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Why The ‘Ghostbusters’ Backlash Is A Sexist Control Issue

Is there anything to the backlash beyond anger that someone took down the "No Girls Allowed" sign outside the Ghostbusters clubhouse?

Ghostbusters

“Ghostbusters”

Columbia Pictures

When I was 11, I saw “Ghostbusters.” I thought it was funny.

Since the “Ghostbusters” reboot was announced, we’ve learned that, for a great many people, their emotional relationship with the original “Ghostbusters” is substantially more fraught. There were those who thrilled to the idea that, after 20-plus years of rumors and false starts, we’d finally get more “Ghostbusters.” And, there were those who objected to reviving the franchise, arguing that any attempt to recapture the original glory was doomed to fail.

Then there are the Ghostbros, the noisiest if not most numerous contingent, for whom reviving the franchise with women in the leading roles is the ultimate desecration. It would have been one thing to pass the torch, as Ivan Reitman had originally planned, with a sequel in which the classic quartet trained a newer, spryer group in the finer points of busting ghosts. But effectively redoing the original movie with the genders flipped smacks of political correctness and revisionist history. Or at least, that seemed to be the argument, insofar as one could extract a series of propositions and conclusions from the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

READ MORE: Leslie Jones in ‘Ghostbusters’: This Is Not the Black Hero We Were Hoping to See

It’s tempting to dismiss the objections to the “Ghostbusters” reboot as manbaby hissyfits. Take the video in which James Rolfe, who bills himself as the Angry Video Game Nerd, announced that he wouldn’t review the movie, or even see it, because “If you already know you’re going to hate it, why give them your money?” Or the movie’s IMDb page, which users have deluged with 1-out-of-10 ratings, despite the fact that few if any of them have seen it.

Let’s stipulate that initial trailers for the new “Ghostbusters” did not suggest greatness. Was it really the worst trailer in movie history, as its record-setting number of YouTube downvotes suggests? And why the especial dudgeon for this particular reboot, when so many others are greeted with mild, wait-and-see skepticism, or even full-throated enthusiasm?

Ghostbusters

“Ghostbusters”

Columbia Pictures

Yes, as a handful of people were quick to point out when I cracked a joke about the situation on Twitter, some of the low IMDb ratings come from women, or at least people who set their profiles as such. But a cursory look at the demographic breakdown of IMDb votes reveals a profound imbalance: Nearly eight times as many male voters as female, with women ranking the movie twice as high as men. (There’s a disparity among professional reviews as well, though not nearly so pronounced.) Even if it’s not the only factor, it takes some seriously tortured logic to argue that gender has nothing to do with the anti-“Ghostbusters” backlash.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s remove gender from the equation. Is there anything to the backlash beyond anger that someone took down the “No Girls Allowed” sign outside the Ghostbusters clubhouse? Can a remake, reboot, or sequel actually harm the original? It’s not as if prints of the new “Ghostbusters” were made from melted-down copies of the old one, any more than Baz Luhrmann sneaked into people’s houses and burned their copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” (Although come to think of it, I haven’t seen mine in a while.) It’s not like “Apocalypse Now,” where Francis Ford Coppola physically recut the original negative in order to make “Apocalypse Now Redux,” or “Star Wars,” where George Lucas tweaked the original trilogy’s closing moments to make for a neater join with the prequels. The copy of the 1984 “Ghostbusters” on your shelf or in your iTunes is exactly the same one it’s always been.

So what changes, and what’s at stake? The movie is immutable, but time marches on, and we are borne along with it. Cultural products seem like fixed points in the stream, but the further we move from them, the more tenuous the connective tissue, and the more it needs protection.. It’s not “Ghostbusters” itself that’s in flux, but our individual relationships to it, if we had them in the first place.

For writers like the Ringer’s Lindsay Zoladz and Vulture’s Jada Yuan, who were obsessed with the original movie as girls, the new “Ghostbusters” is a long-overdue vindication of the idea that you don’t need to be a man to strap on a proton pack. For James Rolfe, the new movie’s very existence is a blot on the original, a permanent asterisk next to its name. “I hear that all the time, ‘the female ‘Ghostbusters,’” he says. “Does that mean we have to call the original ‘the male ‘Ghostbusters?’”

