Wag the Dog – If the Going Gets Tough Then Start a War

EXCEPTIONAL/HISTORY
by Sonya Belkina
27.03.2021
Why does a dog wag its tail?
Because a dog is smarter than its tail.
If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.
Politics is a part of everyday life. The modern media covers every step of politicians. Most texts in newspapers and magazines are about the political situation in different countries and international relations. This is particularly true in Western cultures, where the precise coverage of civic life began much earlier than in the post-Soviet space. While being intoxicated by political news, it is impossible to remain indifferent. This phenomenon cannot be ignored in culture.

The 1993 novel "American hero" shows how the media influences the political news agenda – journalists and PR specialists highlight what is beneficial to the government, not squeamish with inventing facts and events. The book is an open reaction to the 1992 presidential election. The text states that the famous operation Desert Storm – part of the Gulf War 1990-1991 – was planned as a ruse to divert public attention, to re-elect President George Bush for a second term (taking cues from Margaret Thatcher's similar war in the Falkland Islands, in author's opinion). The book would not be published actively , not receiving much attention from the critics. But more importantly, the subject of political-media turmoil was highlighted and followed up in the cult film Wag the dog released in 1997.
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: What did television ever do to you?
Winifred Ames (presidential aide): It destroyed the electoral process!
Wag the Dog (1997) is a political comedy produced and directed by Barry Levinson. It stars two already successful and well-known actors – Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

The film took much from the book: it was released after the presidential election, the theme is a political scandal, inflated to draw attention from the re-election of the president. It seems that American elections have always been interesting and exciting even before the invention of Twitter, right?

The main difference between the film and its predecessor is the reduction of many storylines to one – the presidential election. A hint of this event is visible in every detail. For example, the predominant colors of the film are red and blue. Actors often wear clothing that combine these colors – a blue shirt and a red butterfly, a red sweater, and blue jeans. It should not be forgotten that the main US political parties fighting in elections have their unofficial colors: Republicans – red, Democrats – blue. The reference to this opposition is clearly expressed in the poster to the film, where "Wag" is in red, "Dog" in blue, and the black article "the" serves as a kind of "vs". Viewers indifferent to political and media chicanery may miss some of the jabs here, but those same gags will fill savvier audiences with wicked glee.

In Wag the dog there is no love relationship. The storyline focuses exclusively on the characters' cover-up of the president's "dark deeds". The film's plot is unimaginably provocative – during the election campaign a sex scandal breaks out: the President is accused of having an affair with an underage girl. To divert public attention from it the President's administration is urgently calling in a specialist in irregular situations, Conrad Brean, who decides to stage a small war with Albania and in turn, attracts a famous Hollywood producer Stanley Mots.
Winifred Ames (presidential aide): Why Albania?
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: Why not?
Well, Stanley Motts could not miss this rare chance to satisfy his professional ambitions! Together they organize a world-wide show with a truly Hollywood scale: themed songs are written glorifying a heroic detachment of a nonexistent war, false photos of an orphan running from the battlefield with a kitten in her hands are taken,
a movement is launched in support of a soldier glorified in this imaginary war.
The film was prophetic: president Bill Clinton would be on the verge of impeachment in a month due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and a year later US aircraft from NATO would begin bombing Yugoslavia. However, the preconditions for all this were also at the time of filming, so it can be considered that Wag the dog is a chronicle of the political scandal of the late 1990s. The movie is a direct satire on those events. It's an interesting fact that the actors even dated Bill Clinton at the time of the shooting. The President came face to face with the film's stars and director at a charity bash. The political leader praised the film's title, but wondered what Wag the Dog was about? Actors were embarrassed until Hoffman found a solution – he lied, giving the President a fake plot summary.

