Black Mirror Politics

Paper by Keely Krasomil.

Introduction

Charlie Brooker’s ​Black Mirror ​is the ​Twilight​ ​Zone ​for the technological age​ ​(Morris). The show examines dark aspects of the modern world as it connects with people’s relationship to technology. Each episode occurs in the past, present or future and vary in style, tone and concepts. A 2013 episode titled, “The Waldo Moment” presents individuals fed up with politicians. The people favor a blunt and unqualified cartoon character with no filter. Ironically, this episode predicted the rise of Donald Trump, whose mannerisms highly resemble the cartoon character’s. Through close scene analysis and research,​ ​this paper will observe a significant scene that highlights this important political theme: the public is more amused by a buffoonish candidate that has nothing remarkable to offer but entertaining insults, populist frustration, and the claim that politicians will make no substantial change. Film elements such as setting, lighting, costumes and camerawork emphasize this theme by focusing on the characters and their reactions. Black Mirror touches upon how certain consequences will affect society, and this political theme is highly significant due to how closely related it is to our current society and political realm, especially with regards to the rise of Donald Trump.

Episode Summary

In this episode, a comedian named Jamie is struggling to gain satisfaction from his career as the voice and controller of a cartoon character named Waldo. Waldo is a rude and loud blue bear that interviews politicians. The interviewees are tricked into thinking the interviews are for a children’s television program, but they’re truly for a late night comedy show. Waldo is very popular with the public, and a pilot for his own show is ordered. Even though the character is successful, Jamie is depressed and unhappy. During a discussion for the Waldo pilot, Jack Napier, who owns Waldo’s rights, humorously suggests that Waldo should compete against politicians in a by-election so he can go against his past interviewee, Liam Monroe. Jamie hesitantly agrees and worries about doing politics. The production team goes on a campaign trail displaying Waldo on a screen on the side of a van. They arrive to Monroe’s campaign sight so Waldo can humiliate him in front of others. During this campaign, Jamie meets Gwendolyn Harris, one of the candidates who is entering in order to further her political career. They sleep together but she is warned by her manager to stay away from him during the campaign. Jamie becomes hurt by her avoidance and grows contempt for career politicians. In a significant scene, Jamie is irritated by Monroe’s effort to mock him in a hustings and develops a rant as Waldo against political artificiality and exposes Gwendolyn. The rant goes viral on YouTube and Waldo’s following increases while Gwendolyn’s campaign fastly delays.

Scene Analysis – Setting

The scene takes place in a lecture room of media students viewing the political candidates on a stage. The setting is established like a talk show, where a host asks the guests questions in front of a live audience. Jamie is controlling the movements and voice of Waldo in a dark room filled with screens. This specific setting gives meaning to this scene because it creates a space where public figures can state their opinions on a platform while the people listen and react. Strong lighting shines on the politicians and the audience, which signifies that both of their reactions play an important role in this scene. By observing the audience’s reaction, the viewer will comprehend which candidate they prefer, and in this case, it is primarily Waldo. Throughout the taping, the audience mostly reacts with laughter and amusement to Waldo while the politicians react to him with disdain and irritation. The setting gives Waldo the chance to shine, and he most certainly does.

Scene Analysis – Costumes

Monroe starts discussing drug usage, which according to him, is a criminal offence that is committed of one’s own free will and for pleasure. When he begins talking, the camera displays a wide shot of the candidates sitting beside one another in front of a fake background of London, with Waldo on the very end appearing bare. The other candidates are wearing basic business outfits but Waldo does not wear anything besides his own fur. Fashion is a strong statement of one’s identity. In film, details of clothing contribute to the viewer’s comprehension of the characters and the film’s general visual aesthetic. This scene does not have a strikingly beautiful aesthetic, but films do not have to be beautiful to have a close to perfect aesthetic (Coulter). The other candidates’ choices of clothing indicate that they are traditional politicians and Waldo is an unconventional candidate careless of what people think of him. Each character’s identity is reflected in the way they dress. Monroe, for example, appears masculine and dull, which is a strong indicator of his personality. He is basically the typical pretentious business man. Waldo’s personality contrasts with his appearance as a cartoon bear.​ ​He is shown farting and flashing his buttocks to the audience. His actions against the typical politician amuse people. People pay attention to him because he is entertaining and bring light to the conversation, unlike the boring and serious politicians he is competing against. Since people are sick of politicians, they highly admire him for being different and going against the status quo. Even though Waldo is not exactly an idealist, his actions can correlate with Jimmy Stewart in ​Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, i​ n which he attempts to triumph over corrupt insiders (Smoodin).

