Wag the Dog: How Entertainment is used for Political Ends Essay

Wag the Dog: How Entertainment is used for Political Ends

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            Who could imagine serious themes being delivered in a not-so-indispensable manner? Possibility is what Director Barry Levinson magnificently dispensed in the remarkable satirical movie, Wag the Dog (1997) that depicted the impact of entertainment on politics.

The film, inspired by the novel “American Hero” by Larry Beinhart, was a story shows the bureaucratic flaw within contemporary politics and political institutions.

            The conflict of the story started when the American President was accused molesting a “firefly” girl. Because of attempting to run for his second term on the next election, which is 11 days away, the accusation thrown to him became his primary problem; however, he hired the White House’s spin doctor, Conrad Brean (Robert de Nero), to control the damage to his name. So, Brean collaborated with a Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to produce a “false” war between the US and Albania using Hollywood superstar to divert the attention of media men from the scandal accused to the President (Ebert). And viola, metaphorically, the tail ruled the dog in the film! Assessing the film’s problematique, “the satire presents an America in which the public is like a sleeping dog, getting wagged every which way by the corrupt leaders and lazy, cowardly media” (Salle).

Though being a satire-comedy, the movie depicted quite something believable because it portrayed a realistic scenario that is, it demonstrates how entertainment is used as a tool of the power brokers—government officials in this case—whose power therefore is used to mesmerize their constituents, for their own benefit. Accordingly, amidst the over-the-top attitude, the film was not able to distort the audience through caricatures.

It is then a fact that the entertainment industry is very able to lure its audience. In fact, many critics and philosophers argued and affirmed that it is one of the most effective means that realizes the sociological theory, social constructionism. With today’s highly technological world, the media has created post-modern inventions such as television and radio “to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived reality” (Luckmann). Then again, the entertainment industry can dictate what is trendy and what is not, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, and ultimately “lure” the people to, what we say, making the wrong right.

Having been used for their own advantage, politicians use the said industry to influence the members of the polity.  This is shown in the film when people tend to be susceptible when tricked emotionally, consequently, making them easy to engage to such manipulations. And this fact was used by some politicians as their advantage to uphold their vested interests. Relating this with the Lewinsky scandal took place following the release of the movie, which accused the incumbent US President Bill Clinton, the White House had its press releases including the Operation Desert Fox, a bombing campaign in Iraq, Operation Infinite Research, an attack against terrorists, and Operation Allied Force, a month-long NATO bombing campaign against Siberia(“Wag the Dog”). And using the movie Wag the Dog as an indicator, it is clearly seen how entertainment has been used for political purposes. What is saddening then is that the said incumbent US President still gained the sympathy of the Americans; however, the former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suspected that the press releases were just “attempt[s] to distract attention from the Lewinsky scandal”(“Wag the Dog”). Surprisingly, as the NATO had its Operation Allied Force against Siberia, the Siberian government went on politicking using the Siber state television to broadcast the movie Wag the Dog to reap off support given to the US.

Politics as related to power, people who hold power ever use anything, even the entertainment, by any means to gain, regain, or stay in power. In the process, this impact will adversely shouldered by the members of the polity, for they are the ones lured, used, thus, affected. Where, in fact, in the end, benefits will be handed over not to them but to the power brokers.


Ebert, Roger. “Wag the Dog”.  1998.  Los Angeles Times. November 11 2006. <http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19980102/REVIEWS/801020302/1023>.

Luckmann, P. L. Berger & T. “The Social Construction of Reality”.  1966.  Anchor Books. November 11 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism>.

Salle, Mick La. “Satire Wages War on Press, Politics `Wag the Dog’ a Biting Comedy”.  1998.  San Francisco Chronicle. November 11 2006. <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1998/01/02/DD57197.DTL>.

“Wag the Dog”.  www.wikipedia.org. November 11 2006. <http://www.michaeldvd.com.au/Reviews/WagTheDog.asp>.

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