Reflections From a Black Mirror: S2 E3 “The Waldo Moment”
Reflections From A Black Mirror
Black Mirror is one of the best shows on television.
It is unusually deep and powerful social criticism, sometimes it is so seamless (and contemporary) that its criticism can often be mistaken as a celebration of elements of the status quo (much like many of the fans of Starship Troopers love that movie for its call to fascism).
Many have compared Black Mirror to the Twilight Zone.
I guess that is fair but most Twilight Zone episodes operated in defense of the social order while I think of Black Mirror as an excoriation of our ethical status quo and a window into how technology has magnified our cultural hypocrisy and cruelty (I will admit that this might be unfair to the TZ).
Anyway, I am going to write some pieces, under this name ("reflections from a Black Mirror") on the episodes that most profoundly affect me (yes, I just started watching the new episodes - they are coming soon).
Unlike my other writing about television, I think this will probably end up more commentary than the usual recap.
My last "Reflection" was the episode "Be Right Back"
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The Waldo Moment
"The Waldo Moment" episode of Black Mirror first aired in 2013.
"The Waldo Moment" is about a comedian named Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby) who gets paid to provide the voice, wise-ass humor, and gyrations of an animated bear named Waldo. Jamie's producer (who owns the rights to Waldo) decides Waldo should join a local debate and put his paw into politics as a joke and Jamie reluctantly agrees.
At some point, it becomes obvious that this animated bear's absurdist and childish antics are extremely popular when directed at this group of local hopeful politicians. During a debate (depicted above), as a politician is mocking Waldo's participation, Jamie goes off on all of the politicians suggesting that they are all more fake than he (the person inside a blue animated bear). The video of the exchange goes viral and Waldo becomes a political player.
The Desire For Whatever "Authenticity" Is
President-elect Donald Trump is seen by his many followers as authentic. He is certainly seen as more authentic than Hillary Rodham Clinton in most polls, but what the hell does that mean?
Was he more honest than HRC?
Not even close, Mr. Trump stretched the truth over 70% of the time (according to Politifact who, during the entire campaign rated only 4% of what he said as "true" a much lower rate than HRC).
So what is this authenticity people respond to?
Could it be that world-renowned "great-temperament" that Mr. Trump has alluded to having?
I remember my Father talking about wanting to have a beer with George W. Bush more than he wanted to have a beer with John Kerry (seriously, this was a legitimate talking point in that election). I remember this being one of the things he said caused him to vote for Mr. Bush in the election of 2004.
Kerry, like Hillary, was not exactly a master of retail politics. And retail politics is probably easier for men born of privilege (like Donald Trump or George W. Bush). And, of course, there was a lot of sexism here (so many examples it is hard to even consider how to document them all).
Anyway, My guess is that people enjoy being around this kind of easy confidence.
George W. Bush radiated cocky confidence and if Donald J. Trump has ever done something wrong or lost at anything even once in his entire life you would not know or detect it from his constant swagger.
Of course, it is possible in all three cases (Waldo, Bush, and Trump) that this confidence covers up for immense insecurity (in Trump's case as in Waldo's this would account for the online bullying and the paper-thin skin when it comes to him being insulted.
And knowing this "swagger" gap, it seems to me, her campaign brain trust really let her down.
I often had the feeling in the last weeks that Hillary was being drowned out in her surrogates. When I stopped to think about it, I could remember what President Obama said at a rally, what Michelle Obama said at a rally, that Beyonce or The Boss performed, but I could not, often for the life of me, remember what Hillary said at those Rallys.
Take a few seconds and try to remember one of Hillary's speeches (aside from the concession speech) it is hard to remember the cadence or the words. And this is not gendered, I remember two Michelle Obama speeches almost word for word (Michelle Obama's speechwriter is IMHO the best in the business and she is an incredible public speaker). I would argue it was the Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton speeches at the conventions that sealed the deal for Obama in 2012.
And think about her surrogates themselves, Mr. Podesta comes across as anything but powerful and confident while Robby Mook put forth some of the worst election interview television performances I have ever seen in my life (go back and look, he has a very nervous and unnatural smile that resurfaces over and over again.
Meanwhile, the much less experienced but incredibly well-trained Trump surrogates never showed weakness, always smiled confidently at all times, never admitted to anything being a mistake, and always advanced the ball on offense (even when what they were saying was always batshit crazy).
It is sad to me that the three best moments of swagger for Hillary were yesterday's concession speech, the first debate with Mr. Trump, and her only moment of frustration at the original Benghazi hearing. I wish we had gotten to see a LOT more of this Hillary Clinton.
When Jamie Salter decides that he no longer wants to engage in what he sees as the unethical and unsavory arena of politics and tries to bring Waldo back from the abyss, the producer just fires him and takes over. It wasn't Jamie's unique voice for Waldo or Jamie's unique sense of humor that won the people over, it was just that he seemed to be a normal fella sending up stuck-up politicians.
