Wag the Dog Essay

Truth is essentially in the eye of the beholder. That is, there is no one absolute reality, but the significance of a truth is determined by the purpose and power of its pursuer. This is not to say that there is no truth, rather what is perceived as reality can be constructed to suit the aims of those in power and also reflect the contextual paradigms of society. Two texts that explore the distortion of truth for the preservation of power are the film Wag the Dog, directed by Barry Levinson which satirises both the manipulative role of the government in fabricating reality and the gullibility of the public and the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles in which Thomas Hardy challenges the construction of moral truths to maintain an established social hierarchy. In both these texts, the concept of truth and certainty as definite is questioned, provoking the audience to reconsider the validity of the truths they adhere to.

In Wag the Dog, Levinson immediately raised the question of how truth is influenced by power. In the opening, the viewer is asked to consider the reality of public sovereignty in the democratic electoral process through the metaphor of the films title. The concept of the “tail wagging the dog” alerts the audience to the grim truth of government manipulation. The negotiability of truth in the film is established by the plot of the President’s alleged sexual impropriety, the legitimacy of which is side lined by Conrad Brean’s question “what difference does it make if it’s true?” This rhetorical question is posed furthermore to the viewer, challenging the audience to examine the conflict between truth and implication. Whether or not the story is perceived as true is determined by the media, the power of the image, which the government harnesses to control public opinion.

Though it is the government that uses the media as a tool to manipulate the public’s perception of the truth, Levinson reminds us that it is ultimately the media which yields greater...