Political science Essay

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The 1997 film, Wag the Dog presents a satire of American political manipulation and Hollywood propaganda. The film, directed by Barry Levinson, and written by Levinson, Hilary Henkin, and David Mamet, offers a cynical portrait not only of politicians and political operatives, Hollywood, and the electoral process, but it also portrays the American public as gullible and susceptible to the most rudimentary forms of deception and manipulation, while simultaneously being alert and diligent enough to cost the incumbent President an election based on his sexual indiscretion.

Will the incumbents commanding lead be compromised by a sex scandal? A brain trust of three labors to overcompensate for any possible damage. The most reliable Machiavellian brain is supposed to belong to[¦ ] a trouble-shooting deceiver, professional consultant Conrad Brean, (Arnold 15) The first and most apparent contradiction in Wag the Dog is the aforementioned paradox between the publics apparent diligence and gullibility.

This is the first element of the film that conflicts with my own political beliefs as I fully believe that the public and the press is capable of rooting out and exposing such elementary forms of attempted deception, perhaps not in all cases, but in many of them. Wag the Dog even as satire depends to a certain extent on the viewers ability to accept the American public as easily manipulated. The film never gives any believable rationale for the operatives ability to deceive the public Mr.

Mamet doesnt come up with a clever explanation for overrating the presidents dishonest operatives. (Arnold 15) However, an equally important contradiction plagues the film in its portrayal of the films main characters, none of whom seem particularly sympathetic or realistic. The White House liaison is[¦ ] a loyal flunky named Winifred Ames. The necessary scale of deception is exaggerated by recruiting [¦ ] a Hollywood producer named Stanley Motss, susceptible to the sport of fabricating a big lie of a news story about a military crisis.

(Arnold 15) This another aspect of the film which conflicted with my personal beliefs in that I dont belive that Washington politicians have this cozy of a relationship with Hollywood or that they would rely on a Hollywood producer to create something this intricate and important in world affairs. Any military action by the United States in reality would be monitored by the entire industrialized world and it is possible that a destabilizing effect would cause a real war even if a fake war was presented by way of the American media.

Another aspect of the film which I found not credible was its satirization of the nation of Albania. For some reason,it strikes the cinematic conspirators as hilarious to identify unruly Albanians as the phantom troublemakers, requiring intervention in Eastern Europe and along the Canadian-American border. (Arnold 15) The real political world this attempted ruse would quickly be exposed and the Canadians would have something to say about being armed against. The plot insists on a hypocritical system of credulity.

To play along for the duration, we must credit the principal characters with a foolproof ability to deceive the public, the press and political opponents. (Arnold 15) Not only do I feel the abilities of the Presidents operatives and the Hollywood Producer are grossly overstated, even in the terms of a satire, and that the film is incorrect in assuming that the American public are at once discriminating moralists and utter dupes, I feel that the underlying vision of the film: to make humor out of political crisis, is off-putting.

While the film attempts to be a satirization of the American political process and to cast a cynical eye on the dubious nature of the American media and the American electoral process (and by implication American sexual moralities) the film simultaneously asks the viewer to identify with and sympathize with characters who are purveyors of the very things the film presumes to satirize.

In my opinion political operatives are probably very familiar with damage-control and political manipulation with in the political beltway but there is no real indication that they have any idea of what the public psyche is thinking or how it will react to world or national events. If they did know how to manipulate mass populations of people so easily, they could be re-elected without fail every-time and gain support for all of their ideas without fail.

While the American political process is probably, in my opinion, somewhat corrupted by spin and mass media, the dissolution of the American psyche and voting mentality is not nearly as severe as Wag the Dog suggests. Wag the Dog does forward ideas that I feel are correct about American politics. One of these ideas is that a politician would stoop to any level or any contrivance to cover up a scandal. I think that this is probably an accurate vision of contemporary politics, but it fails to take into account the intense public scrutiny that all national figures, including politicians, must endure.

While many scandals are probably covered up, they most likely do not involve such sophisticated means and methods. Many small scandals like Watergate and Iran-Contra did great damage to powerful Presidents. By fictionalizing an account of a sex-scandal with an under-age girl, and casting this in a humorous almost quaint light, the film seems to discredit the viewer by asking them to see this as trivial enough that it should be covered up. Even as political satire, the film Wag the Dog posits heroes who are the opposite of what I believe politicians to be.

Rather than being experts in public manipulation and special effects they are masters of fund-raising, and caucusing and spreading their influence in many other ways than through the mass media. The use of the mass media for the purpose of elections is common but the sue of the mass media to cover up sex scandals is a dubious premise by my standards. While I do believe that politicians seek to manipulate the American public and to deceive the public in many cases, I also belive that their ability to do so is not nearly as pronounced as it is portrayed in the film.

I think the average American is capable of telling truth from outright deception ” and even if the average American is not, some Americans are certainly or would certainly be able to smell the deception as portrayed in the film. While Wag the Dog is satire, it is still a depiction of the American political process and also of Hollywood. The film seems to be simultaneously condemning and exalting these two vastly influential aspects of American society.

Even though these aspects of American society are crucial to its culture, laws, and history, I feel that Wag the Dog grossly overstates the importance and influence of Hollywood and Washington on everyday peoples lives. In the end, I feel the film is pretty shallow in its appraisal of the issues and institutions it attempts to satirize. In some cases the film is ambiguous in its embracing of cynicism and I feel quite differently about the efficacy of the average American, even if most people dont vote.

One reviewer called Wag the Dog A flimsy conception, a political spoof contrived by David Mamet from Hilary Henkins adaptation of an obscure book by Larry Beinhart, Wag the Dog would become more troublesome the longer one tended to brood about the sketchiness and shallowness of it all. (Arnold, 1998, p. 15) I find myself in agreement with this statement although I credit the makers of the film with trying to blend humor with political commentary.

Work Cited

Arnold, Gary. Wag the Dog Is Tale Not Worth the Effort. The Washington Times 2 Jan. 1998: 15.

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