Donald Trump, Black Mirror, and America’s Waldo Moment

I was watching the Trump v Clinton debate on Channel 4 a few days ago and, once again, I was struck by quite how insane it is that Trump has got this far in the presidential race. An authoritarian demagogue who lacks both the experience and the temperament to hold America’s highest national office, Trump can also add racism, misogyny, and a flagrant disregard for the truth to his astonishing list of “qualifications”. Even from the UK, it’s been terrifying to watch, and even the idea that Trump might win the November election is unpalatable.

While contemplating his meteoric rise to power, though, it occurred to me I’d seen this before: in the Black Mirror episode The Waldo Moment.

Black Mirror, if you’ve never seen it, is an anthology program from the mind of Charlie Brooker; arguably it’s a science fiction series of sorts, but it’s perhaps more accurate to call it speculative fiction. Think of a darker, more satirical version of The Twilight Zone, and you’re probably approaching what the show is like. Charlie Brooker once said that Black Mirror is “about the way we live nowand the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” That quote has never felt more painfully applicable than right now, with the clear parallels between Donald Trump and Waldo.

The Waldo Moment is an episode from Black Mirror’s second season; it’s about an abrasive cartoon personality, controlled via motion capture by a struggling comedian, who runs for office as part of a publicity stunt. Unexpectedly, though, Waldo begins to resonate with a disenfranchised and disillusioned voter base, who don’t feel represented by the career politicians who are running against Waldo, resulting in him going on to receive a significant proportion of the vote.

Already a stark resemblance is beginning to form; Trump began as a reality TV personality, in essence, and much of his support base comes from a group who don’t feel represented by those they view as “the establishment”. It’s at this point that another parallel between Waldo and Trump becomes painfully clear, though; towards the end of The Waldo Moment, the struggling comedian is bullied out of his role, and replaced by the media mogul who owns his copyright. Behind the abrasive personality and penis jokes, it’s just another rich old white man, looking to further his own needs, and his own wants, with no consideration for anyone else. And that is the clearest link between Trump and Waldo.

At the time The Waldo Moment first aired, it was criticised a little bit because of the ending – a “hammy dystopia”, as one person called. The AV Club argued that “there’s just not enough there to suggest that Waldo’s moment would last much longer than 15 minutes”; in many ways, that’s the final note of irony. Because Donald Trump has proved Charlie Brooker right – this kind of blunt and immature figurehead can find success, and there’s a genuine, terrifying chance that we might well end up in that “hammy” dystopia.

If science fiction is a warning, then it’s clear what the message of this episode of Black Mirror is: do not let Donald Trump take office, or else…

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