And even sadder, sometimes I feel like Mr. Trump is playing both the Architect from the Matrix Reloaded as well as Neo himself. Trump just waves his arms and says, I will double growth, end ISIS, get the Mexicans to pay for a giant wall, and turn water into wine only with the force of his own personality.
People want saviors and people want those saviors to appear to have magical powers. Even Obama was often referred to as being somehow Post-Political (meaning back in 2008 that he was beyond racism). I remember friends of mine talking about him in the first campaign like he could heal the sick and the lepers with just a well-meaning glance.
This whole way we look to politicians as saviors and magical and respond to people's confidence and swagger more than competence is sad given that as much as I was never in love with her as a candidate, deep down, I think she would have gotten the most done of any modern Democratic President (she is a talented politician and understands how the sausage is made).
I guess I am saying that it is probably true that anyone could wear the Waldo suit (or pantsuit) but it would have been nice if someone inside the Clinton campaign had occasionally put the stale stump speech aside and worried more about connecting the passionate, defiant, and fiery Hillary Clinton to the American public. I suspect it would have made a lasting impression.
Mr. Trump was ultimately right, he did excite people more.
I don't know how many people wanted to have a beer with him, but a bunch of people really love to watch him "take a piss" out of the powers-that-be.
Vote or Die: Turd Sandwich and Giant Douche
Why was Waldo possible in our election?
I lovehow in CNN's post-mortems of election 2016 they never mention their own absurdist never-ending and almost always fact-free coverage of Donald Trump.
No offense, but when all of your "experts" are spin doctors, not subject area experts, all you will get is spin (watch Fareed Z's show on Sunday's and notice the difference in the quality of discussion).
Waldo getting coverage mattered more to the networks than who played Waldo. Trump being entertaining and controversial drove traffic and hence coverage. Instead of saying, should we be driving the Trump Train, CNN and other networks said more controversy equals more cash. In fact, it has been reported that Trump got over $2 Billion in free media just during the primaries.
Bill Maher is asking for better gatekeeping. I find this just as trying an idea as Trump asking for the media to be held to a higher level of legal responsibility (when it comes to reporting his misdeeds I suspect). I think the better answer is a network having the courage to not follow the same stupid and never informative push three so-called experts into a five minute window and force them to fight model that rules all news channels today.
What if, instead of finding people who are good at yelling at each other or non-stop spin you had actual meaningful disccusions of policy. How many times have you heard experts on the Iran nuclear deal, for instance, have an actual discussion about it. Are we really so shallow that we would rather have 100 fragments of "breaking news" explored in depths so shallow no brain could ever drown in information?
I have these kinds of discussions with people all the time (often with subject area experts).
I guess what bothers me most is the talking heads often bemoan how fact-free politics has become. Look at your show in the mirror, you talking heads, you and your networks are the cause of the problem.
Mentioning the issues or having idiotic screaming arguments about them does not make you "fact full."
If you actually did your jobs, and presented the public with deep and accurate information (instead of this never ending stream of bite-sized teasers served up as red meat) we might find out that we didn't really have a battle between a turd sandwich and a giant douche in the first place and we might be more willing and able to make informed choices.
We might, for instance, know that a bunch of chatter between aides isn't, by itself, proof of corruption.
It would be interesting to calculate how much total network time was spent at CNN on the actual content of the Wikileaks dumps.
It would be interesting to calculate how much time was spent reminding people the reason Julian Assange is hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy and investigating (instead of just repeating) his possible ties to Putin.
It would be interesting to calculate how much actual time was spent explaining why being friends with Russia over ISIS would likely force us to betray the vast majority of our current allies in the fight against ISIS or some of the history of what Putin has done to his people.
Or, we could get another twenty minutes of Jeffrey Lorde repeating, ad infinitim, his insulting and ahistorical explination of how the Democratic party is responsible for racism in America. Followed by ten minutes of Corey Lewindowski and Van Jones yellling at each other with whichever eager CNN stalwart gets to stand between them and egg them on.
Or if all else fails maybe we could have another full week of Malaysian airliner drama (with simulators and holograms).
Or maybe just a cartoon hologram of a bear named President Waldo J. Trump?
I could blame the election on low democratic turnout, the insane and self-destructive impulse of so many Bernie supporters to vote for a Green Candidate who might as well have been on the payroll of Mr. Trump who is a climate denier.
But none of that is possible without a truly uninformed electorate jacked up on member-berries.
I think the phrase is "you broke it, you bought it."
What did you think of "The Waldo Moment?"
Who do you think is most responsible for the election of President Trump?
What do you think "Authenticity" means in today's political environment?
Let me know what you think, leave a comment!