Scene Analysis – Lighting, Camerawork

After Monroe is done discussing drug usage, the host asks for Waldo’s opinion. Waldo asks Monroe if he is addicted and Monroe denies. Waldo asks, “Sorry I mean are you a dickhead?” The camera shows the audience laughing and Monroe clearly displeased, along with Gwendolyn sitting beside him looking uncomfortable. The character’s reactions are of chief importance because they build tension and dramatic contribution to the scene. There is a close up side angle of Monroe responding, “I think we have to ask ourselves: why do we waste our time with animated trivialities like him? I mean why?”​ ​The technology inside of the room where Jamie operates is able to capture people’s voices and repeat their statements. Waldo’s farts go along with Monroe’s repeated questions, “I mean why? I mean why? I mean why?” The camera pans the audience laughing hysterically. Monroe began speaking in the scene with nothing interesting to offer besides his perspective on drug usage. The audience does not react strongly to him. Their amused reaction to Waldo demonstrates that Waldo brings light to the serious conversation. This suggests that people are tired of hearing about serious political issues and do not care about them. Unless some controversy or scandalous act appears, then a majority of the younger crowd will not care.

Monroe begins to attack the personal character of Jamie, claiming that Jamie is afraid to engage and hides behind Waldo. Jamie’s frustrated reaction while operating Waldo is shown, with a a blue light shining on Jamie’s face. The color blue can be associated with sadness and melancholy. This could signify Jamie’s true character, who is a depressed individual unsatisfied with his own life. The blue light shining upon his face highlights how he really feels internally. As Monroe exposes Jamie, Jamie is silent and upset throughout most of his speech. A close up of Monroe displays his newfound power as he mocks Jamie. He states, “I think that this puppet’s inclusion on this panel debases the process of debate, and smothers any meaningful discussion of the issues. He has nothing to offer and he has nothing to say”. He insists Waldo to prove him wrong, and Waldo starts cussing. The audience laughs as the camera observes Monroe attempting to make another valid point about Jamie. Jamie, as Waldo, begins to fight back, and a wide shot is displayed of Waldo angrily attacking Monroe while the other candidates appear stiff and uncomfortable. In this moment, Jamie utilizes Waldo to voice his true opinions about politicians by attacking Monroe and Gwendolyn. The audience continues to laugh as Waldo uses swear words in his speech. He claims that no one takes Monroe seriously, which is why no one votes. Monroe’s face is blurred by the camera as he denies this and claims that the majority do vote. Waldo does make a strong political point stating to Monroe, “Something’s got to change. No one trusts you a lot because they know you don’t give a shit about anything outside your bubble.” Exposing corrupt behavior from politicians is the only remarkable action Waldo accomplishes as a candidate.

A medium shot of Gwendolyn’s reaction to Waldo demonstrates the subtext of how she feels about Jamie. A facial expression can highly determine a person’s feelings more than simple dialogue. Waldo claims that Monroe is sly and pretending, just like the other politicians. The audience is shown smiling, laughing, and clapping. He also claims that Gwendolyn is fake. Gwendolyn immediately becomes upset and agrees with Monroe, and Waldo forces her to tell the audience the real reason why she is campaigning. She does not answer him. This leads Jamie to reveal to the audience her real intentions, which is to build a showreel. He claims to the audience, “She actually gives less of a shit about anyone round here than he does because he’ll actually have to represent you”. This fierce dialogue between the characters in the scene portrays the character’s various viewpoints about politics and each other.​ ​Waldo offers an interesting perspective, but he does not offer anything effective to politics or society. His dialogue shows what he can only provide, which is direct insults and jabs. The politicians provide a perspective that reflects on society and current issues, but that conversation is hindered due to Waldo’s absurd behavior. Waldo proceeds the conversation by taking his head off, which entertains the audience. Gwendolyn and Monroe are shown sitting tensely with furious expressions. Another candidate attempts to get a word in but Waldo interrupts and thanks the audience while flipping off the camera. The audience is shown cheering and rooting for Waldo.

Waldo is not an individual that is supposed to have this much influence in the world, yet he does. People love him because he is entertaining and speaks to their disdain of politicians. It is what the public is most interested in, rather than hear about. A majority of the camera work in this scene consists of wide shots and close ups of the candidates, audience, Jamie and Waldo. Camera angles displaying reactions and responses is significant in a dramatic scene. It resembles a Real Housewives reunion, in which individuals are not doing much movement but react intensely to others’ claims and utilize their words to make strong statements. It is a very heated and dramatic scene, not only consisted of political debate but personal attacks. The scene highlights Waldo’s true image, which represents dissatisfaction with current politics. The audience is clearly amused by Waldo because of his comedic acts and ability to call out politicians for being inauthentic and corrupt, but the public can be easily manipulated into agreeing with an individual who abuses their power. This strongly indicates how current society is or how it will become in the future. Ironically, this episode predicted exactly how people will be manipulated in the age of Donald Trump.