The public reaction to the film was much brighter and quicker than the release of the book which it was based on. The publicists did their best, literally uniting the premiere and Lewinsky's confessions. The film was advertised with a snapshot of the white house and a promising inscription: "the action starts with a crisis in the White House!" But it was important not to overdo, according to Jonathan Rutter, who was handling the publicity for the film's UK release, "We don't want to ram the resonance in people's faces. Otherwise, people will start to think it's a docu-drama rather than the very funny movie it actually is, and those who want to escape the coverage on television will not consider Wag The Dog as an option". The American public was extremely preoccupied with the scandal of its political leader and the timely release of such a provocative film. When not watching Bill and Hillary Clinton's prime-time denials, people trot off to the cinema to see Levinson's mirror of reality. Americans were frustrated; they were shown for the first time how a small group of people controls the public opinion of a huge country, like a small tail wagging a dog.
CIA agent: There is no war
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: There's a war. I'm watching it on television
The movie is incredibly dynamic. One action replaces another as if the pages of a book are being turned, and the narrative of the next page follows the previous one logically. Until the end of the film, it remains a mystery what the fictional war with Albania will lead to and whether the President's team will be able to raise his ratings before the elections. Moreover, the ending of the film is truly unpredictable!
This is a film of the conversational genre. Therefore, dynamism is not achieved by an active action in the frame. The momentum of the plot is the intertwining and sometimes confrontation between two powerful charisms of the main characters' performers.. Elegantly written dialogues of the main characters are a mine of wise thoughts about the modern world, in which almost everything is directed. The provocative and unusual plot is complemented by sparkling ironic humor, which hides the sad reality of our life.
The acting is great, beyond praise. Hoffman (Stanley Motss) and De Niro (Conrad Brean) perfectly,with subtle irony, showed the creative cynicism behind the scenes of political theater. These actors starred in Wag the dog without an advantage. Director Barry Levinson was engaged in two other projects, so people worked for their own pleasure, so, there's an incredible lightness in the movie. Working on the film took an incredibly short amount of time – 29 days, during which there was no meeting with the press. And after the premiere, most of the journalists' questions were about actors' attitudes to what was happening in America and the art of satire. As a result, comments by Dustin Hoffman or Robert De Niro about their roles are virtually non-existent. However, the actors note that one of the main reasons for their acceptance of the project was the director, whom they trusted.
"What difference does it make if it's true? If it's a story and it breaks, they're gonna run with it."
Conrad 'Connie' Brean
Wag The Dog received good reviews when released in the US. The New Yorker called it a "very savvy comedy", the well-known critics, Siskel and Ebert, said it was "one of the year's best films". But not all the reviews were positive. One critic complained that Wag The Dog falls apart as a whole. "It lacks any human feeling – why should we care whether this president saves his own skin by election day?"

It will always remain a mystery to me how a film illustrating the whole process of creating false agendas from the inside was allowed to enter the creation phase. Moreover, it was widely distributed. Fortunately, the movie was on the screens and started a cult.
"Yea, it's like a plumber: do your job right and nobody should notice. But when you fuck it up, everything gets full of shit."
Stanley Motss (about being a producer)
The film has a special place in the hearts of Americans. Authoritative media often cite comedy for political events. In particular, the movie was often mentioned (during Trump's presidency in Donald Trump's politics. For instance, in January 2020, in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the title of Barry Levinson's 1997 dark political comedy has been invoked in dozens of articles suggesting that Trump fomented a military crisis to distract from his ongoing impeachment.

Moreover, HBO made a statement that they wanted to re-shoot the high-profile film in the format of the series. It describes its adaptation as "an ode to the classic film" but moving the weapons of mass distraction beyond politics and into business, entertainment, and nonprofits.
So, Wag the dog is unlikely to ever go away. The film is very significant and it really deserves your attention, because everyone needs to have an understanding of how the information that they hear on the radio or watch on TV every day is formed. People need to know that not everything that is presented to the public is always true. The movie will remain relevant for a long time to come, because as Barry Levinson said: "Wag was in the area of satirical absurdism and now we are living in absurdism".
 
