Wag the Dog
1997 - Comedy, Drama -1:37
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Robert De Niro
Wag the Dog: Movie Review by Steve Hays
December 13, 2017
Wag the Dog is a film by Barry Levinson that was released in Dec. 1997, exactly 20 years ago. The great thing about old movies like this is you often recognize most of the cast. Even the minor characters with part-time appearances are people we’ve seen again and again for 20 years. Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, Kirsten Dunst, Woody Harrelson, William Macy, Suzie Plakson, Jim Belushi—you get the point.
I wasn’t really looking for the movie. The VHS was handed to me and I was told it needed to go back to the library in a few days. I watched it and was amazed at how relevant the movie is to our current situation.
Still I thought it too old to review. That is, until I was looking for something on my bookshelf and noticed a little-used book titled Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary. I opened it up to a random page and found myself on the Publishing and Journalism page. The first entry I saw was the word Afghanistanism. The definition was “a journalist’s term for the avoiding of local controversy by focusing news coverage on distant lands.”
I got the hint and decided to include it this issue.
For those of you who are familiar with the movie, the comparisons are obvious. If not, it’s an eye-opener. There’s even a clip at the end of the movie with some of the players who voiced their concern that in the “future” what they fictionalized in the movie would be a common part of our reality and could easily get worse. In other words, it’s about fake news.
In Wag the Dog, fake news is used to divert attention away from the President who had been caught with a “Fire Fly” girl visiting the White House eleven days before an election.
No problem. With Robert De Niro’s character coordinating the deception, a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) hired to create a fake war, a fake hero (Woody Harrelson) and Willie Nelson to provide a ballad, the people are distracted and the President is reelected.
The movie has some funny scenes and it’s easy to laugh along the way, but hard to laugh at when it’s over. It’s sad that they could, in their commentary 20 years ago at the end of the movie, forsee Afghanistanism getting worse and becoming commonplace. “Who knows how bad it could get?” they asked. They expected it to. Deep down, I think we all did.
The worst case they paint– people no longer being able to tell reality from fiction and being divided about it. Today we have politicians who have no desire to discover the truth. They say whatever they want to satisfy their own purposes and that of their monetary contributors.
So 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.