The Rise of Donald Trump & Conclusion

One of the reasons ​Black Mirror ​feels prophetic is because some episodes were based on real individuals and political trends. Charlie Brooker stated that “The Waldo Moment” was inspired by his observations of a new type of British politician, which was a trend that eventually made its way to the United States with game-changing results (Holub).

Brooker said that there was a lot of anger in the U.K. during that time towards established politicians. In his perspective, they appeared like an alien species that no one could relate to. The politicians that began gaining traction were “cartoonish buffoons like Boris Johnson, who was sort of the proto-Trump…It felt like people just wanted authenticity, even if it was ugly authenticity, and that’s what that episode was about”​ ​(Holub).

The Question Time scene is highly relevant because it demonstrates the episode’s central theme: people’s fascination of authenticity from unqualified politicians. Waldo not standing for anything in the political realm opens him to the potential for a lot of nasty things to occur through him under the guise of populist mistrust and indifference. Waldo consistently mocks politicians for their dishonest behavior. Even though the politicians make valid points about Jamie’s character and intentions, it does not affect how the audience feels about Waldo. It goes to show that people will root for a figure who is honest and goes against the status quo.

Throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he was very controversial and mocked individuals, including a reporter with a disability, but this did not negatively affect his popularity. Although some people grew disdain towards him, there were a lot of people who favored him for his bluntness and fearlessness of voicing his opinion. Through this persona, he was able to gain a lot of power as a figure and politician.

Waldo and Trump gained a lot of support from people due to the public’s disconnection from the political establishment. Waldo became a mascot for populist rage. Trump has also tapped into this similar concept. Both characters are immensely different than any politician in the past, which attracts audiences. Even though their jokes are childish and rude, they still attract the audience. Individuals enjoy the concept of raw opinion and thinking outside of the box. Waldo’s intention from the start is to ridicule Monroe for being a stereotypical politician. Trump also accomplishes the same action by criticizing politics and the United States in general.

The political issue of individuals loving a buffoonish candidate is highly important because those types of candidates distract the public from what is truly occurring politically. The media has also detracted from genuine political issues and instead have focused on pointless gossip. Although multiple people have viewed “The Waldo Moment” as unrealistic, it is pellucid that these notions appearing in the episode are relevant today. Just like ​Paths of Glory,​ this episode concerns the morality of human beings (Burgess).​ ​The show also correlates with Oliver Stone’s storytelling in the sense that it depicts a sense of what the world is truly like. Just like Stone’s films depicting what the world was like in the middle of the twentieth century, this show depicts a sense of the world in the future and twenty-first century (Davis).

If the political system does not establish changes, then the world might start to appear quite similar to the last scene of the episode. During this last scene, Jamie appears homeless, attempting to destroy a screen that portrays a slideshow of Waldo. As Jamie attempts to hit the screen, two policemen hit him and bring him down. Ironically, although Jamie is trying to defeat Waldo, Waldo ultimately prevails. In the end, Jamie’s worst nightmare comes true: his creation gains everything and he is left with nothing. On the night of November 8, 2016, ​Black Mirror’s Twitter account stated, “This isn’t an episode. This isn’t marketing. This is reality” (Mirror).

Works Cited

Burgess , Jackson. “The ‘Anti-Militarism’ of Stanley Kubrick.” Film Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 1, 1964, pp. 4–11.
Coulter , Gerry. “Visual Story Telling And History As A Great Toy – The Lives Of Others.” Wide Screen, vol. 1, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1–9.
Davis, Jack E. “New Left, Revisionist, In-Your-Face History: Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July Experience.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, vol. 28, no. 4, 1998, pp. 6–17.
Holub , Christian. “’Black Mirror’ Creator Explains What a Trump Episode Would Look Like.” EW.com, 21 May. 2017.
Mirror, Black (blackmirror). “This isn’t an episode. This isn’t marketing. This is reality.” 8 November 2016, 8:28 PM. Tweet.
Morris, Brogan. “Black Mirror: The Unexpected Foresight of The Waldo Moment.” Den of Geek, 5 Jan. 2018.
Smoodin , Eric. “‘Compulsory’ Viewing for Every Citizen: Mr. Smith and the Rhetoric of Reception.” Cinema Journal, vol. 35, no. 2, 1996, pp. 3–23.

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