan should he have actually won, but because he appeared more authentic to the people, he was shy of 3,000 votes from victory. It was this appearance that I believe led to the dystopian future ending of the episode where Waldo is plastered on airplanes and television with words like “hope” and “change” alongside him. The warning was clear: the spectacle never really ends, but has “The Waldo Moment” and morphs into something else to begin anew.
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