Media Matters

The Ingenious Satire of Anchorman 2

A movie boosted by the media…skewers the media.

By 1.7.14

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Anchorman 2 is only two hours long, but based on its intensive marketing, which went on for almost a month ahead of the movie’s release date, any viewer could reasonably expect a life-changing theatrical experience. Will Ferrell showed up in character, as suave ’60s news anchor Ron Burgundy, in every SUV commercial, late-night talk show, local news broadcast, obscure Midwestern dive bar, and small-town parade float from sea to shining sea between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He released a book, a Scotch-flavored (well, butterscotch) Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and a Scotch-flavored Scotch, all designed to either promote Anchorman 2 or to begin a slow process of global domination. His media saturation was supposed to build excitement for the sequel. It ended up being almost better than the picture itself — and a better critique of the media industry.

If you’re looking for a movie with a couple of basic requirements, like, for instance, a discernible plot, you’ll have to trade in your tickets for something more formidable, maybe that film where Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts re-enact scenes from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? over an awkward dinner at a country home. Anchorman 2 is not about delivering to your bourgeois expectations, but is, instead, an artistically woven rehash of jokes from the first movie (but bigger, longer, uncut, and slightly altered for continuity), and slow-witted commentary on the 24 hour news cycle.

That does not mean Anchorman 2 is not funny, entertaining, or enjoyable. It just means that you will not come away with any further sympathy for the characters, or a Newsroom­­-esque sense of superiority over consumers of major network cable news. You will, however, come away with a better understanding of the life cycle of the Great White Shark and a few new vocabulary words you will not be comfortable using in polite company. Anchorman 2 capitalizes on what made the first movie a cult classic: mostly-improvised sketchy comedy sequences from a script team tasked with repeating Anchorman’s initial success. There are a few original sequences (Ron Burgundy goes temporarily blind in a freak figure skating accident, for example). That said, Anchorman 2 is practically the Buzzfeed recap of Anchormana numbered list of the first movie’s greatest hits, but narrated by Bill Kurtis.

If you know and love Anchorman, you’re probably not expecting to have your world turned upside down by a man in a crushed velvet leisure suit. Which is why it is so surprising that Anchorman 2 takes its criticism of the 24-hour news cycle so seriously. In a bid to boost his ratings after a bet with “GNN’s” prime time pretty-boy anchor, Ron Burgundy, the 2-4 a.m. host, turns to a mix of uber-patriotism, celebrity gossip, puppy photos, and car chases — a plan that not only works, but changes the course of media history. Ron earns fame and fortune, and brings “serious” basic cable news to its knees…at least until he realizes that he’s traded in his journalistic passion for cheap thrills. In the midst of an no-javelins-barred melee between anchormen, Ron comes to his senses about the divine calling that is reading the news. That is, before someone blows Kanye West into atoms with a space-age weapon from the future (just as I was starting to like him, too).

Ironically, although the movie ends with Burgundy committing to the serious journalism that is, undoubtedly, the hallmark of today’s mainstream media, Ferrell himself does not exhibit the same unflappable respect for the business. Part of the picture’s marketing strategy involved Ferrell, in costume, showing up as a “guest anchor” on local news programs, using as a marketing vehicle the very institutions that the movie portrays as Moses-like, delivering messages from on high. Where the movie artfully skewers media clichés, ratings-boosting non-stories, and the self-important talking heads who deliver them, it embraces and celebrates the same media’s desire to reach for celebrity approval. If anything ends up being a scathing indictment of the 24-hour news machine, perhaps it is that, in some places, the news ended up spending as much time covering Ron Burgundy as it does imitating him. So while the movie might fail to make its point regarding today’s substance-less cable journalism culture, at least the marketing arc that made the movie seem more of an anti-climactic conclusion than a real celebration, managed to underscore it.

Fortunately, finding a massive ego with incomprehensible hair on cable television is as difficult as finding a Kardashian in an outpatient plastic surgery facility. So even if Ron Burgundy fails to win your heart with his comedic exploits, you can always apply what those exploits teach you during your daily intake of MSNBC — at least, if you happen to be their only viewer.

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About the Author

Emily Zanotti blogs at NakedDC.com.