Wag the Dog
Texts frequently portray conflicting perspectives of personalities, events and situations in order to influence the response of the reader. These perspectives are shown through a variety of techniques, and the composer invariably favors one perspective over the other in order to represent their underlying message or purpose within a text. Wag the Dog, a political satire, directed by Barry Levinson, is one such text. Levinson portrays conflicting perspectives of the character of the President throughout the film, ultimately influencing the audience into questioning the morality of their own leaders. Similarly, the documentary, Bowling for Columbine composed by Michael Moore explores conflicting perspective of CHARACTER in order to REPRESENTATION PURPOSE.
Another issue explored in Wag the Dog is the Albanian war. Levinson utilizes conflicting perspectives of this situation in order to suggest that the power to manipulate a country stem from the media rather than from the government. This is mirrored by ISSUE/SITUATION/EVENT as it is portrayed in Bowling for Columbine in order to PURPOSE. Thus, it is clear that the representation process of texts influences responses to those texts. Levinson uses conflicting perspectives of the President in Wag the Dog in order to influence the audience’s responses. One perspective of the President, displayed periodically, is that he is an effective leader in a time of crisis. This perspective is shown through the symbolism of the prop of the phone. Ames is frequently shown as connected to the phone and through this, the President controls Brean and Motss. This is exposed clearly in the production room when the President successfully obtains a white kitten for the Albanian girl to hold.
Ames, holding the phone, is shown from a low angle standing over Motss, physically representing the President’s power. In stark contrast to this, the alternate perspective of the President as a week puppet figurehead is shown when the President gives a speech. Levinson portrays him from a point of view shot, foregrounding the teleprompter in the shot. This focus emphasizes the President as a controlled product. The absence of the President as a named character, and his facelessness both in operating over the phone and as a result of the point of view shot, clearly demonstrates that Levinson favors the negative perspective of the President. Additionally, Levinson shows the President in a positive light through the TV motif, with reporters commenting on the President’s developing popularity.
This is particularly focused on following the incident at the airport when the President greets the Albanian women. The TV that the audience views through a position at the top of the frame emphasizes the President’s strong leadership. Alternatively, Levinson utlises the TV motif to contrast this perception at the end of the film when the ‘veneered’ conflict with Albania is announced. The reporter states that “the President is not available to comment”, thus emphasizing the inability of the President to respond in times of real trouble. Levinson again favors the negative perspective of the President by ending the film with this perspective, leaving this impression with the audience. Obviously, Levinson uses a variety of visual techniques to create conflicting perspectives of the President, favoring the negative perspective. This representation process causes the audience to question the morality of their own leaders, as they consider whether the media’s portrayal of their own leader has undergone such manipulation.