Intentionally or not, Rolfe’s complaint cuts to the heart of the matter. (The Ghostbros’ lack of self-awareness is a gift that never stops giving.) We’ve long had the habit of using the universal to refer to men while shunting women into their own subcategory, but the original “Ghostbusters” already was “the male ‘Ghostbusters,'” whether we called it that or not. It’s a movie in which virtually all significant characters are men, and one in which, to contemporary eyes, Peter Venkman’s aggressive pursuit of Dana Barrett borders between creepy pick-up-artistry and outright stalking.  A “female ‘Ghostbusters'” throws that into stark relief. It doesn’t make the original movie or less flawed, but it might make its flaws harder to overlook.

As you grow up, your perspectives on your childhood change, and that never stops changing. Movies, perhaps uniquely, allows us to imagine ourselves as we were when we first watched them — at least, until something comes along and disrupts that relationship.

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters

“Ghostbusters”

Shutterstock

Franchise extensions go to great lengths not to upset original fans, and that includes the new “Ghostbusters.” Director Paul Feig told Yuan that he and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold started by making a list of everything from the original movie that fans would be disappointed not to see in the new one, which hardly sounds like the work of two people out to destroy a franchise. (If anything it’s evidence for the opposing view, which complains that the new movie is too faithful to the original.) Nevertheless, because of the new film, the 1984 movie is now a “Ghostbusters,” not the “Ghostbusters” — unless you, quite sensibly, argue that “Ghostbusters II,” or the Ghostbusters cartoon, or the Ghostbusters comic book, already made that distinction necessary.

The underlying fear is fans of the original “Ghostbusters” are no longer in control of what their fandom means. As a Reddit user put it in a post called “Childhood Ruined,” “I have a Ghostbusters shirt that I purchased a few years ago. It is one of my favourite shirts. Whenever I would wear it, myself and others get this fond feeling of nostalgia. That nod from a fellow fan when they saw the shirt was a nice connection to have with other people. Unfortunately, I no longer feel comfortable wearing the shirt. The reason is because the meaning has now changed. Instead of being a fun reminder of a time long ago, it is now a political statement…. The good feelings that were once there, are now tainted with the controversy surrounding the new film. The pride of wearing the logo, has now been replaced with frustration and negative feelings.”

READ MORE: ‘Ghostbusters’ Review: A Feminist Blockbuster That Could Have Been Better

What’s changed isn’t the movie, or even what it means to the writer, so much as what it signifies: what he thinks liking it says about him. And now, if I like “Ghostbusters,” I have to worry about people thinking I’m a feminist? Nuh uh. No thank you. He’s lost control of the place that  “Ghostbusters” has in the culture, and he doesn’t like how that feels. (Incidentally, he gave in a day later, in in a second post to the Men’s Rights subreddit, admitted that it was about the fact that the new Ghostbusters are women, and decried the “pandering” of casting a female lead in the “Star Wars” spinoff “Rogue One.”)

Hollywood has never been more obsessively attuned to the fans’ interests. Warner Bros. spent tens of thousands of dollars flying journalists to the set of Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” in an effort to placate complaints about “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and Neil Blomkamp’s forthcoming “Alien” sequel will reportedly disregard the series’ divisive third and fourth installments altogether.

So it goes with the new “Ghostbusters.” If the original movie’s fans could bring themselves to see it, they’d find a movie that bends over backward to pander to them. One cameo by an original cast member is a sly gag; six is tiresome. But it’s also determined to hew its own path, and to let people who have a problem with women busting ghosts know that they need to suck it up and get used to it. Fandom is a valuable commodity, but it’s also a trap; fans, like any other group, often don’t know what they want until they get it. (I’m reminded of “The Simpsons'” Poochie episode, where an attempt to focus-group a RV program leads to a request for “a realistic down-to-earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots.”)

Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is designed to please existing fans, but more importantly, it’s designed to make new ones. You need only look at that instantly famous photo of two young girls in coveralls and homemade proton packs beaming at the chance to be in Kristen Wiig’s presence to know it’s succeeded.

“Ghostbusters” opens in theaters on Friday, July 15.

