From Waldo to Trump: Comedy’s Political Power

Comedy and Politics are fundamentally interrelated, as has been shown in this week’s readings that cover 3 centuries of connections between jokes and those with political power. There is, however, a stark contrast between the “Ubu-esque”[1] comedic criticisms discussed by Foucalt, and the dangerous power of satire which fringes on being un-ironic discussed by Emily Nussbaum in her 2017 New York Times article.[2]

 

This blog post will focus on the latter, political movements which have found power in comedies ability to offend, express transgressive opinion through the joke format, and ultimately influence public opinion and policy. In her article, Nussbaum outlines the ways in which Trump’s campaign and his supporters effectively hijacked satire for political gain. Much could be said about how this relates ideas of the comedian being free from social judgement, but I will not discuss that here. Instead, I will focus on a piece of satire which acted as some kind of premonition to Trump’s campaign technique: Black Mirror’sThe Waldo Moment.While Black Mirror is not known for being comedic, this particular episode centres around the interplay between comedy, entertainment, and politics. The episode’s plot centres around a literal cartoon running for office on the basis of their grotesque comedic insults being useful for insulting and diminishing the credentials of their opponents. I won’t spoil much more, but I will say that – If I were to don a tinfoil hat – Waldo’s election campaign could very well be used as a model for Trump’s. Rather than provide solid policy, Waldo uses insult comedy to place his conventionally operating opponents on the back foot, undermining their seriousness with cartoonishness. One thing that both Nussbaum and Black Mirror agree on in their analysis in comedy in politics, is the essential role that mediation – in particular televisual mediation – plays in helping a comedic performance become a political campaign.

[1] Foucalt, Michel. Abnormal: lectures at the College de France, 1974-1975. London: Verso, 2016. Pp 11-13

[2] Nussbaum, Emily. ‘How Jokes Won the Election,’ in The New Work Times. The New York Times Online Site, 2017. Accessed November 2018 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/23/how-jokes-won-the-election

2 comments

  1. This is a fantastic example. I was thinking of discussing the same black mirror episode. In a way, I believe that the Black Mirror episode, although dramatic and dark, has a sense of Bergsonian humor in it with the encrustation of Trump’s behavior (and thus mechanization of it) onto the bear.

  2. In the article by Emily Nussbaum she talks about how Waldo the blue bear finally convinces his followers that he does not support his campaign is “not joking.” How is this bursting of the comic figure achievable through comedy on a real life political field and in a non-self-reflexive manner?

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