Adam McKay’s comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) takes a satirical look at the American news world of the 1970s to laugh at puff pieces, sexism in the workplace, and the mistakes anchors can make on live TV. The sad fact is today the sexism is still there, if only slightly more hidden (FOX News), and the news on TV sometimes looks more and more ridiculous. Part of what makes Anchorman so funny is that unlike today most of its characters have no idea they are being ridiculous since in their world the term “diversity” is to be confused with the name of a sunken ship.
Having worked as a reporter for three years, I can guarantee you that Anchorman is a lot funnier if you have actually worked in the media. When I first saw the movie while it was playing on a movie channel I thought it was one of Will Ferrell’s better comedies, but it took a new meaning when I joined the Journalism – New Media program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. We had to learn how to use cameras, edit footage, write articles, perform interviews, and also read from a teleprompter for a television news show. It turns out that yes, sometimes you will read every single word on the screen, even if those words are “I am Ron Burgundy?” or even worse, “Go fuck yourself, San Diego!”
Ron Burgundy, played by Will Ferrell with a lot of machismo and a superb moustache, is a king of TV news in 1974 San Diego. His colleagues include field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sports caster Champ Kind (David Koechner), and meteorologist Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) who is probably mentally disabled, but nobody notices because of the times. This manly wolfpack gets the station high ratings and they believe they can do no wrong. However the times they are a-changing and the boys’ station director (Fred Willard) informs them he has had to hire, of all things, a woman.
Poor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hardworking, driven, and very good at her job, but because she is also a beautiful blonde, Ron only sees her as another notch to add to his belt. Somehow he does manage to develop a romantic relationship with her, despite the fact he takes her on a date where he tells her San Diego is Spanish for “a whale’s vagina.” The relationship takes a steep nosedive when a car accident involving an angry biker (Jack Black, in a brief cameo) delays Ron to the station, giving Veronica the chance to fill in for him on air and become co-anchor. Having a woman in the workplace is one thing, but to have one sit next to his throne is one step too far for Ron. This means war.
Sexism in the workplace and journalism are serious subjects, but the greatest comedians can make fun of anything. Part of the reason why co-writers Ferrell and McKay can get away with tackling with tackling those subjects, even if Ron and his buddies are sometimes mean-spirited towards Veronica, is because the gags rarely stop and are often over the top. They don’t all work, but a definite standout is the battle of the news teams. What starts out as a an insult match between Ron’s main competitor Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn) turns into a physical altercation between all of San Diego’s news teams involving swords, tridents, and hatchets.
Naturally, Ron saying “Boy, that escalated quickly” after the bloody fight has become a popular meme over the years. Another proof of the film’s lasting impact is that every now and then you will see blooper reels from local news stations in which anchors are described as having a Ron Burgundy moment.
For people who just watch the news seeing a reporter make a mistake on air it is of course hilarious, but anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom will feel a bit of sympathy for the poor guy (or woman). Anchorman is a very funny movie with a great cast of comedians at the top of their game, and for people in the media it is also somewhat of a cautionary tale.