The Truman Show & Wag the Dog

by KE Monahan Huntley

Media produced constructed reality is addressed in The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir, and Wag the Dog, written by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet and directed by Barry Levinson. The Truman (television) Show broadcasts one man's existence as 24 hour entertainment--this "true man" Truman Burbank (main character) is utterly unaware his environment, relationships, livelihood, etc., are artificial and available for public consumption. In Wag the Dog, a phony war is created to divert the American public's attention from their wayward President, mere days before (re)election. Unlike Truman's audience who are in on it, the viewers turning on the set for America vs. Albania's news bulletins are deliberately manipulated to believe there is an actual crisis that requires blind patriotism. Once Truman figures out his entire life is a lie with high ratings, he leaves (mc resolve-change; judgment-good). Once Wag the Dog's pageant is determined a success (story outcome), its flamboyant producer (influence character) wants to roll credits, but the spin doctor (main character) cannot allow this to happen, and cancels his life.

"Pure Hollywood." Hmmm. Be aware. Be very aware.

These films execute their high concepts with wit and polish. From a Dramatica point of view, however, they do not quite make a grand argument, particularly in the main character throughlines--emphasized in The Truman Show; downplayed in Wag the Dog.

The Truman Show, like its television production, monitors Truman's every movement. We experience all of Truman's feelings. The objective story, where we dispassionately watch how these feelings are created, is attended to only enough to underscore Truman. The influence character is sketchy and the relationship story underdeveloped. Conversely, Wag the Dog identifies Conrad Brean as its main character, but at story's end he is still an enigma. Showbiz Stanley is a fully developed influence character--which gives the relationship story at least some substance. Wag the Dog stresses the objective story, overall.

The Truman Show and Wag the Dog portentously shake their cautionary tales. Their messages will hopefully prompt some thought-provoking audience discussion about the media's power to fabricate, or at the very least sway, American culture. The film presentations themselves, however, are amusing the first time, but lack underlying story structure balanced enough to support a compelling story that would call for a return trip to the theater.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

Prev Articles Home Next

Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now