Question 2: Compare and Contrast the Approaches to the Representations of the two different Media in Almost Famous (2000) and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy(2004).
Word count: 2305
Almost Famous is a 1998 American film directed by Cameron Crowe, it tells the story of the 1970s American hard rock band Stillwater struggling in the harsh face of stardom from the perspective of a Rolling Stone Magazine journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit). Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a 2004 American parody film directed by Adam McKay, it tells the story of how Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), a famous television news anchor in San Diego, descends from fame and later comeback. I choose these two films as both protagonists William Miller and Ron Burgundy are from San Diego and these two different stories happened in the same period of time – mid 1970s. They both portray the media effects on audiences and their reaction to these audiences. In Almost Famous, audiences are portrayed as active to the music industry and have a good knowledge of the entertainment business. In contrast, audiences in Anchorman are presumed as passive receivers of TV news information right at the beginning. It lacks serious critics of events. Females are presented considerably in both films as important but a menace to the male characters. Almost Famous treats women less seriously but females are free to do what they like. On the contrary, female characters in Anchorman are constantly under male power and cannot do what they want but they are treated more justly as a practitioner within the industry. Both films shed light upon the gender inequality in a serious tone. I am going to use theories of ‘reflexivity’ to examine how audiences are portrayed respectively in two different types of media. I will also use the theories of ‘self-reflexivity’ to compare the difference between two industries in terms of the production and competition. I will use ‘intertextuality’ to discuss the genres of two films.
Reflexivity, argued by Rosenberg (1990. p3), refers to the process of an entity acting back upon itself. Almost Famous and Anchorman both reflected the media effects on audiences. Almost Famous started its story in the house of the Millers. The first actual audience mentioned in the film is William Miller’s sister Anita Miller (Zooey Deschanel) who is a real fan of rock n’ roll music. She is an inner-directed person and regards rock n’ roll music as an integral part of her life and her future. Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand), mother of William and Anita, is a traditional-minded woman who teaches in a local college. Her ideas would not allow Anita to get involved with the low culture she deemed. Anita angrily leaves her home at the age of 18 and starts her career as an air stewardess. At the very beginning of the film, the notion of ‘audience’ is seriously examined. The first audience of music is portrayed as brave and, most-importantly, fully aware of their own behaviours and wants. Before Anita leaves home, she holds her brother William and tells him ‘Look under your bed’. Judging from those worn surfaces of records and the notes she made on each one of them, we can speculate here Anita has been a very loyal fan and has spent much time, energy and money on the medium she consumes. William is clearly influenced by her sister as he later grows up to be an even more loyal fan to rock music. It would be hard to imagine that in such a strict household, an obedient young child like William Miller will grow up to be a journalist on rock n’ roll which is against his mother’s will. He often writes for Creem magazine and knows every song from his lyrics. The devotion wins the chance for him to make friends with musicians as he uses the word ‘incendiary’ to describe the ‘Fever Dog’ song of Stillwater right in front of its members. His passion in pursuing his career as a journalist even makes him give up the chance of attending his graduation ceremony. Another important character inside the film is Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), the founder of Band Aid. She gathers friends to support bands they love instead of just passively listening to their songs without thinking. Penny and William sometime challenge the thoughts of their idols and will give them some constructive ideas. The sad thing is that they have never been regarded seriously until the very end of the film.
Anchorman also examines the media effect on audiences but in a less serious tone. From the beginning, a non-diegetic voice narrates the traits of television audiences in the 1970s – ‘There was a time, a time before cable, when the local anchorman reigned supreme, when people believed everything they heard on TV’. This statement at the very beginning positions TV audiences as passive receivers of information. The first time when Ron Burgundy starts broadcasting, an old rocker-like man yells in a bar ‘hey everybody, shut the hell up, Ron Burgundy is on’. The following scene is a toddler saying her first words ‘Ron Burgundy’. It is a clearly a computer generated scene. However, it is a metaphor of the overwhelming power of television in 1970s. ‘Stay classy San Diego’ is what Ron Burgundy says every time at the end of his broadcasting. Then we see people from different places (home, bar, work place), young or old, white or black, repeat after Ron. This scene fortifies the idea of Television’s manipulation over audiences.
In a general case in film, males are often portrayed as heroes who struggle and females are put to a less important position (Mortimer, 1997). In both films, females play a great part of the plot but inevitably become portrayed as sex objects. In Almost Famous, Penny Lane and her band aid claim to be supporters of band only, however, ironically, they failed to escape the fate as groupies. Penny Lane is in a very subtle but intimate relationship with Stillwater’s guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). In many occasions Penny is braless and wears a very thin top or blouse. When the band Stillwater travels to Cleveland, Penny Lane and Russell Hammond are flirting with each other and Penny only wears her panties. There is even short scene showing her breasts and her full naked back. Other girls, for example, Polexia (Anna Paquin) is one hundred percent a groupie who tried every time to make out with rock stars and even travels all the way from America to Europe to be with Deep Purple. When William Miller is writing his ideas for Rolling Stone magazine in a bathtub, Penny comes straight in to pee just in front of him. Later William is dragged out by three other young women into bedroom. They claim to ‘deflower Opie’ and ‘Opie should die’. Later we see the pace of imaged has been slowed down, the vibe on the screen becomes highly erotic when they start to undress William and themselves.
