Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"They didn't make it for ME!" How the new Ghostbusters became the line in the sand for some fans

What an awful conversation there is surrounding the new Ghostbusters.

When it was announced that Paul Feig was directing a reboot of Ghostbusters starring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, I was prepared for the initial outcry. We go through this same crap with every reboot - the internet makes noise for two or three days, then everything dies down until a trailer comes out, at which point there's another two days of "Actually looks good!" and "How dare they?" From then on, the biggest splash is opening weekend, where the movie either dies quietly or gets everyone angry for 72 hours until they move onto the next thing.

We've gone through this so many times with reboots like Star Trek, A Nightmare on Elm Street, James Bond ("a blonde Bond?! How dare they?"), Friday the 13th, The Thing, and so on that the playbook is obvious. But for some reason, this time it's been a near-constant state of screaming and attacks on this film. Buzzfeed did an awesome job of compiling reactions that are definitely not sexist, no sir.

Seriously, go read that. Then check out this article that nicely breaks down the reaction to the first trailer, which eventually became the most-disliked trailer on YouTube. And then this week, when the first reviews came out and were trending positive on Rotten Tomatoes, fans organized to dump a massive number of one-out-of-ten rankings for the film on IMDb. (This being - mind you - before not many people have actually seen the film.)

But don't worry, all the guys who organized to give it a thumbs-down will tell you that gender has nothing to do with it. It just looks like a bad movie.

Uh-huh. Sure. Bad trailers ALWAYS inspire this passion. That's why the Ghostbusters trailer has a dislike count several orders of magnitude worse than such critical darlings as Fantastic 4 and The Ridiculous 6. That's why a reviewer from Cinemassacre announced two months ahead of time that he would NOT be viewing the film at all. For him, it's a mix of believing the original Ghostbusters is a pure classic and also encouraging a boycott of the film to punish Sony for defacing the original.

Really, dude? A guy whose job it is to review movies has already made his call based on the trailer. I think it's pretty pathetic when the average Joe acts like the trailer quality is an absolute barometer of the film, but a guy who gets paid to watch films should really know better. What would be so hard about waiting to see the film and THEN judging it based on its merits? All you accomplish with such an extreme position is show that you're incapable of coming to this with an open mind.

Here's what perplexes me in all of this - we're talking about Ghostbusters. GHOSTBUSTERS. How the hell did this become the geek line-in-the-sand? I grew up on the film too. I might have been about six when I saw it, and that was probably about the time that dueling Ghostbusters cartoons were out in the market. I taped the movie off of a TV viewing and watched it so many times I STILL expect Venkman's line upon bursting out of the Sedgwick Hotel ballroom to be "What a knockabout of pure fun THAT was!" (Instead of "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!")

That's not all. I still have a bunch of the action figures, including an ECTO-1 and a Ghostbusters blaster toy. Hell, I saw Ghostbusters II at the age of nine and not only enjoyed it a lot, I still think it's a fun movie. And I bring up all of this to point out that it seems to me that I must have had largely the same childhoods as these man-babies who find this to be the greatest affront to their childhoods since Carrie Fisher dared to age. And I don't get the hate. On any level.

Some detractors bring up that "Sony's just remaking it to make money." Congrats. You've exposed that Hollywood is a capitalist industry. Can't imagine the look on your face when you learn that professional sports are also built around seeking profits.

"But the Sony hack shows--"

Seriously, go fuck yourself for digging into people's emails.

"But Feig didn't even want to do the film."

Do you know how long these movies take to make? Do you understand how much of your life you are devoting to a single project? Do you know how much blood and sweat is involved? It takes a very invested person to give over that much of their life to one project.

Look, I've worked for producers who at times, were playing the cynical money game. They got lucky with a film in one genre and they then tried to put together a sequel or similar project without really understanding what made the first one connect. Sometimes they got lucky, other times they made garbage. But in pretty much all of those cases, the director cared. The cast CARED.

Yes, there are instances of actors slumming it in a paycheck role, but right now Melissa McCarthy is HOT. She has other options and she chose this one. Kristin Wiig has other options. And even if they were in it for the paycheck, what difference does that make? Alec Guinness saw STAR WARS as just another job and he still was fantastic in it.

For the record, here's director Paul Feig on why he turned it down the first few times it was offered:

"I’d turned it down several times, because when the script was first brought to me, it was a sequel. And that’s just not as interesting as an origin story. Amy Pascal, who was then head of Sony Pictures, was the one who kept pushing: 'Why don’t any of you comedy guys want to touch this?' I was like, 'Because Ghostbusters is canon!' But I thought if I could cast all the funny women I know, it would be a nice way to avoid comparisons to the original iconic cast—so you’re not saying, 'Oh, is that character supposed to be Venkman?'"

There are dozens of other movies that have the same sort of factors that have supposedly made this one such a flashpoint for fandom. Hell, even the black stormtrooper controversy took only a weekend to die down. But we're now coming up on a year-plus of people being furious that this movie exists. It's very hard to pretend that sexism isn't the primary motivating factor.

But that leads me to my next question: what is it about Ghostbusters that makes it so offensive to have women in those roles? Why does this particular franchise push so many buttons when gender swapped? If we were talking about a female Spider-Man, or a female Batman, I'd kind of get it. I don't see Venkman, Stanz, Spengler and Zeddemore as being on the same iconic level, and for that matter, these are all new characters, not gender-swapped analogs like "Petra Venkman" and "Rayanne Stanz."

If people are mad that they're not getting a proper Ghostbusters III, they need to think about how depressing that movie would be. Harold Ramis is gone, so no Egon. Bill Murray has shown little interest in tapping into his Venkman side for over fifteen years now, and I kinda shudder to think how detached his performance would be now. Best to just let it go.

