Wag the Dog (1997) – An Exercise in Meta-Propaganda

Wag the Dog film poster.

Wag the Dog film poster.

A Brilliant Revelation of the Method By: Jay Wag the Dog (1997) is one of those 90s movies you somehow missed.  I don't know how I did, but I recently  came across it looking for something along the lines of propaganda and psychological warfare in film, and boy was I in for a treat.  Wag the Dog is dark satire and is far more than I expected it to be.  The film is about private intelligence consultants/marketing experts creating a fake war as a distraction during a presidential candidate's re-election that is racked by scandal. Robert deNiro plays Conrad Brean, "Mr. Fix It," the intelligence/media manipulator hired to create a big distraction that ends up being a fake war with "Albanian fundamentalist terrorists."  There are several people this might be, and it could also be a composite, but given his hat and appearance, E. Howard Hunt immediately comes to mind, though the timing is off. While most analyses of the film would focus on the film's narrative itself as an expose, which is true as far as it goes, I''d like to take a step back and point out that it is more than that.  It's an example of what I'd call meta-propaganda, in the sense that metanarrative in the study of Shakespeare involves a story about the process of writing a story, so with Wag the Dog we have an example of meta-propaganda.  The film is itself propaganda about the process of making propaganda.  This is the secret power and effect of predictive programming: hoodwinking a unknowing mass populace into accepting a manipulation of archetypes and emotional images that produce a desired effect.  The chief medium of this craftworking is film and news.

Robert deNiro plays expert maniuplator, Conrad Brean.

Robert deNiro plays expert manipulator, Conrad Brean.

Brean and companion Winifred Ames (played by Anne Heche) concoct the idea to create a war by hiring a bigtime Hollywood producer, Stanley Motts (played by Hoffman), to script and direct the war.  The war, however, will not exist in any sense, but is shot on a green screen with actors and the latest CGI effects to create an emotional propaganda effect.  One of the best scenes is the production of the fake young Albanian girl (played by Kristen Dunst) carrying a bag of Tostito’s (since they can’t find a kitten).  A Calico cat is then added, with bombings and gunshots superimposed in the background.  While one might balk at such an idea, allow me to remind you that the film is basically a composite of the last twenty years of propaganda and political machinations.  Presidential sex scandals and elections are really about inside shadow government workings, and much of the war and terror propaganda is just that – propaganda.  The events and narratives are literally scripted, as they are in the film.  Thus enters the metapropaganda aspect.

Dustin Hoffman as Stanley Motts. 'War is showbusiness.'

Dustin Hoffman as Stanley Motts. ‘War is showbusiness.’

Throughout the film, genius screenwriter David Mamet drops countless hints as to what is really going on.  We see the characters making insightful comments such as follows:

“It’s all a pageant.”

“They want to destroy our way of life.”

‘We just found out they have the bomb.  It’s a suitcase bomb.”

“The Albanian terrorists have placed a suitcase bomb in Canada.”

“Nuclear terrorism is the future.”

Following the exchange between Brean and Motts, a crew of actors and celebrities are brought in to promote the war, including Willie Nelson, who conducts a hilarious, racially-integrated “We Are The World” style song (“The American Dream”) geared towards promoting the war as the defense of “American freedom” and “democracy.”  Can anyone say, “Toby Keith”?  They even sell merchandise for the war.