In Anchorman there is only one woman who has been seriously portrayed – Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). When she enters the Channel 4 News station for the first day, members from Channel 4 News Team try to seduce her and refuse to take her seriously as a journalist or a colleague. Veronica became the object of their sexual imagination when they talk about her good body inside the office. Later Ron tries to date her and succeeds at that night and has sex with her. When Ron talks about her life with Veronica in the future with his teammates, Veronica is only wearing a cook apron. The conversation is highly erotic too and Veronica in his imagination is a full-time housewife without any careerism. The image of women is degraded and the relationship between male and female protagonists becomes obvious. Women are portrayed as men’s most important and shiny ‘accessories’, however, to a certain extent, they are a threat to the career of the male protagonists. The flight scene in Almost Famous exposes the promiscuous relationships between band members which cause a huge brawl between them. In Anchorman, Veronica, with her talent and hard work, makes Ron out of job and takes over as the Channel 4 New anchor. In both films, ‘women function as erotic objects both for the characters within the story and for the spectator, who identifies with the main male protagonist and derives a sense of omnipotence from this identification’ (Mulvey, 1975. p14).
Talking about gender inequality, it is a different landscape between these two films. Women in the music industry are more likely to be themselves. They choose their favourite music, the bands they watch, the food they eat, the place they are and the life they want. Being a journalist in the Television industry, Veronica is not lucky enough to be like them and choose the things she likes to do. As she mentions ‘it is the same everywhere that men make jokes of women. To be the best journalist is the way to get respect’. The good thing is that Veronica achieved success and became the first female anchor in America. And later the configuration of having two anchors, one male and one female, report news is nowadays a fixed form. Females inside television industry are treated more seriously as ‘women’ in contrast to ‘sex objects’ in music industry.
‘Self-reflexivity is used to describe films or texts which self-consciously acknowledge or reflect upon their own status as fictional artefacts or the processes involved in their creation’ (Krenn, 2007. p36). Almost Famous exposes some of the ugliest facts about the rock music industry. Hypocrisy is the most severe problem within the industry and inside people. The first time William meets Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), Jeff tries to glorify himself by stating ‘rock n’ roll is a way of thinking, a life style. Fame and money are not important but the chicks are great’. He sounds like a rascal who is desperately for staying the spotlight, a hobo who is desperately to be cool. When he says all these things, we can see that Russell is looking at him contemptuously which shows that he knows Jeff is pretending to be someone he is not. Russell, compared to Jeff, has a more honest attitude on music. He tells William what makes a song is actually those tiny mistakes. You need only one in the song, and it is what makes fans remember it. The production process in Anchorman seems not very professional. The film constantly shows the mistakes inside Channel 4 News Studio such as the mistakes on the teleprompter and Ron Burgundy’s grumpy character and his low IQ (e.g. He reads out anything he sees). The sense of responsibility is different in two films. Stillwater gives up a show half way and leaves the venue straight away. In television news industry however, when some emergencies happened, there is always a back-up plan to keep thing going.
Mead (1934) and Cooley (1902) showed clearly that ‘reflexivity among human beings is rooted in the social process, particularly the process of taking the role of the other and of seeing the self from the other’s perspective’ (Rosenburg, M. 1990, p3). The Rolling Stone magazine which trashed Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ also ended the career of Stillwater. They hasted too much to be famous but lost themselves. William’s article wakes them up but it is already too late to re-establish a good public image. Ron Burgundy learnt from his failure and realised the hard work of Veronica, he finally got to know who he should be and together they made a huge progress for television news industry.
The most hilarious sequence in Anchorman is the fight between five news teams. They fight each other near a factory which make people think of the typical gang fight scenes in other films. The fight is fierce and the casualties are heavy. The siren of the police ends this chaos. This is a satire of the vicious and sometimes illegal competitions for higher ratings inside the television news industry.
‘Intertextuality strongly linked with postmodernism, designates, in its narrow sense, the ways in which a film either explicitly or implicitly refers to others films (e.g. through allusion, imitation, parody or pastiche), or in its broader sense, the various relationships on (film) text may have with other texts’ (Nelmes, 2012. p191). Both films are based on historical events, so they are themselves inherently examples of ‘intertextuality’. Almost Famous is a drama in terms of genre. It vividly retells the stories of a band which failed to become a hit. It tells us a story about chasing dreams and making mistakes. Those pieces of fine music are an intertext of nostalgia for old good times. Anchorman is a parody and this decides it will not analyse events in a more serious fashion, but it shows a historic event of women being recognised in the television broadcasting industry. It is these use of techniques of intertextuality that add power of credibility to the films.
Compare and contrast the representation of media in these two films, the media’s effect over audiences has been examined in both films. Almost Famous tends to analyse the audience’s reaction to media effect from the perspective of individuals. Most notably, it uses three characters, William, Anita and Penny, to show audiences’ active reaction to the medium they love and live on. Anchorman tends to present television news audiences as a passive whole group. The individual characteristics are diminished. Both films recognise the importance of females inside the society. Females in Almost Famous have more freedom to do what they like but failed to be taken seriously as ‘women’ by the society. In Anchorman, the gender inequality is a more prominent problem but females are justly treated as ‘women’ with dignity and characteristics. They both used ‘intertextuality’ to create the sense of reality, but one with a more serious tone as a drama and the other less critical as a parody.
Cooley, C. H. (1902) Human Nature and Social Order. Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Krenn, S. (2007) Oriental and Postmodern Elements in Moulin Rouge!. Universität Stuttgart Deutschland
Mead, G. H. (1934) Mind, Self and Society: From the Standpoint of s Social Behaviourist.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Mulvey L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In: L. Braudy and Marshall Cohen (eds), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp.6-18.
Nelmes, J. (2012). Introduction to Film Studies. 5th Edition. London: Routledge.
Rosenberg, M. (1990) ‘Reflexivity and Emotions’ in Social Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 1.
(Mar, 1990), pp 3-12.
Almost Famous (2000). [Film] Directed by Cameron CROWE. USA: Dreamworks.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). [Film] Directed by Andy MCKAY. USA: Dreamworks.