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Comments

Rick

The thing about “pandering” claims that always gets me is the ignorance of the talent, success, and/or marketability of the performers involved. It isn’t strange that a studio comedy would want two of the biggest names in comedy today (Wiig and McCarthy) or two much talked about up-and-comers (McKinnon and Jones) regardless of what social group they identify themselves as. It’s similar to Coogler getting Black Panther. I’m not going to pretend being black didn’t play a factor, but Creed and Fruitvale were fantastic. He has earned the chance at a big budget project.

Enrique

Seriously stop making this about sexism you just look stupid pushing that nonsense.

Knight

No. Is it sexist that certain people didn’t like Ben Affleck when Christian Bale was still fresh in our minds? No. We were relentlessly teased of a Ghostbusters 3 starring Bill Murray. Excuse me, but my disgust with not getting a Bill Murray starring Ghostbusters film is very far from sexist. Your agenda is showing.

Bob Wilson

Of course the negative reviews are going to be harsher from men than women. Men are the group that are more devoted to the franchise. They bought the toys, watched the cartoons. They are the original target market. Let’s change the script here. Imagine they reboot the transformers franchise, but replace Optimus prime, bumblebee Rachet, ironhide and jazz with five transformers that no one has ever heard of before. We’ll that’s not really a transformers movie anymore. Only in name. That’s without the complication of gender. Now make it five female robots, and it looks like you’re trying to take the franchise away from the original fans and give it to someone else entirely. Why the heck is there any surprise that the male fans are pissed?

Arthur

The female Ghostbusters is about forced equality. Men and women aren’t identical in real life to the extent that the author of this article would like them to be so anyone who isn’t interested in the new movie is a misogynist. fortunately reality always wins out. The new movie will never be seen in the same way the original was. That doesn’t make me a hater any more than the author’s opinions make her one. It’s the way it is.

Jared Ba

It’s great if even a bad movie inspires pride in young girls. Sometimes even really lousy tv shows and movies are clung to like life rafts when they shine a light on the underrepresented. But if the 2016 Ghostbusters had been the first Ghostbusters movie, if this had been a fresh of the presses new thing, it still would play as tired and dead and “why did anyone make this?” Turning an honest reaction to a bad movie into a sexist issue is brilliant marketing but cowardly blogging.

Bob

What I hate is that the people hating on this movie aren’t sexist – that’s just the creators and the SJW’s acting out. No one cares that the actors are female – there have been many great movies with strong, leading female actors. What people hate is seeing Ghostbusters turned into a joke and used as a platform to push ideology that has no place in a film that’s just supposed to be about some friends who fight ghosts.

    MJ

    As a women I totally agree to this. I don’t understand why people think just because I’m a woman I won’t connect with a movie that is all male. I love Ghstbusters, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster. I never felt like I couldn’t just because there were no women busting ghosts in the movie. I don’t need a movie starring women to tell me I can be a Ghostbuster or a Jedi or an adventurer, or whatever.

    From the trailers alone, Ghostbusters 2016 does not look like a movie I would enjoy. It looks like it’s trying too hard to push an agenda, and I don’t feel like the jokes are something I would find funny. That’s why I’m against this movie.

William

I liken it to the NBA vs. the WNBA. Which league is more popular and why? Is it sexist to say that the NBA is more entertaining? I think that the author of this article would have us believe that’s the case. There’s nothing wrong with female ghost busters but the concept will invariably draw comparisons with the original and any mention of the differences will be cited as sexist and focused upon in the name of promoting an agenda by SJW’s. It really does take the fun out of it.

Brian Dauth

As you point out, the retrospective comprehension of the original film as a “male version” is the most threatening and dangerous aspect of the remake — call it an “aesthetic redistribution” of significance.

For decades there were gay films, black films, Latino films, etc., but they were all understood to be niche categories. The greatest films were universal, non-niche movies, despite the fact that in reality they were also (unacknowledged) examples of male/hetero/white cinema. As culture changed so did the understanding of the white/male/hetero perspective as being equivalent to a universal one. All of a sudden white/hetero males are just another Other — a niche sensibility among other niche sensibilities.

