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Wag the Dog is a movie directed by Barry Levinson and it is about a spin-doctor and a movie producer who are trying to cover up the president’s sex scandal by producing a fictional war before the elections. The movie can be taken into account as an example of media’s effect on manipulating people’s opinions and distracting them from the main issue. Moreover, the slogan “Why change horses in midstream?” and describing the president as a product can be observed as examples of how far has media gone in effecting people. Many conspiracy theories can also be correlated with the media’s power of manipulation.
To begin with, the movie “Wag the Dog” can be identified as a clear expression of media’s role in our lives. In the movie, a fictional war is created in a movie studio in order to cover up the president’s sex scandal before the elections. A girl is selected to play a role of a war victim escaping from bombings to hit the emotional side of the viewers. Also a hero is who is stranded in the warzone is created to raise a national feelings of the public. Moreover, many quotes can be examined in terms of power of the media; “We’re not gonna have a war, we’re gonna have the appearance of a war.” and “Of course there is a war; I’m seeing it on TV!” These quotes can be identified as a significations of television’s power in making up something not real and producing it to make people believe as if it real. In the television show scene through the ending of the movie it can be seen that the president is mentioned as “a product”. That can be concluded as the media’s dominance over the president.
It can also be claimed that, media’s efforts to shift public’s interest to different subjects lead to skepticism among some folks. In The Gulf War Did Not Take Place Jean Baudrillard argues that in the Gulf War, America mainly used airpower and the U.S. army did not directly engaged with the Iraqi army and media used the war as a propaganda device. Furthermore, there are also claims that CNN staged a live coverage about the Gulf War in order to create a sense of drama and danger.
The movie can also be examined in terms of propaganda devices. Our course book mentions about common forms of propaganda. First of these forms is slogans which are commonly used in advertising and political campaigns. “Just Do It,” “Coke is it,” “It’s Miller Time,” “Think Different” can be exemplified as advertisement slogans. In “Wag the Dog,” the slogan that is repeated in president’s election advertisement is “Why change horses midstream?” which is used as a campaign slogan for Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. The slogan stimulates people to choose the president again as there is an ongoing process and it is not appropriate to change the president during this process. Also, bandwagoning is another form of propaganda that can be taken into account. As stated in the course book; “The bandwagon device is based on the idea that “if everybody else is doing it, so should you.” Jump on the bandwagon, follow the crowd and don’t throw your vote away by voting for a loser are clichés associated with this device.” In Wag the Dog’s campaign advertisement, it can be that one of the jockeys is saying “always stick with the winner” which can be identified as a form of bandwagoning. Moreover, the phrase, which can also be identified as the alternative slogan of the campaign advertisement, “Keep America working” can be seen as an example of “glittering generality” which is an another form of propaganda.
It can be said that, these types of manipulations were harder before the invention of devices like television, radio or the internet as it was much harder to “instantly” reach people. Beginning from the early 20th century, with the help of the technological advances, it has become much easier to reach people. As television became an indispensable part of every household, media and advertising began to take more space in people’s lives. This situation is also mentioned in the course book;
Although the first commercial on television was aired by the J. Walter Thompson agency in 1930, it wasn’t until 1948 that TV’s potential as an advertising medium was realized. Many early programs carried the advertiser’s name, such as Milton Berle’s popular Texaco Star theater and Camel News Caravan. And soon television became the preferred advertising medium to reach the masses in the United States.
Moreover, with the growing usage of internet, advertising became much more infectious in people’s lives. Corporations like Facebook and Google began to gather and store users’ personal information and even the log of their visited web pages in order to show them advertisements “tailored” for them. Considering the current situation, it can be said that it is frightening to speculate about the future of advertisement and media as more and more ways to reach people are found each day.
In conclusion, the power and dominance of media over people is irrefutable. The movie “Wag the Dog” shows how media is used to create a diversion from reality and manipulate people. Forms of propaganda like slogans, bandwagoning and glittering generalities can also be found out in the movie. With the help of technological advances, media and advertisement it became easier to reach people and as technology grows, it is really hard to speculate about how media and advertisements will be in people’s lives in the future.
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