This reaction paper was submitted to my Public Relations Class in College year 2010.
- Background of Information/ Additional Perspectives
Wag the Dog (1997) is a satire film produced by Barry Levinson and written by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet. The story is based on the book American Hero by Larry Beinhart. It’s about how the media manipulates the people to believe on a certain issue.
The plot is based on a president who faced an accusation of having a sexual act with a young girl aka Firefly two weeks before the elections. But before the issue turns to a big burden to the candidacy of the president, Conrad Brean (Dustin Hoffman) as a spin doctor, with Anne Heche as a White House aide, manipulate the public into believing there is a war going on with Albania with the help of Stanley Motss (Robert DeNiro) a Hollywood producer. Their team-up produced a pseudo war in Albania by a fake video where an Albanian Girl (Kirsten Dunst) running from the small town, which was being bombed while holding a small kitten in her arms while screaming, and the only person who could resolve the situation was the current president. This video was seen worldwide on CNN.
The president heroically ends the war and his compassion and exceptional leadership qualities are presented through the mass media to the people, winning back their faith.
2. Situational Analysis
I will used the variation SIP
The people of America are the target audience of the propaganda to distract their attention away on the scandal of the president with a young girl. The movie shows that people are somewhat easily swayed by information given by the media even without criticizing or confirming if it’s true.
In the movie, government used the public sympathy for their own cause. The propaganda was creatively delivered to the public with the enforcement of patriotic songs and a story of an old shoe. The people go with this campaign without even thinking that were just staged events.
Film industry has been used to increase the awareness to the people on the possibility that politics is actually controlling directly or indirectly the media. It was a call to action to be critic on every news or information that media is serving to the people.
Different techniques in film making were used to emphasis some messages visually to the people. The use of light in the private conference room of the elite group of the president’s advisers creates an atmosphere foreboding corruption and deception.
The story encircles on how the government influences the public to believe them even they are telling lies. This shows how the government holds a big power to control the people. This power is actually abused by some political leaders for their self-image satisfaction that will put them in the bright-side of the eyes of the public.
The character of the president in the movie was actually dramatic that his face was not shown on the first part of the film, the shots are actually just revealing his back, it was a mysterious metaphor about his character. He only appears to deliver a speech prepared by a Hollywood producer.
Politics was shown in this film as the art of media manipulation.
Public Relations is actually shown in such a bad way in this movie. PR is about giving benefit mutually to the organization and to the people. But in the film, the propaganda was just made to retain the good image of the president from a bad deed he made. This action of his advisers is an ethical because it was constructed to fool the people’s perception about the president; it doesn’t serve the truth for the public.
The good point in the propaganda is the creativity of the president’s advisors to produce different strategies on a certain time that battles back the tactic of the opposing group of the president. They took some action based on the moves of the opposition.
Personalities were also used on the propaganda such as singers and composers that gave more impact to the people. It was a good publicity to the campaign when they used music to encourage people to indulge themselves on the campaign making their attention away from the scandal of the president.
The story in this movie is said to be same with the sex scandal of President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and the hasty bombing of some minor African cities. There is a part in the movie when Stanley said that war is show business. War is perceived as a great event to get the focus of the people. It is used as an underlying excuse on a certain issue involving higher officials of a state.
Fooling people sometimes leads to some legal suits that may put someone inside the jail. The worst case scenario is that powerless people are the victims of these suits.
The advisors of the president are some of the people who will serve the need of his client even compromising the truth for the people. It is somewhat unethical to swayed peoples perception on a certain issue just denying that it is not true even though their client is really guilty about an offense.
Another thing against the norm in this movie is that Brean used some people to be part of his what we called “pageant” even without explaining the purpose of their part. Characters such as a little girl and her kitten in the war-ravaged Albania are created, as are the heroic tale of a suffering American soldier left behind by his troops are just mask of some people who were blindfolded by Brean and Stanley.
Wag the Dog places a heavy emphasis on the power of media in our modern society. It represents new level of understanding of our mediated world and induces overdue contemplation of our society’s obsession with media in all its manifestations.
Government can exploit the used of media for its self-interest. The movie awakens us to be aware of the propaganda and moral bankruptcy of politicians, never place our trust unquestionably on the media, a system that welcomes corruption and exploitation by politicians.
5. Personal Learnings and Insights
This movie made me believe about the tactics done by the government to put the people’s attention away from an issue they are held responsible.
I believe that Pres. Arroyo already watched this film that is why there were some instances where she is on a spotlight of controversy and then there is another issue that will flood the screens and airwaves to distract the Filipinos about the shenanigan. I still remember when the issue on Charter Change was shifted to the decreased of Rice Supply in the country, and the news was highlighted to the moves of the government to surpass this problem.
The same tactic is used when an ordinance in the City of Manila to retain the oil depots in Pandacan was tackled on the sessions. Oppositions were raising the danger of these depots but the news was overlap by a resolution in the city council focusing on the advantages of these depots on the economic area of the city. But I can say that the one who really got a big advantage on this issue was the councilor who was the author of the ordinance, as if she didn’t got any big amount from oil companies.
The movie for me is a reflection on how politicians grabbed the opportunity to abuse media for their own cause. It was also a chance for everybody to be aware on every event involving politicians.