“Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) reads online, in the comments section of a video of said ‘bitches’ doing exactly that. It’s one of a number of wonderfully knowing moments served up by Paul Feig’s joyful, goofy reboot of Ghostbusters, which this time, charges four women with saving Manhattan from paranormal disturbances. Since well before the casting of McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, Feig’s film has been up against comments as nuanced and poetic as this.
For better or worse, the pre-release outrage has set the tone for much of the post-release conversation about Ghostbusters. As a result, Ghostbusters is not just a film. It’s also a significant cultural moment.
Heading inside the cinema to see the film earlier this week, I wondered what all the pre-release fuss was even about. Was the original 1984 film, scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, directed by Ivan Reitman, even that good? What was the perceived sacrilege being committed on what is, arguably, only an average work of cinema? After all, it’s not as if Feig had announced he was remaking Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. As with most online outrage, which loses all sense of perspective and any sense of what is truly important in life, I’ve done my best to remain detached. I’ve tried to do this despite knowing that images matter, that mainstream film is an important barometer for testing the pulse of social and cultural issues, and that this was all just good, old-fashioned, filthy misogyny at work, a truth it always distresses me to acknowledge.
Maybe I just don’t get it. My childhood attachments are more of the Mary Poppins/Charlotte’s Web/Roald Dahl variety – mostly bookish. And I wonder if the so-called ‘ghostbros’ realise how good they had it growing up in the 1980s. Watching Ghostbusters 2016 turned me to a consideration of my own childhood viewing. I was ten-years-old when the original film was released. I don’t have any memory of seeing it at the cinema, although I know I watched it several times as a young teen. Ghostbusters sits alongside a series of films that were constantly replayed on our family VCR – The Goonies (1985), Stand By Me (1986), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). There were others, but what they all have in common are boys or men having cool adventures, doing the seemingly extraordinary, and proving themselves heroic.
Watching Ghostbusters 2016, I felt genuine elation when the four women – McCarthy’s Abby, Wiig’s Dr Erin Gilbert, McKinnon’s Dr Jillian Holtzmann, and Jones’ Patty Tolan – stepped from the hearse, ‘Ecto-1’, in their jumpsuits with proton packs at the ready, working as a super-competent team, for the first time. It was like a reverse nostalgia – it had me thinking, how great it would be to be a young girl right now, with the chance to see a big, bombastic film like this, with four funny, smart females at the helm. Whining fan boys feel they’ve lost something profound (perspective again, please), but have they ever stopped to consider the many females they know – their mothers, sisters, cousins, friends, maybe even girlfriends – who never found a significant place in that narrative back in 1984? Have they ever paused to celebrate what these women might have now gained from this reboot?
Ultimately, this conversation seems like a waste of oxygen to me. Like most women, I look forward to a day when female-centric narratives, especially ‘blockbusters’, are neither cause for celebration nor hailed as political statements. I’m sure female actors in Hollywood and beyond just want to get on with their jobs, without every performance they commit themselves to being greeted with misogynist bile and cries of collective male trauma.
Proton packs were designed to weaken ghosts. Now, they’re also being used to weaken the patriarchy. Live with it.