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Fri Nov 12, 2021, 10:14 AM

Our Waldo Moment (1 of 2)

These past couple of weeks, I've been watching the television series Black Mirror for the first time. So far I've made it through the first three seasons.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show's concept (as I was, until recently), Black Mirror is an anthology-styled show, with each episode essentially serving as a mini-movie.

There's a strong science fiction element to the show, with the overall theme centering on the human condition balanced against new advancements in technology. Episodes take place from anywhere from present day through certain unspecified times in the future.

And they are--on the whole--dystopic and rather emotionally taxing to watch. (Which is why I limited myself to one episode a day.) With one notable exception ("San Junipero," which is uncharacteristically sweet and heartfelt), episodes range from resembling unsettling fever dreams to, in at least one case for "White Bear," outright horrific nightmares. (Seriously though, "White Bear" has to be perhaps the most abjectly terrifying single hour of television I've ever seen, on multiple different levels.)

Of course, the benefit of binging a series that's already been around for a few years is that--so long as you can avoid spoilers--you can get a feel for the reception of the episodes. And as I moved through the series and read various fan comments, there seemed to be a certain consensus on which episode most fans considered to be the weakest of the offerings.

It was the 2013 episode "The Waldo Moment" from the second season.

With this sort of anti-hype preceding it, I naturally approached "The Waldo Moment" with rather low expectations. And honestly, I was rather glad to do so; "The Waldo Moment" immediately follows "White Bear," and after suffering low level PTSD from that episode, I figured it would be a moment of relative levity in comparison.

However, ironically it was "The Waldo Moment" that ultimately unsettled me more than any other episode of Black Mirror.

The thing is, I can understand how by 2013 standards "The Waldo Moment" might be considered a disappointment. It didn't rely heavily on new technology like many of the other episodes did. And its characters, including its lead, aren't very sympathetic.

However, what made "The Waldo Moment" stand out was ultimately how prophetic it would be several years down the road.

The basis for the "The Waldo Moment" is this (Warning: some spoilers ahead for those who might bother to care)

"Waldo" is a cartoon bear (voiced by the episode's lead character) featured in a segment in a British comedy sketch show. His humor is rather basic and vulgar, typically lodged against politicians and other public figures. However, he's well-received and the show's producers consider giving Waldo a show of his own. And to build publicity for the new Waldo show, the producers come up with a rather unorthodox idea: Have Waldo enter the race for a local parliamentary election, where he could troll (via a video and sound truck) the candidates with his insults.

Initially, the main target of Waldo's insults is the stiff, humorless Tory candidate (the favorite in the race.) However, after the voice actor has a brief romantic fling with the underdog Labour candidate but then is subsequently rebuffed by her, Waldo turns his ire towards her as well.

Of course, at first nobody expects Waldo to win, but the public begins to be won over by Waldo's anti-political, anti-establishment and overall cynical and nihilistic take on politics and government. His "humor" is not actually funny, but rather simply a collection of dick and fart jokes shouted over the tops of the voices of the other candidates, essentially drowning out legitimate discussion and discourse.

Soon, a considerable public movement grows behind Waldo, who view the acerbic Waldo as a refreshing alternative to tired politics as usual. Eventually, even his voice actor grows disillusioned by his character and he starts telling the public not to vote for Waldo, but it's too late; the producers strip him of his voice and commandeer Waldo for themselves, whose instructions to the public grow concerningly more violent and destructive in nature. And while the dystopic nature of the show doesn't really reveal itself until the post-credits scene, the entire episode seems to revel in cynicism and crude anti-humor, and the public's willingness to buy into that type message.

(Continued below; got 403 error and couldn't post entire message in one post)

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Reply Our Waldo Moment (1 of 2) (Original post)
Tommy Carcetti Nov 12 OP
Tommy Carcetti Nov 12 #1
Jedi Guy Nov 12 #4
Tommy Carcetti Nov 12 #5
Jedi Guy Nov 12 #6
Wounded Bear Nov 12 #2
Tommy Carcetti Nov 12 #3
Tommy Carcetti Nov 12 #7

Response to Tommy Carcetti (Original post)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 10:16 AM

1. Our Waldo Moment (2 of 2)

This episode aired in 2013; a contemporaneous review I read criticized it for being "too unrealistic" and that in real life, a candidate like Waldo would have little long term popularity once the novelty wore off.

Two years later, failed businessman turned reality show host Donald Trump entered the race for U.S. President; a year and a half after that, he was actually elected President.

And what made Waldo a popular candidate in the episode is eerily reflected by Trump in real life, which is what made this offering of Black Mirror more unnerving than any other episode.

It's easy to be cynical of institutions and establishments (like politics and government) because frequently it's justified to a certain limited degree. But there still exists a tipping point where we fall into the trappings of nihilism and destructive activity. And four years ago, we crossed that Rubicon and we have yet to return.

People insisted Trump "spoke unspoken truths," when in fact he was just throwing out whatever red meat his base wanted to hear just so that they would love him more and satisfy his narcissitic ego. People insisted Trump was "funny," even though he never graduated above trite insults like "Crooked Hillary," "Little Marco" and "Sleepy Jeb." People were so caught up in the free-wheeling anti-establishment spirit of Trump that--like Waldo--they were able to turn violent and destructive at his slightest urging.