Wag the Dog – If the Going Gets Tough Then Start a War

EXCEPTIONAL/HISTORY
by Sonya Belkina
27.03.2021
Why does a dog wag its tail?
Because a dog is smarter than its tail.
If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.
Politics is a part of everyday life. The modern media covers every step of politicians. Most texts in newspapers and magazines are about the political situation in different countries and international relations. This is particularly true in Western cultures, where the precise coverage of civic life began much earlier than in the post-Soviet space. While being intoxicated by political news, it is impossible to remain indifferent. This phenomenon cannot be ignored in culture.

The 1993 novel "American hero" shows how the media influences the political news agenda – journalists and PR specialists highlight what is beneficial to the government, not squeamish with inventing facts and events. The book is an open reaction to the 1992 presidential election. The text states that the famous operation Desert Storm – part of the Gulf War 1990-1991 – was planned as a ruse to divert public attention, to re-elect President George Bush for a second term (taking cues from Margaret Thatcher's similar war in the Falkland Islands, in author's opinion). The book would not be published actively , not receiving much attention from the critics. But more importantly, the subject of political-media turmoil was highlighted and followed up in the cult film Wag the dog released in 1997.
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: What did television ever do to you?
Winifred Ames (presidential aide): It destroyed the electoral process!
Wag the Dog (1997) is a political comedy produced and directed by Barry Levinson. It stars two already successful and well-known actors – Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

The film took much from the book: it was released after the presidential election, the theme is a political scandal, inflated to draw attention from the re-election of the president. It seems that American elections have always been interesting and exciting even before the invention of Twitter, right?
The main difference between the film and its predecessor is the reduction of many storylines to one – the presidential election. A hint of this event is visible in every detail. For example, the predominant colors of the film are red and blue. Actors often wear clothing that combine these colors – a blue shirt and a red butterfly, a red sweater, and blue jeans. It should not be forgotten that the main US political parties fighting in elections have their unofficial colors: Republicans – red, Democrats – blue. The reference to this opposition is clearly expressed in the poster to the film, where "Wag" is in red, "Dog" in blue, and the black article "the" serves as a kind of "vs". Viewers indifferent to political and media chicanery may miss some of the jabs here, but those same gags will fill savvier audiences with wicked glee.

In Wag the dog there is no love relationship. The storyline focuses exclusively on the characters' cover-up of the president's "dark deeds". The film's plot is unimaginably provocative – during the election campaign a sex scandal breaks out: the President is accused of having an affair with an underage girl. To divert public attention from it the President's administration is urgently calling in a specialist in irregular situations, Conrad Brean, who decides to stage a small war with Albania and in turn, attracts a famous Hollywood producer Stanley Mots.
Winifred Ames (presidential aide): Why Albania?
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: Why not?
Well, Stanley Motts could not miss this rare chance to satisfy his professional ambitions! Together they organize a world-wide show with a truly Hollywood scale: themed songs are written glorifying a heroic detachment of a nonexistent war, false photos of an orphan running from the battlefield with a kitten in her hands are taken, a movement is launched in support of a soldier glorified in this imaginary war.
The film was prophetic: president Bill Clinton would be on the verge of impeachment in a month due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and a year later US aircraft from NATO would begin bombing Yugoslavia. However, the preconditions for all this were also at the time of filming, so it can be considered that Wag the dog is a chronicle of the political scandal of the late 1990s. The movie is a direct satire on those events. It's an interesting fact that the actors even dated Bill Clinton at the time of the shooting. The President came face to face with the film's stars and director at a charity bash. The political leader praised the film's title, but wondered what Wag the Dog was about? Actors were embarrassed until Hoffman found a solution – he lied, giving the President a fake plot summary.