So I don't understand why a new film provokes reactions that their childhoods are being raped just as surely as Ray was in the first film. (Yes he was. Go watch the infamous "blow job ghost" scene again. There's no consent at any time.) Longtime fans still have their blurays and toys and childhood memories anyway. It's not like they're even necessarily the audience this film is aimed at.

Oh. That's it.

Can it really be that simple? Is all this rage just because a generation of overgrown kids merely doesn't want to share their toys?

Shit.

That's totally it. Think of the arrogance it takes to call this a "cash grab." It presumes that this film is being made despite no artistic appeal at all... to them. It's a complete discounting of the interests of anyone who doesn't share their exact tastes. A fourteenth Marvel movie is celebrated as "what the fans want" but a third Ghostbusters is complete bullshit because "They didn't make this for meeeeeeeee."

"I don't love this, so its merits are completely invalid!"

And this is just the reaction to a remake 30 years after the fact in a franchise that had long since gone fallow. Imagine if a future Marvel movie followed suit with a recent comic storyline recast Iron Man as a black teenager? (And with Robert Downey Jr's ever-increasing paychecks, don't be surprised if he becomes too expensive for Marvel to carry.)

It's weird to be living in a time where so many geek properties I grew up with are getting A-list treatment, and yet, the people like me who grew up with them are proving to be the most unpleasant aspect of the deal. Maybe some of you saw the recent ugliness that ensued when a segment of DC movie fans very loudly attacked critics of Batman v. Superman for having a "bias" against the film. These were people - presumably a lot of them grown men - who could not process that ANYONE could find fault with this film unless they were paid off by Marvel or otherwise part of some conspiracy. For these fans, it wasn't enough that they loved the film, they had to discredit and attack any viewpoint that ran counter to theirs.

Drew McWeeny has an interesting piece on this angry segment of fandom, called "If Nerds Won The War for Pop Culture Why Are They So Angry All the Time?" It's worth a read, and I found myself nodding my head at a lot of it. It made me again aware of something I've been thinking for a while - though fandom communities used to be fun, lately I've felt more and more that this is a group I don't want to be in the company of.

I first got on the internet in the mid-nineties, via a school connection. Both then and a few years later, I almost immediately used the connection to get involved in fansites and Usenet groups devoted to subjects ranging from Billy Joel, to Star Wars, to DC Comics, to Star Trek, to even Homicide: Life on the Street. And the vast majority of those groups, even on Usenet, were made up of literate intelligent people whose perspectives on the media I liked often deepened my appreciation of the work.

Just as one example, in the rec.arts.comics.dc.universe Usenet group, I can only recall one consistently offensive person - an asshole named Omar who would fling vile insults at people just for having opinions he deemed stupid. It was my first encounter with an internet troll - someone who always seemed angry and was just there to lower to conversation to his level.

Today, Omar would be a moderate compared to the kind of bile-spewing assholes who populate fandom today. There's this perception that trolls have always been around, but I can assure you that they exist in greater numbers today. Twitter is a thousand times worse than Usenet was, and somehow it seems to be fostering this emotional stuntedness.

The new Ghostbusters is revealing this, but it's not about Ghostbusters, not really. It's about a certain emotionally-stunted and entitled demographic that's seeing that the world is no longer just their toybox. It's about the fear that for someone else to get something, they won't get something that THEY love.

That's no way to live. I'm not saying these angry fans should all reverse course and force themselves to love it. The problem is that they seem to have lost the capacity to just ignore it. And so I'm left to wonder if these temper-tantrums are merely the foreshocks of an even bigger earthquake that we'll all have to deal with one day.

2 comments:

  1. Awesome article, thank you for thinking :-)

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  2. There's gonna be a slew of PhD theses about the unhinged reaction to this 'Ghostbusters" movie over the next few years.

    Saw it today and loved it. It's fun and funny. There's some nice homages to the much-loved original, including cameos from familiar faces that'll bring a big smile to even the most feral critic.

    Well, maybe not.

    Anyway, where the hell did this rabid “Ghostbusters” fanbase come from?

    Coz it wasn't there before. At least, I don't think it was. Was it? Unless I've been blind to it for 32 years. Possible.

    Now, I was nine when the original "Ghostbusters" came out in 1984. It was THE MOVIE that year for kids at my primary school (except me: "Police Academy" was THE MOVIE for ME that year, but, eh, whatever.)

    We loved it. We loved Ray Parker's anthem even more. We bought "Ghostbusters" merch like crazy. Signs ripping off Venkman's "Back off man, I'm a scientist" line were everywhere.

    Toys and cartoons kept the flame alive for the next few years. But the disappointing sequel pretty much put it out for good. And we moved on to something else.

    (For me it was Batman, though I still pump Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” to this day.)

    Fandom has turned really ugly over the past year, from “Star Wars” to ‘Bats v Supes” and, most disturbingly, “Ghostbusters.”

    And I can’t help but think with the latter there’s more sinister forces at play than just the usual throwing-the-toys-out-of-the-cot-you’ve-ruined-my-childhood-sooky-sooky-la-la tantrum.

    It seems to have been co-opted by fringe elements to further their cause(s.)

    Generally, I don’t wade into the cesspool online. But I dipped my toe in this time to try and get my head around the furore. Ugh.

    There’s probably a fair bit of frustration from this “community” as well - an “I can write/direct better than those Hollywood hacks!” frustration.

    Yeah, nah.

    Anyway, that’s enough for me. “Ghostbusters” has taken up way too much of my time today. And I’ve got a friggin' deadline to meet...



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