But what bothered me most about "The Waldo Moment" was the lack of originality or thought behind the so-called humor. When I first started watching the episode, I presumed Waldo's "takes" would be witty and satirical, like one might expect from The Daily Show or John Oliver. Instead, for supposed reactionary behavior, his humor was painfully unfunny and unoriginal. And yet the general public ate it up, and insisted--against all logic--that Waldo was hilarious and biting.

Which not only describes the cultish following of Trump himself, but everything else that has followed in Trump's wake, even after he has left office.

Back when Trump was on Twitter, he would frequently retweet a Twitter account called "Catturd," which was simply a purveyor of terribly unfunny and unoriginal shitposting memes featuring a cartoon cat mocking Trump's critics on some very base level. The individual behind the "Catturd" account even went as far to self-publish a "book" (to the extent it could be called that) mocking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that he entitled...and this is real..."The Adventures of Cowfart." Several pages of the book leaked onto Twitter, and I don't think I've ever read a more cringeworthy failure at humor in my life. It was just painful to read and think that this was being passed off as humor. I am not joking when I tell you a 10 year old could write a better book. (Which is why I'm not surprised that the author self-published the book under his "Catturd" moniker as opposed to his actual name.)

And yet countless followers of the Catturd account lauded the book as "hilarious" and "genius." Even though it was literally just one fart joke after another.

Now you have Trump supporters going around incessantly chanting "Let's Go Brandon," (a misinterpretation of chants of "Fuck Joe Biden" heard at a NASCAR race) long past the death of that particular horse, as if this is some sort of substitute for actual discourse.

And you have Rep. Paul Gosar posting some bizarre anime film on his Twitter account that depicts harm against Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and President Biden without any sort of negative consequence or outcry.

You've had Dr. Fauci--a preeminent epidemiologist who wants nothing more than to see us beat this COVID pandemic--attacked with absurd rumors that he tortures puppies. No, really. That's what they want you to believe.

By letting Trump into our system, we've allowed public cynicism of politics to fester to an absurd point where all intellectualism or any sort of goodwill against public officials is nothing but a target for cruel and unfunny mockery...just because. And it's going to continue to damage us as a whole as a result.

We've officially had a Waldo Moment of our own, and God help us where it will ultimately take us.

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Response to Tommy Carcetti (Reply #1)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 12:27 PM

4. Insofar as Waldo's humor, or Catturd's, which I haven't seen, is concerned...

Sometimes dick and fart jokes can be funny. South Park started out that way, as pretty much nothing but absurdist humor full of dick and fart jokes. Some of it was funny, some of it landed with a thud, but it turned the show into a cultural behemoth. Some people loved it, some people hated it.

To their credit, the show's humor did mature somewhat in later seasons as it turned to biting social commentary. The gross-out humor is still there a lot of the time, though. But the show will take shots at anyone and doesn't play favorites, which I can appreciate. The way they lampooned Trump by turning Garrison into the in-universe Trump was pretty damn funny, as was the plot about Kyle's dad being an internet troll.

No one's going to successfully defend dick and fart jokes as highbrow comedy, though.

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Response to Jedi Guy (Reply #4)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 12:45 PM

5. The thing about adult oriented cartoons is that they typically fade out in terms of relevance.

Because they are animated and don't have to worry about their characters aging, the successful ones can go on for quite a while. But after the initial shock value of the show (Cartoons that hit on taboo subjects! Cartoons that swear!), the enthusiasm typically wanes.

I remember when South Park first came out. I was in college. Everyone was talking about it. Entire dorms would have viewing parties when new episodes aired.

Then the movie came out a couple years later, and, well...it more or less faded from public consciousness. Presumably it's still going, and that doesn't mean it can't still be funny or biting, but the public novelty is gone.

Same can be said for Simpsons and The Family Guy. Hell, Big Mouth is only in its fifth season and I'm still wondering how much gas is left in its tank.

But as for the issue of dick and fart jokes.

No one's saying they can't be funny. But they're not intended as a substitute for public discourse. But that's what you're seeing with Trumpism. "Let's Go Brandon" is their biggest talking point. They attempted (and thankfully failed for good part) in trying to spread some truly infantile rumors about President Biden's visit to Europe.

They have no ideas. It's all shock shclock.

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Response to Tommy Carcetti (Reply #5)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 12:50 PM

6. South Park is still going, yep. Renewed to Season 30 and has more movies coming out.

I haven't watched the Simpsons in years, and I never found Family Guy to be all that funny. Plus, Futurama got the axe in favor of Family Guy, so I have a grudge there that I'm still nursing. But I generally find South Park amusing, even all these years later. I wasn't much younger than you when it came out, and I well remember the phenomenon it was at the time.

Fair point about dick and fart jokes not being a substitute for public discourse, though. Unfortunately, we've fallen so far as a country that that's the case now. "Let's go Brandon!" is by no means a reasonable substitute for "I disagree with President Biden's policies for [reasons]."

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Response to Tommy Carcetti (Original post)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 10:18 AM

2. Life imitates art which imitates life...

and around and around we go.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #2)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 12:16 PM

3. Indeed it does.

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Response to Tommy Carcetti (Original post)

Fri Nov 12, 2021, 02:11 PM

7. Notable quote from the Episode.

From one of the candidates:

"See, this is, this is the thing: it's easy, what he does. He mocks. And when he can't think of an authentic joke, which is actually quite often, he just swears. I think that this puppet's inclusion on this panel debases the process of debate, and smothers any meaningful discussion of the issues. So I return to my original question, is that really what this is for? He has nothing to offer and he has nothing to say. Prove me wrong. Hm? Speak, Waldo."

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