The public reaction to the film was much brighter and quicker than the release of the book which it was based on. The publicists did their best, literally uniting the premiere and Lewinsky's confessions. The film was advertised with a snapshot of the white house and a promising inscription: "the action starts with a crisis in the White House!" But it was important not to overdo, according to Jonathan Rutter, who was handling the publicity for the film's UK release, "We don't want to ram the resonance in people's faces. Otherwise, people will start to think it's a docu-drama rather than the very funny movie it actually is, and those who want to escape the coverage on television will not consider Wag The Dog as an option". The American public was extremely preoccupied with the scandal of its political leader and the timely release of such a provocative film. When not watching Bill and Hillary Clinton's prime-time denials, people trot off to the cinema to see Levinson's mirror of reality. Americans were frustrated; they were shown for the first time how a small group of people controls the public opinion of a huge country, like a small tail wagging a dog.
CIA agent: There is no war
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: There's a war. I'm watching it on television
The movie is incredibly dynamic. One action replaces another as if the pages of a book are being turned, and the narrative of the next page follows the previous one logically. Until the end of the film, it remains a mystery what the fictional war with Albania will lead to and whether the President's team will be able to raise his ratings before the elections. Moreover, the ending of the film is truly unpredictable!

This is a film of the conversational genre. Therefore, dynamism is not achieved by an active action in the frame. The momentum of the plot is the intertwining and sometimes confrontation between two powerful charisms of the main characters' performers.. Elegantly written dialogues of the main characters are a mine of wise thoughts about the modern world, in which almost everything is directed. The provocative and unusual plot is complemented by sparkling ironic humor, which hides the sad reality of our life.
The acting is great, beyond praise. Hoffman (Stanley Motss) and De Niro (Conrad Brean) perfectly,with subtle irony, showed the creative cynicism behind the scenes of political theater. These actors starred in Wag the dog without an advantage. Director Barry Levinson was engaged in two other projects, so people worked for their own pleasure, so, there's an incredible lightness in the movie. Working on the film took an incredibly short amount of time – 29 days, during which there was no meeting with the press. And after the premiere, most of the journalists' questions were about actors' attitudes to what was happening in America and the art of satire. As a result, comments by Dustin Hoffman or Robert De Niro about their roles are virtually non-existent. However, the actors note that one of the main reasons for their acceptance of the project was the director, whom they trusted.
"What difference does it make if it's true? If it's a story and it breaks, they're gonna run with it"
Conrad 'Connie' Brean
Wag The Dog received good reviews when released in the US. The New Yorker called it a "very savvy comedy", the well-known critics, Siskel and Ebert, said it was "one of the year's best films". But not all the reviews were positive. One critic complained that Wag The Dog falls apart as a whole. "It lacks any human feeling – why should we care whether this president saves his own skin by election day?"

It will always remain a mystery to me how a film illustrating the whole process of creating false agendas from the inside was allowed to enter the creation phase. Moreover, it was widely distributed. Fortunately, the movie was on the screens and started a cult.
"Yea, it's like a plumber: do your job right and nobody should notice. But when you fuck it up, everything gets full of shit"
Stanley Motss (about being a producer)
The film has a special place in the hearts of Americans. Authoritative media often cite comedy for political events. In particular, the movie was often mentioned (during Trump's presidency in Donald Trump's politics. For instance, in January 2020, in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the title of Barry Levinson's 1997 dark political comedy has been invoked in dozens of articles suggesting that Trump fomented a military crisis to distract from his ongoing impeachment.

Moreover, HBO made a statement that they wanted to re-shoot the high-profile film in the format of the series. It describes its adaptation as "an ode to the classic film" but moving the weapons of mass distraction beyond politics and into business, entertainment, and nonprofits.
So, Wag the dog is unlikely to ever go away. The film is very significant and it really deserves your attention, because everyone needs to have an understanding of how the information that they hear on the radio or watch on TV every day is formed. People need to know that not everything that is presented to the public is always true. The movie will remain relevant for a long time to come, because as Barry Levinson said: "Wag was in the area of satirical absurdism and now we are living in absurdism."
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