Wow this weekend went in completely different directions than I expected it to, but that’s ok. I think that the unexpected down time was necessary. 😊 It’s no secret that retellings and remakes have become really popular in film and literature. This coupled with a sense of nostalgia means that I’ve been watching a lot of movies from the 80s and 90s that I loved growing up. While re-watching them though I find that they aren’t as funny as I remember them (example: The Blues Brothers), or the messages in them make me cringe (I love Labyrinth but the line “Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave” makes me gag). The best example I can think of is Ghostbusters (the original that is). As a kid this was one of my favourite movies. I loved Ray, hated Venkman and thought that the concept of running around New York chasing Ghosts was pretty cool. Even before the #metoo campaign started my feelings on Ghostbusters had started to change. Ghostbusters has so many elements in it that are really cringeworthy. The treatment of women, African Americans, authority figures and non-macho males is really quite out-dated. Murray’s character Venkman displays such characteristically toxic masculinity that it throws the rest of the film into it’s shadow.
Venkman conducts an “experiment” on two students, a male and a female, to test their psychic ability. Both students continually get the answers wrong but Venkman only electroshocks the male student for his incorrect answers. Venkman is too busy hitting on the female student and lying that she is getting all the answers correct, that he misses when the male student actually gets an answer correct. Venkman doesn’t bother to look at the answer before shocking the student. When the student complains Venkman tells him that he has 75 more questions to go. It implies that Venkman is a sadist and that he expects women to fall at his feet. Venkman seems to be the character who is fleshed out and focused on the most. Which makes his behaviour even more disappointing. When the Ghostbusters get their first case Venkman asks the Librarian a series of questions designed to gauge her soundness of mind before they investigate. What starts off as reasonable questioning denigrates quickly when Venkman asks the aging librarian if she’s menstruating. While this insulting question would not have been out of place in Victorian society, it is rather disgraceful that male character in the 80s would have even thought of asking it.
The women of the film are treated atrociously, primarily by Venkman. Venkman tells Janine (the Ghostbusters receptionist) bug eyes and is generally rude to her. Dana on the other hand is a major character. She dresses conservatively (I mention this because her appearance contrasts sharply later in the film), is a professional symphonic orchestra musician, and lives in a penthouse apartment on Central Park West. The imagery of the paranormal event in her home is significantly domestic, and the significance of the eggs exploding and cooking on the kitchen bench seems to indicate a ticking of her biological clock completely unnecessarily. At no point during the movie is Dana portrayed as desiring a family, and she seems to be quite happy in her career and lifestyle. Venkman makes inappropriate comments while he investigates her home and when he wants to go into her bedroom Dana tells him that nothing happened in there. Venkman deliberately misinterprets her and comments that that’s a “crime”. Dana makes it clear that she doesn’t like Venkman and he tells her essentially that he’s going to change her mind. When he won’t leave at her request, she has to physically push him out the door. Later, when Dana has been possessed by Zuul “The Gatekeeper” she is dressed provocatively and displays overtly sexual behavior. Venkman drugs her with Thorazine and kisses her twice while she’s unconscious. At the end Dana inexplicably likes Venkman. This makes absolutely no logical or narrative sense and quite frankly she should be filing a restraining order on him. If I were Dana, Venkman would be physically hurting in several locations.
The character of Louis, Dana’s nerdy accountant neighbour, also bothers me. Louis seems to be a genuinely nice guy and with an unrequited affection for Dana. All through the film Louis is depicted as weak and unattractive to the opposite sex. When he is possessed by an entity (the “Keymaster”) there is a scene that quite clearly indicates that he and Dana (possessed by the Gate Keeper) have had sex in order to start the chain of events leading to the opening of an inter-dimensional portal. The symbolism of his being the key and her body being the lock is in itself overtly sexual, and it is unfortunate that the film seems to be indicating that being possessed is the only way his character could be with a woman like Dana. Poor Louis seems to be the butt of a lot of the film’s jokes.
Like Louis, the character of Winston is almost sidelined, appearing only when useful. Winston’s main function as a character seems to be the token African American, which is disappointing when his character could have been fleshed out and really interesting. Winston is the only Ghostbuster who is not a scientist and it is hard to discern what his role in the group is. Initially Winston doesn’t believe in the paranormal and as he is hired after the group becomes famous I imagine that the team needed extra hands. However, apart from suggesting that the increase in paranormal activity is a sign of a coming apocalypse, he brings nothing to the narrative.
Venkman takes issues with authority. This is seen at a glance through his dealings with the University dean but is thoroughly displayed by his interactions with EPA Agent Walter Peck. Peck is a man simply doing his job. Venkman is rude to Peck every time they interact and calls him “dickless” to the Mayor. Their antagonistic relationship is directly caused by Venkman’s behaviour and explosion of Ghostbusters HQ is due to this. Peck is right to be concerned about the environmental impact the Ghostbusters could be having, considering that the four men are running around using what Spengler refers to as ‘unlicensed nuclear accelerators” that they call positron colliders. These are essentially guns that emit a beam of nuclear energy. In a world that saw the devastation of Hiroshima, is in the middle of the cold war, and is just over a year away from the Chernobyl disaster it is perfectly reasonable for someone to question these men.
Finally there is the overtly sexual imagery surrounding the Ghostbusters assault against Gozer. Gozer appears through the portal the Key Master and the Gate Keeper open. Gozer is apparently a destroying God, who although can manifest as whatever it likes, chooses to manifest as a rather masculine looking woman. The Ghostbuster call her derogatory feminine names and try to destroy her with their guns. They eventually accomplish this when Gozer is manifested as a giant marshmallow man, and it explodes, spraying white foam across the streets of Central Park West. I don’t think I need to explain the extremely sexual symbolism of four men crossing the streams of their phallic weapons and the resulting explosion when they finally conquer Gozer.
As I started with Ghostbusters is one of the films displaying out-dated ideas and humour that we as a society are thankfully growing away from. Venkman’s character never develops, he’s the same chauvinist he is at the beginning of the film, and we never really find out more than a couple of facts about Ray and Spengler. Their role in the film is much smaller than I remember it being. I always thought that the Ghostbusters were a team, but the film watches more like Venkman’s quest for sexual conquest with sidelines into fighting the paranormal with his friends. Watching Ghostbusters as an adult was extremely disappointing and made me wonder why adults pick up on different elements in the film than kids do. I never picked up on 99% of the sexual references/imagery when I was kid and now as an adult I can’t not see it. I thought the same thing when I rewatched Madam Doubtfire recently and caught a barrage of dirty jokes I hadn’t noticed or understood as a child.
On a completely unrelated note there are a couple more things I want to let you know about before I finish up here. For the month of June I’ll be running a sale on Amazon. It’s EOFYS in Australia so I’m dropping the price of The Kingston Chronicles Kindle Edition to 99c AUD and USD. Secondly, this weekend I’ll be flat out at the Denmark Festival of Voice so I’m not planning to post again till Monday instead of my usual Sunday. I’ve been looking at my schedule for the festival and it’s going to be crazy. I’m probably not going to be able to human until at least Monday afternoon. I’m so excited though!