The intergalactic space lord says more about the manic state of the national psyche than any politician ever could.
So many images stand out from the general election of June 2017. There was the sheet-white trauma etched across Theresa May’s face as she stared into the abyss of a squandered parliamentary majority. There was the forlorn figure of a finally vanquished Nick Clegg, contemplating his rather tragic descent from history maker to historical footnote. Of course there was a beaming grin of vindication from Jeremy Corbyn as he basked in his party’s unexpectedly strong performance. Above all else, though, there was Lord Buckethead.
The self-professed intergalactic space lord became an overnight sensation after he appeared as a candidate alongside Theresa May at the Maidenhead vote count. With a metre-long bucket on his head, a black cape and an otherworldly demeanour, Lord Buckethead created the best photo opportunities of the night and notched up 249 votes on a manifesto of free bikes for all, the return of Ceefax and the nationalisation of Adele.
Joke candidates are part of a long and noble tradition in British politics, but I believe there is something special about Lord Buckethead that demands further analysis.
He has arrived at a time of national crisis, manifest in the collective identity crisis known as Brexit. No one is really happy with the way things are, but there is great division over how to change them and who should speak for us – hence the stasis of a hung parliament.
What follows is an attempt to deconstruct, with thesis-like levels of rigour, the reasons that this cosmic would-be MP is the hero that Brexit Britain needs right now.
1. Gallows humour writ large
Through good times and bad, Britain has always excelled at taking the piss out of itself. We need that impulse now, more than ever, as politics becomes a grim farce. The election was supposed to provide us with “strong and stable” leadership as we head into Brexit negotiations, but instead it split the country even further. There comes a point when all you can do is laugh, and the sight of a towering Buckethead standing behind Theresa May on election night was truly iconic, as though an intergalactic grim reaper was calling time on her political career, or at least her political credibility.
Buckethead’s blank, expressionless façade is representative of the deadpan exasperation we all feel with current events. Unlike regular politicians, he can call it as he sees it from the vantage point of his bucket.
In his most high profile media appearance to date, Buckethead made a dramatic studio entrance during the closing credits of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Just prior to his arrival, Oliver had played a clip of the space lord discussing Brexit during a pre-election hustings.
With a muffled, but unmistakeably British voice, Buckethead can be heard displaying joyous comic timing in the clip as he lays out the choice to voters. “On Thursday, you are going to be faced with the choice of Prime Minister May, or Prime Minister Corbyn, against 27 prime ministers from the European Union. It will be a shitshow.”
This level of plain-speaking is badly needed in politics these days. Strangely, it carries even greater resonance when said by someone who unapologetically has a bucket on their head.
2. Uniting young and old
The generational divide is greater than ever in Britain, we are told. At the general election 66% of first-time voters aged 18 and 19 voted Labour, while 69% of the over-70s went with the Conservatives. There was a similar split during the EU referendum, as most younger people backed remain while older voters were more likely to support Brexit. We need figures that can bridge the divide. Step forward Lord Buckethead.
On first look, Buckethead appears to be solely aimed at the older voter. His appearance owes much to dark, surrealist British comedy from the 1970s and immediately recalls the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (though is actually inspired by 1984 cult sci-fi film Gremloids – see point 3). In summoning these beloved comedic traditions, Buckethead has a familiar, nostalgic appeal among older voters.
But on election night, Buckethead also dabbed. As his vote allocation was read out, the caped campaigner bent his right arm, leaned to the side and nodded his head towards his bicep – a perfect execution of the practice commonly known as dabbing. Buckethead could not have found a better way to endear himself to today’s youth, who dab with abandon whenever the mood takes them.
It was a glorious appropriation of youth culture, and an action that showed that Lord Buckethead speaks for young and old alike, even during these divided times.
3. The recurring hero trope
There is something wonderful about the fact that Lord Buckethead is inspired by a character of the same name from Gremloids, a little-known Star Wars spoof film from the 1980s. It conjures a picture of who the modern-day Lord may be out of character, and out of costume. My mind imagines a former Robot Wars contestant and current pub quiz champion, or a man who may have appeared in a different guise at a Red Dwarf convention.
In this way, Buckethead taps into another noble British tradition: the recurring anonymous public figure. His anonymity lends him the kind of mystique we associate with Banksy, The Stig or a football club mascot. We don’t know who they are, necessarily, but we embrace what they symbolise.
Remarkably, this year was Buckethead’s third election after he also stood against Margaret Thatcher in 1987 and John Major in 1992. Whether it was the same person in the suit after that 25-year hiatus is unknown, but the character’s return shows that a true hero never hangs up their costume for good. Like Banksy graffiti that appears on a wall overnight, Buckethead has returned from the shadows to fight for all that is good and righteous… or something.
Today he maintains his presence in public discourse via social media (he has over 100,000 Twitter followers). After Tim Farron announced this week that he was standing down as leader of the Liberal Democrats, Buckethead tweeted: “Contrary to rumours, I am not a contender to be the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. I’m ambitious.”
Most Twitter respondents applauded that ambition. In an insane world, Buckethead no longer seems like an insane choice.