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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Friday (4/18/14) 2:29am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Anchorman [spoilers]
TV:  <none>
Books:  <none>

Anchorman [spoilers]
This is the 2004 Will Farrell comedy about a clueless San Diego news anchor.

I didn't expect to hate Anchorman.

Mind you, I wasn't expecting to like it much, either.  I liked Will Ferrell on SNL as a supporting player (say, the "more cowbell" sketch or the "Celebrity Jeopardy!" runner), but his featured characters were usually the sort of shouty man-child types that never connected with me.  I figured I'd watch Anchorman, be a little amused by it, tick a box on my 'cultural awareness' checklist, and carry on with my day.

And there were bits of the movie that felt harmless and fun.  Ron's complicated conversation with his dog ("You know I don't speak Spanish, Baxter!") amused me.  The surreal right turn into an a cappella rendition of "Afternoon Delight" was fun, though their out-of-tune chords hurt Lindsey's ears.  The vaunted Gangs of New York-style news team brawl is gleefully silly.

Basically, whenever the movie didn't hate women, I was happy with it.

I'll say this from the outset: I know I'm being unfair to this movie.  I know that it has many fans who are not misogynistic at all.  I know that the movie itself doesn't have any sort of agenda beyond providing laughs.  And honestly, I suspect that a lot of my attitude to this movie comes from ten years of hearing this movie idolized by bro-y, lad-mag types.

And honestly, I hate thinking I'm the sort of person that has to *agree* with art in order to *like* it.  Here I am, as atheistic an atheist that ever atheisted, and I love Bach's Mass in B Minor.  Why?  Because I'm not small, petty, and intent on denying myself beauty in this world just because it doesn't line up with my worldview.  Hell, art is *supposed* to jar us, to shake us out of complacency, and to show us perspectives, right?

All that said, I hated Anchorman.

For starters, I'm just so damn weary of The Woman Who Says No.  This is a common trope on TV (I'm surprised it doesn't have a TV Tropes entry).  You have a show with a male protagonist.  That male protagonist is somehow unique -- if it's a comedy, he's zany, unconventional, and prone to getting into wacky scrapes; if it's a comedy, he's moody, morally ambiguous, and prone to getting in thrilling shootouts.  In both cases, there is a Woman Who Says No, usually the hero's wife.  And her job, in the script, is to constantly say "no".  No, Mr. Hero.  Stop that.  Stop doing that uncovnentional thing that you do.  Stop doing that unique thing that is the whole reason that people are watching this show in the first place.

Now, this is a convenient trope.  It's a facile way to generate conflict: if TWWSN just hates people acting all unconventional, then you don't have to bother developing the antagonist as a character, and you don't have to find some nuanced reason she'd butt heads with the hero.  Nope, the conflict is just right there on page one.

But it makes it feel like a world where women are all disapproving mother figures who only exist in relation to the men in their lives and who are never, never funny or interesting on their own.  And so it is with Anchorman, where the female lead is there to (1) be a sex object and (2) say no.

(Side note: it's fun to compare this to Community.  Britta Perry was *introduced* as very much a 'woman who says no' to play against Jeff Winger.  The character never really gelled until Dan Harmon got bored with that and the show started developing Britta into an out-of-step goofball who was definitely doing her own thing.)

And yes, there's the usual movie skeeviness, where taking no to mean yes is actually desirable behavior, and being a tool to a woman for the film's whole running time results in twu wuv.  But let's just set that aside.  If that stuck in my craw every time I saw it, I wouldn't be able to enjoy *anything*.

And frankly, it's hard to even notice these structural issues when sexism takes center stage in the story, like a thousand-watt blinking neon sign.  Sexism is the engine that runs the plot.  Sexism is the source of most of the jokes.

And yes, I *get* that the movie is making fun of the sexism.  I get that, from a certain point of view, Ron is the butt of the joke in this movie.  But really, if the guys who are acting the most sexist are the ones who are successful, beloved, respected, and rich -- and the ones who get what they want at the end and live happily ever after -- is the movie really telling us their behavior is bad?  And if it is, isn't it just telling us that the most egregious workplace harassment of the 1970s crosses the line?  Isn't it just reassuring viewers that all lesser forms of dudebro sexism are still a-ok?

Again, Community proves useful.  Pierce Hawthorne is a very sexist character, but the show treats that sexism with real venom.  It's not just "Aw, Pierce, you lovable knucklehead, you mean well."

It's also interesting to compare this movie to WKRP in Cincinnati.  That show, with Bailey Quarters, covered the exact same arc that Anchorman follows: a smart, talented woman tries to break into the male-dominated local-news business.  Not only that, but WKRP was on the air in 1978, the year after when Anchorman takes place.  And the brain-breaking irony is that WKRP, this show from that ostensibly backward and sexist period, has a lot more respect for its female characters than this 2000s film that's making *fun* of the 70s for being sexist.

(And now my brain is tied in a knot.)

Anchorman feels like a movie that *revels* in sexism.  It soaks in it like it's a warm bath.  It's trying to connect to something in the audience that yearns for that simpler, crueler time, when men could be asses and women could just keep their traps shut.  There must be many, many lad-mag enthusiasts who connect to this movie on that level.

And again, I know I'm bringing extratextual material to this film.  The film itself is just an innocuous, surreal romp about another of Will Ferrell's shouty man-children.  Hell, Archer treads a lot of the exact same ground as far as sexual politics go, and I *love* that show.  But watching Anchorman, I feel like I'm watching it with a bunch of frat boys, and they're all blathering about how, yeah, that's what men and women are *supposed* to act like.

I suppose on some level I get irritated watching any broad, popular comedy -- I get bored by the jokes and wearied by the characters, sure, but also it reminds me just how little my sense of humor matches up the rest of the world.  This is why I don't watch Two and a Half Men, for example -- sure, the show is unfunny, but the show, by proxy, reminds us that most of humanity is unfunny.

So I guess Anchorman just reminded me how out of step I am with the world -- or at least with the world of 2004.  I don't respect the same things, I don't laugh at the same things -- at best I can smirk at a conversation with a dog, and figure that, well, at least that's something.

For next week: I'm tired of watching crap.  I'm watching The Piano Teacher now, and moving on to House of Games after that.  Also, I really dug Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and will write something about that for next week.

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