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Milking a franchise – Let Me Off at the Top! by Ron Burgundy

Let Me Off at the Top, by Ron Burgundy (Crown Archetype, New York, 2013)
Let Me Off at the Top, by Ron Burgundy (Crown Archetype, New York, 2013)

“Ron Burgundy” is of course not the actual author of this book – it was penned by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. “Ron Burgundy” is a fictional character, and this publication, his “autobiography”, is part of the marketing and publicity campaign for the movie “Anchorman II: The Legend Continues” which was released in 2013.

At 223 pages, the joke flags quite a bit towards the end.  However, the depiction of “Burgundy” – his life history, habits, tastes, expressions, attitudes – is surprisingly consistent, detailed and well thought-out, which may have led some people to think he is real. (Yes, there are those.)

It has its moments though. I enjoyed the description of the burning coal mine hometown of “Haggleworth” – that was a nice bit of satire thrown in the mix.

The Wonder of Photoshop

Checking for anachronisms and inconsistencies in the portrayal of the character was entertaining – and from the looks of it, the authors made these little slips intentionally. For instance, “Burgundy” writes that he was born in 1940, which would make  him 73 at the time of the book’s publication, which probably means he is immune to ageing, judging by the cover photo.

In another photo caption he states that he met Jacqueline Onassis in 1966, but Jacqueline Kennedy only married Aristotle Onassis in 1968, so she was still a Kennedy then, not an Onassis. Also, in the doctored Associated Press photo of him and Normal Mailer, taken in 1965, Mailer was actually arm-wrestling Mohammed Ali. 

Norman Mailer arm-wrestling Mohammed Ali (actual, AP File, 1965)
Norman Mailer arm-wrestling Mohammed Ali (actual, AP File, 1965)Norman Mailer arm-wrestling Ron Burgundy (from Let Me Off at the Top!)Norman Mailer arm-wrestling Ron Burgundy (from Let Me Off at the Top!)

It was funny in parts, a bit annoying in others, and I was mildly entertained for a few hours. Somewhere in there the writers slipped in a neat little truism about the news industry:

“’Ron, sometimes people don’t want the truth. They just want the news.”

It’s advertising, not literature

But hang on just a minute, while this is a printed publication, it isn’t literature by a long shot. It’s a one-joke promotional stunt; a character (with hangers-on) created for the sake of this particular franchise. I think Will Ferrell should be getting worried about being typecast. (When he does his Pres. George W. Bush impression he looks and sounds uncannily like Ron Burgundy sans moustache.) And it’s been done often – remember these fictional characters created for commercials? 

  • Captain Obvious (for hotels.com)
  • Captain Morgan (for eponymous brand rum – but based on an actual historical figure)
  • The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, a.k.a.The Old Spice Man
  • The Most Interesting Man in the World, a.k.a Don Equis (for Dos Equis Beer)
  • The Marlboro Man (cigarette brand)

And here’s a whole long list of fictional characters created for American TV commercials.

Ultimately, does the extension of a whole wrigglin’, writhin’  parcel of advertising tropes into fiction make for good writin’? Yes, well, for a little while. Until you’ve done reading it. Then you use the book to prop up a straggly potted plant in your lounge and forget all about it.

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