Apparently several of the genius commenters at Youtube fail to realize this is satire.  As Motts scripts the events, he jokes that the “First Act” will be the Albanian response: “They deny everything.”  This brings to mind the famous Kissinger clip prior to the invasion of Libya during the Egyptian unrest, that it was the first act of a play.  The film is therefore genius in its presentation of dark satire and the scripted nature of reality, and I think functions on an even deeper level as meta-propaganda.  The viewer is being shown how the propaganda is created, while simultaneously functioning in the world where this is exactly how the propaganda is created.  In other words, the film is fiction, but is true, leaving the viewer with the idea that truth is fiction, and fiction is truth, subconsciously.  This is precisely the best form of manipulation because it is so subtle and functions on so many levels.  It is also not overly complex, though it may give the impression of being “deep.”  On the contrary, the truth is very simple: the establishment creates a false reality everyone believes, by placing that false reality in fiction, that then becomes reality.  This is what my thesis was on: look around you and see that it works.  Consider, too, this excellent video showing the Wag the Dog process:

4 Comments on Wag the Dog (1997) – An Exercise in Meta-Propaganda

  1. Mary Pishney // February 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm // Reply

    Bravo! Few movies stick to my mind for years, as did, “Wag the dog.” Maybe because we see the reality equivalent of the musical pattern; variations on a theme. We truly have seen this show over and over, till we can lip sync the lines of the charade along with Dustin! Just as “JFK” let many truths out and was duly trashed for Stone’s bravery in producing this disturbing film, it has become an iconic movie that quantifies reality, hidden by lies, just as Wag did. Every time I see a new media hyped “enemy”…I wait to see the babushka scarfed girl with her heart string’s robbing cat! But what can one expect from a media bought by the elite to do their pervasive mindset version of what enemy/country we should hate and therefore prepare to invade? “W”
    set the trend for hitting an enemy before that country had any intention to be a threat! Sure makes it easy to pick off nations that have something we want, namely oil, or might have the gall to pick their own leaders sans the CIA fixers. We all live in Wonderland (and I’m not referring to Michael’s weird world) and have joined the tea party down the rabbit hole! Rather like dancing on the Titanic, because reality would be driven out of our consciousness by us, just as ruthlessly as the pitchfork brigade went after Frankenstein. Wag and “Network make fabulous
    bookends; after watching both, all one need do to the viewers is ask, “Any questions?”

    • “Oil” may not have been the real reason they invaded… as they say in Quantum of Solace… there are other more important assets than oil. The oil is the misdirection.
      I am reminded of MIB when I think of the Iraq War… where they’re reading the National Inquier or other such “hoax” magazines and say something about the truth hidden in them.
      At the time of the iraq war there was a National Inquiere issue where they mentioned a Star Gate found in Iraq and The Garden of Eden in another I think…. not to clear… but they did go in to raid and destroy a part of REAL Human History that was kept in Iraq including Hidden Technology if the magazine fornt page “hoax” story was true.
      Why go to Iraq to get what Texas is full of… although un-tapped maybe, to create false shortage crises.
      Part of the misdirection of why wars are fought are the oil and other such things… It’s most likely the same things the Nazis, as in the Indiana Jones movies, were after that they’re still after: secret, Ancient Technology. The Lost Ark, Spear of Destiny, the Cosmic Cube (Marvel’s the Avengers)[aka the Lament Configuration (Hellraiser) or Rubik’s Cube (80s cartoon)], and other such things that many of these wars are fought over. “He who controld the Spice controls the Universe!”

      • Mary Pishney // June 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm //

        I am sure that raiding ancient artifacts was part of the program to invade Iraq, but I put more emphasis on what the perpetrators of this false war said were the reasons. That can be easily found in a variety of sources: “Plans for a new American century” the Mein Kampf of the neo con jackals, the secret meeting of the oil moguls with Cheney that divided up the oil spoils amongst them prior to the invasion, and the multitude of highly researched books, essays and testimonials by the actual witnesses to the plot that reveal the main goal was OIL. Just check out the list of future victim states in the middle east that is delineated in Plans for a New American Century and check out the present PR campaign to go to war (maybe via drones) with the next country on their
        Hitler-like list. If one needs more confirmation of that fact, the great new book by Jeremy Scahill is the preeminent book that exposes the rot that is destroying the world and doubtless will lead to WW III. “Dirty Wars” is a must read for the public to understand the depravity we are dealing with!

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