Watching “Wag the Dog,” especially now in this politically charged time in history, you can't help but wonder if the film is taken from the White House archives. So much of politics today seems to be fabricated and intended to manipulate people. The movie is about a government conspiracy, both authentic and artificial. It is a classic case of misdirection, focus on the president's strengths and hide his weaknesses. The president's spin doctor hires a Hollywood producer Stanley Motss to fake a war with Albania in order to draw attention to the president's strength in leading his country to victory. Their plan is far from foolproof, but the producer manages to pull it off. This is all very reminiscent not only of the Clinton years, but of the Bush years. It especially reminds me of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the lies told about them.The term entered the public domain in a very significant way during the Iraq War, when the American government said Saddam possessed WMDs and that was the main reason why they would have to invade Iraq. It was, however, very hard to finds these weapons in Iraq in the end. There were great debates at the time about whether he had an active program or whether he had dismantled it. In fact he had had a program in the past and had dismantled it, but had told everyone publicly that he still had it in order to deter his enemies. Because of the terms salience in the debate about the Iraq War, weapons of mass destruction was named word of the year in 2002.
As the media eats up the war, taking the attention away from the sex scandal, they find themselves in need of another made-up story. So, the producer and spin doctor come up with a war hero who is still stranded "behind enemy lines in Albania." When they become ready to unveil him to the nation, they find themselves in even more trouble. Turns out the war hero, William Schumann is damaged goods. This episode of the movie is very important. As in real life, the media is often a willing conspirator in these fabrications. They are easily manipulated and desire narratives and stories more than the cold hard facts. If they were responsible journalists they would tell people the truth and not what would entertain them the most.
I do have a criticism of the film. In a way it is a bit insulting. It hides the fact that we as citizens do have a significant amount of power over our government and that people are not as passive as they are made out to be. It is not exactly true that if the party lines up with what we believe, the fact that the president lies is okay. I feel that it comes down to the man, and if he does have the values his/her party believes in then he will do the honorable thing, and own up to his/her mistake. This movie is just another nail to drive into the justification that it's alright to cover things up, and there are no absolutes, or rights or wrongs. The truth is that the American people are more sophisticated than that.Politics is about theatre, quite literally. But this movie pushes the boundaries. Instead of having an element of theatre to help policies or ideas go down more smoothly, or to help communicate them, contemporary politics is portrayed as being entirely about theatre. There is no there there. The whole thing is made up. While this movie is entertaining, the consequences in real life of this sort of behaviour is truly catastrophic.