When I told my brother that I was going to write an article about the controversy surrounding the new Ghostbusters movie, he had one word of advice for me: “Don’t”. He suggested that to even add my voice to the conversation was to add fuel to an already massive fire. “No matter what you have to say, you’re going to upset someone.”
Of course I’m going to upset someone. This is the internet, land of armchair activists and trolls. Maybe that’s exactly the problem.
The internet has given everyone a chance to voice their opinions, for better or worse, on a public format. Controversies existed well before the advent of Twitter and Tumblr, but people didn’t go out of their way to be vocal about their disdain for a particular piece of entertainment. Outside of a handful of situations where the controversial material was deemed offensive (the uproar over Kevin Smith’s Dogma, for example), people would only really complain to their friends or family about a movie if they thought it looked bad.
When Sony announced that Paul Feig would be remaking the classic 1984 comedy Ghostbusters with an all-female cast, everyone rushed to their digital devices to give their thoughts on the topic. Many of the reactions were sexist, claiming that it couldn’t be funny with women, or that the creators were ruining a classic. Others were based simply in fear of a favorite franchise being changed to something that seems radically different. After the release of the trailer and subsequent information about the film became available, it became impossible to have a negative public opinion about the film without being lumped in with the misogynists, both subtle and overt.
Remakes and reboots aren’t anything new, and they have been done with major changes before. The 2010 American remake of 2007’s British Death at a Funeral featured an all African-American cast. There was no uproar, no outcry, because Death at a Funeral wasn’t a cultural touchstone the same way Ghostbusters is. People are sentimental about Ghostbusters and are afraid of a new film ruining the legacy of the old. It’s irrational, but at least somewhat understandable. No one likes having their childhood memories changed before their eyes (I still feel a pang in my chest every time I see the new Ninja Turtles).
So what happens when you get bigots, trolls, die-hard movie fans, and feminists all riled up over something? A hot steaming mess that moves the focus away from the movie itself. It’s unlikely that the new Ghostbusters film will be a classic, but the kerfuffle surrounding it is certain to be remembered. With everyone injecting their own personal bias into the movie’s potential to be entertaining before it has even been released, they’re changing the way we have dialogue about movies. There was a time when critics could say that a movie trailer looked bad or that a particular remake seemed unnecessary without fear of sociopolitical ramifications.
The internet’s ability to give everyone a voice is a double-edged sword. It gives us all a chance to discuss the things we love and hate with the entire world and has connected everyone globally in a way that we couldn’t have imagined even a decade or so ago. It has also allowed human nature to evolve with the technology, and arguments that previously only happened in bars or at dinner tables now happen in front of thousands or even millions of eyes in real-time. In a generation starved for constant attention and approval, everyone is going to want to have their say or prove their point.
One of the unfortunate consequences of all of this opinion-sharing is that actual critics – the ones who have spent a lot of time and effort honing their craft – are now walking through a minefield of petty squabbles. As someone deeply attached to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wanted to write about the remake on Fox and how, despite the awesomeness that is Laverne Cox, I just don’t think it can work on prime-time TV. Fears of being called transphobic or racist made me pause. It gave me time to think about if a new Rocky Horror, no matter how it was done, changed the value of the original. I realized it didn’t, and that it’s actually a great thing because regardless of the way the new one turns out, it will introduce a whole new generation of fans who can go back and find the original, too.
So what’s the solution? What can we learn from this battlefield of bickering about a movie where people get covered in ectoplasmic slime for laughs?
There will always be idiots who don’t think that Ghostbusters can be women, or that Roland Deschain can be a black man, or that the Green Lantern can’t be gay. The best thing is to either educate or ignore those people and to move on. For the rest of us, maybe the lesson is to take a second to think about why we feel the way we do about our favorite things in pop culture. Instead of immediately sending out 140 characters of rash opinion, people could talk to their families and friends again, outside of the public domain. The same way not everyone needs to know what you had for breakfast, not everyone needs to know that you think creators should leave a franchise the way it is. Even though it feels like a personal attack because of the nostalgia we all feel for the movies that define us, it’s not. Paul Feig just wants to make a Ghostbusters movie. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon ain’t afraid of no ghosts, and regardless of what’s between any of their legs, they are some seriously funny comedians. It’s a movie, folks.
If Ghostbusters turns out to be good, great! Another generation will get to laugh and gag at the antics of four goofballs trying to save the world from the dead, and little girls everywhere will get to see themselves represented onscreen as heroes. If it sucks that’s a shame but it will ultimately be forgotten, and those in the know can direct the next generation towards the original. Either way, the film’s legacy and even its opening will be shaped by the controversy surrounding it, by too many voices all clamoring to be heard.
My mom always told me that “opinions are like buttholes – everyone has one and they all stink”. It’s something to keep in mind before hitting that send button.