I can only imagine that this fall from pre-eminence must be difficult for some (if not many) het/white males. Their nostalgia for a time when their dominance was taken for granted is intense.

While Arthur and others may understand this as a case of force equality, it is simply a matter of an over-privileged perspective being brought into proper alignment with other(ed) perspectives. Equality does not mean identicalness — it means having the same positionality in society and culture.

    William

    I think you’re conflating racial inequality with gender inequality. The two issues may overlap in some areas but they’re not the same.
    Make an all black male Ghostbusters team and the backlash would be minimal compared to swapping genders
    It’s intellectually dishonest to say that men and women are completely interchangeable to the extent your argument suggests.

Kennie

What a bunch of politically loaded nonsense. Journalistic integrity, hear of it? We’re done with the reboots, paid reviews, censoring of critical comments (except the ones mentioning the female cast. Oh and they did, I did ‘experiments’), the political agenda and just straight up pandering – this movie contains all those problems, and more, the Perfect Storm if you will, and so the outrage.

Ken

The reason females rate it so high is because they think the hate is sexist, and some of it is sexist. But they all go on websites, rate it super high even though they haven’t seen it yet, just because the case is female.

Kevin

Saw the movie, and I thought it was quite good. The only thing I really have to object to is every reviewer taking issue with all the cameos. They were awesome. They made me, someone for whom the 1984 original has been my favorite movie since I was 3 years old, very happy. I smiled like a dope at all the cameos, and I loved them all. They made a good movie even better.

Jane

This movie is sexist in its own right. The gender reversals here are nothing more than that, as sexist as any other movie, just the genitals are swapped.

CoreyChaos

Watch the nostalgia critic’s review. It explains everything with no sexism at all. Juuust saying!

Outlawzero

My problem isn’t the supposed inclusiveness. It’s that it does what it says it’s trying to do very badly. An inclusive and deverse new cast would have sent the message they claimed to send. They chose an all female cast meaning if an all male cast supposedly out right says hey girls can’t be Ghostbusters then by the transitive property this new movie sends the message boys cannot be ghost busters. The Extreme Ghostbusters a 90’s cartoon does a much better job with the inclusive vibe. Hell they had an adrenaline junkie paraplegic Ghostbuster. If they actually succeeded in their petty pandering claim that would be different but this movie is an equalty fail. Face it they are sell outs that made the movie all female hoping the hyperbole would bring in more viewers not out of inclusiveness or the cast inarguably would be mixed.

    Outlawzero

    Also this movie is way more derogatory towards men than the original is towards women. The Ghostbusters at least respected Jeanine. They would be sued if this was real over their treatment of their secretary.

adfds

fuck ghostbusters

Mochan

You complain about low ratings and reviewers being predominantly men… Yet somehow this movie scored a 73% on the tomato meter.

RLS

I finally got bored enough to watch the movie. I wish I could get the time back. The simple fact people would say “They’re only saying this movie is bad, because they’re sexist.” Is just… Ignorant. The movie was okay for about 20 minutes, often the action sequences and the odd ball joke here and there. Aside from that… Really nothing great. I will point out however, that a large, I mean a very large portion of the movie seems to be intentionally portraying the male gender in a negative fashion. Sometimes this is over looked regardless of gender, but this was blatant and direct. They cast the only “Truly idiotic and simple minded” person as a male and had joked about it, rubbing it in your face that it was intentional. They portray every single negatively influencing role to the main cast, as male. The police are all male, the idiot is male, the mayor is male, the CIA agents are male, the primary “bad guy” is male, the person that always fails food deliveries, male. Heck, they even “Took down” the big bad guy by shooting him in the crotch. If they didn’t try so hard to literally do all they could to try and make money off the feminists this was so obviously made for, I wouldn’t nearly have as big of a problem with it. Next time try, I don’t know… Making a movie instead of taking one of the biggest cult favorites and turning into a shameless money grab at an easily excited demographic?

Matthew

I don’t give a crap that it’s a female cast. I did notice that every guy in the movie is displayed as an idiot, which would honestly actually make the movie kinda anti men. It’s actually just a bad movie because it’s a bad movie (if the gender roles were switched, it would still be a crap movie)

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