In the latest issue of Empire, writer/director/custodian Adam McKay explained that a sea of change was going to attack the news team from Channel Four in the upcoming Anchorman 2. After dealing with sexual politics and women in the work place, the sequel will jump ahead just a few years to the issue of racial diversity.
“It’s right when all the news started changing with the 24-hours news cycle in ’78 or ’79,” said McKay. “All of a sudden, local news stations diversified and had Latino anchors and African-American anchors, and any time you’re talking about diversity and the Action News team, that’s always fun to deal with.”
A fantastic idea. McKay has never shied away from making political statements, but it’s both surprising and unsurprising that Anchorman 2 would take this tilt. After all, the original isn’t touted as a champion of social consciousness. The fact that it should be is why it’s excellent to see diversity on the menu for the next adventure for Ron Burgundy and friends.
Comedies often overlooked for their social insight, even though they are often the most fertile ground. Dramas can directly take on terrible forces in our culture, but its comedies that often sneak behind enemy lines to become truly subversive.
That’s a label that gets incorrectly tossed around a lot – especially at movies that simply speak to taboo topics. To be truly subversive, art has to tackle the taboo while actively, directly engaging the audience that needs to hear it most. Essentially, “High Times” magazine can talk about legalizing pot all day long to people who smoke it, but it would be another thing to see “Better Homes and Gardens” writing a sweet, hand-stitched article about growing weed that makes my mother see the issue differently. One is Cheech. The other is the Doobie Brothers.
An excellent example of this, for all its flaws, is Josie and the Pussycats – a movie aimed directly at 14-year-old girls, that spoke in their pink pony princess language and said boldly (with glitter) that corporate media control and manipulation through fads and endless consumerism was, like, so totally uncool. Despite Rob Hunter’s scoffing, one day that movie will be praised for its subversive brilliance (and ability to make Tara Reid palatable). One day.
Unlike big-hammered dramas, comedies can hide in plain sight when it comes to political and social commentary. Everyone can repeat quotations about Sex Panther and loving lamp, but it’s easy to forget that Anchorman successfully made a cartoon out of the image of a woman cooking all day in nothing but an apron while keeping a spotless house, raising children, dreaming only of her man’s triumphs and existing for sex on demand. It blasted a 1950s-style absurdity by putting clown shoes on it.
Will Ferrell‘s Burgundy isn’t a man we’re supposed to like. He’s a cro-magnon example of manhood that’s unthinking and cruel, but the triumph of the comedy is in making us fall in love with him because of how funny and charismatic he is. Once we’re in love with this shrine of masculinity, the movie subverts what he stands for by making it ridiculous and by allowing him the flexibility as a character to change his ways.
It’s social commentary disguised as a guy walking around the office with an erection.
McKay’s track record, the ability of the ensemble at work, and the dangerous nature of the subject matter (art should always come with risk, right?) tackling something as impossibly divisive as racial diversity is a great prospect for the Channel Four News Team.