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Conflicts That Arise from Particular Ways of Seeing the World Are Made Evident Through the Shaping of Texts-Barry Levinson’s Film “Wag the Dog” and Michael Moore’s Documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” Essay

Conflicts that arise from particular ways of seeing the world are made evident through the shaping of texts. In Barry Levinson’s film “Wag the Dog” and Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”, it is clear that the perspectives in which the audience views the world create particular conflicts. In both texts, the conflicting perspectives arise from the way the naïve public views the world and the way that the government and media view the world through their particular agendas.

In “Wag the Dog”, the plot relies on the alleged sexual impropriety of the president and the way in which particular political powers and the media intervene. In the film it is clear that the audience is seeing two perspectives, that of the public and the private. Though, in the film, Levinson draws the audience in to the political powers. Through the motif of the omnipresent television screen and the use of double images and sounds, the audience is able to see the media and government’s manipulation. Though this is sidelined by Conrad Brean’s rhetorical question of “what difference does it make if it’s true?”. This question further allows the audience to understand the manipulative techniques of certain power players and the way in which they see the world. The characterisation of Brean and his costuming of a ratty jacket, battered hat, bow-ties with striped clashing shirts, gives him a misleading appearance of incompetence and harmlessness. As a figure he would go unnoticed. The dramatic irony is that the audience knows that he is not harmless, but in fact that he is more powerful than the ambiguous President himself. Levinson juxtaposes this character with the character of Winifred Ames to show that even those who seem to be in power, even to themselves, are in reality blind to what is really going on. The use of extreme high-angle close-up shots indicates Brean’s superiority and power as an authoritative figure. Here, the audience is able to see the “spin-doctors” side of the conflict and a particular way of seeing the world is presented.

The other perspective of the film is that of the naïve public who succumb to the government and media’s images. The audience is extremely aware of this
through the use of the “Albanian girl” scene where through filming and editing, the American people are manipulated into believing a lie. Levinson uses dramatic irony here to emphasise this point to the viewers, who know what the public in the film do not. Brean’s assertion of “we are giving them what they want” is indicative of a public who “remember the slogans” but “don’t remember the wars”. As Brean satirises the perspective of the “outsider’s” the view in which the American people see the world is seen, especially through the use of the “Albanian girl” where the audience literally sees what the audience in the film sees and believes. As Brean uses repetition in referring to the Gulf War of ’91, the audience witnesses the verisimilitude that the public so easily succumbs to. Though, his character is portrayed in a different light at the end of the film through the death of Stanley Motts. In this scene his character shifts to that of a menacing, powerful figure. Even though the audience is aware of his significance and power throughout the entire film, the fact that he is the one that orders for Motts to be killed further extrapolates on the idea that the public is naïve to image, as even the audience watching the film believes that the character of Brean would not commit such an act. As a close-up is utilised at a high angle, high-key lighting shows the authority and clear facial expression of this once benign figure. Here, the audience sees a view of the world not through the government or the public, but through the eyes of the person who is really in control. The main conflict that arises in this case is that of reality against appearance.

The documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” serves as a treatise against the Bush administration, and highlights what Moore sees as governmental corruption and disinformation by the former president and his staff. He draws the audience into his view of the world at the time of Bush’s presidency to do so. He uses graphic violence of real war-zone footage with formal White House dinners to produce certain reactions to audience. As these images flash before the viewer’s eyes, they are able to clearly see through Moore’s perspective. By juxtaposing iconic symbols and video montages of the former President Bush against war scenes and emotional personal interviews, Moore develops his perspective of events, against the perspective of the government that the public received. One of the most effective scenes in the documentary that Moore uses to reel the audience in to his perspective is when the screen cuts to black for nearly 2 minutes. There is no image on the screen, but the background sounds are instantly recognizable: loud explosions, wailing sirens, screaming people, news reports of aircraft hitting the World Trade Center and weeping women. Through the use of diegetic sound, Moore deftly manipulates his audience, forcing them to relive the tragic events of 9/11 in their own minds. The first words spoken in the documentary are “Was it all just a dream?”. This rhetorical question relates to “Wag the Dog” and the fight of reality versus appearance, as an ordinary person displays their point of view against people in power. This shows his side of the story, and as the composition continues he aims to show the perspective of the people in power. Here, two perspectives are shown, though unlike “Wag the Dog”, the audience sees the view of the public instead of the views of power players.

Through the ability of these two texts in depicting the notion that appearance is not always reality, the audience can see that conflicts arise from particular ways of seeing the world. Whether that be the eyes of the public, or the eyes of the government, the ideas in these texts powerfully reveal such conflicts.

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