Episode 41. Ghost Girls: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters

After some spectacular “pre-lash” (preemptive backlash) from the online community, Paul Feig’s all-women Ghostbusters has finally hit the screens. Alex and Andrea take a break from their summer sabbaticals to reflect on their love of the original films, what this reboot means to them in terms of representation and why safety lights are for dudes.

REQUIRED READING

Ghostbusters. Dir. Paul Feig, 2016.
Ghostbusters. Dir. Ivan Reitman, 1984.
Ghostbusters II. Dir. Ivan Reitman, 1989.

EXTRA CREDIT

Reminders That Representation Really Is Important – A handy, dandy visual guide to the argument for representation.

Was ‘Ghostbusters‘ Too Expensive to Launch a New Franchise? Variety’s article on Ghostbusters‘ budget.

Why Being Honest about Ghostbusters is Important – Comic Book Girl 19‘s theory on Sony’s strategic marketing of the film.

Your Face is Tanking – An examination of the reporting of Ghostbusters box office numbers versus other tentpole offerings.

COURSE NOTES

 Intro song: Nail Ballet from Nightmare Picture Theatre, courtesy of James Zirco Fisher.
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14 thoughts on “Episode 41. Ghost Girls: Ghostbusters (2016)

  1. Dylan says:

    THANK YOU for a wonderful surprise episode! Hearing Alex talk about what a female team of Ghostbusters meant to her was really inspiring and honestly, an awesome way to start a Monday. I also may have started choking up in the car on the way to work when you played Leslie Jones’ talking about how much Whoopi meant to her and how she can be that figure for little girls now. I can’t find the clip but in the film Trekkies (documentary about the fan group) there’s a great moment where they talk about Whoopi Goldberg seeing Nichelle Nichols as Uhura on Star Trek and yelling to her mother “Mamma, mamma! There’s a black woman on TV and she ain’t no maid!”

    It’s so great to hear all this ugly backlash against the film talked about and spun in such a positive way, I’m so glad you both decided to take it on. The discussion was amazing and intelligent as always!

    Keep up the amazing work!

  2. love_rob says:

    So happy you did a Ghostbusters episode!

    The backlash against it has been really weird, like people need to reassure each other that they’re correctly reading it has bad. Hearing first my wife, and then both of you talk about what this movie means really effected me. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but hearing the depth of feeling evoked by this is sobering, humbling and inspiring.

    I don’t really have a lot to add other than that it sorely needed a montage sequence and the Hotlzmann fight scene near the climax was fucking awesome.

  3. Chris Andres says:

    Thank you for discussing representation with such personal perspectives. I too take filmic projection personally. I got a bit depressed afterwards trying to recall the cinematic reflections of my own embodiment and came up thin as a queer-horror-loving Latino male (who adores your show!) – I’m from your generation and from an arts analytical background – so I’m not suprised that the silver screen doses not often reflect my likeness but I was disturbed by realizing how much I have become complacent in using cis, normally heterosexual women, as my stand-in.

    After listening to the show I relized just how much I ( and probably many queer cis or trans males have identified with cis female characters in movies as if those characters are a sort of representational stand-in for all personas that are other to patriarchy and serve as a defacto queer embodiment. I feel I can relax into a film in which women are in the lead and when their are not pandering to repressive sexist romanticism in nauseating “chick-flicks” or as sex vapid objects.

    Unfortunately, was disappointed in the new Ghostbusters – I found it childish and reeking of a Full House sentimentality with eye-rolling performances of poorly written “sassy Black woman tokenism” and hammy “read as lesbian-punk mannerisms” by the actors. However, your emphasis of not underestimating the film in terms of its contribution to feminist representation you both articulated made me pause and re-evaluate how I’ll regard the film in discussion of media and its role in embodiment and personal projection. In other words, I have taken for granted that the female character is the one I naturally project onto because I’m am so unrepresented in film that all I experienced was a meh film with beautiful colors and beautifully designed ghosts.

    On a side note- you mentioned there might be a continuation of your discussion on witches- that would be bad-ass! I feel the witch in film and tv is a strong example of the queer-embodiment projection phenomenon experienced specifically by numerous gay males and cis and trans women and puts into question cinematic projection in general and makes us consider heterosexual male and lesbian embodiments in relationship to the witch as both as hero against dismantalzing patriarchy and as an ememy of heterosexist and religious conservatism.

    Thank so much for your awesome podcast!
    Chris Andres

  4. Christine says:

    I would also like to extend thank yous for coming out of sabbatical for this episode. Despite being a woman in my 30s, seeing this movie meant so much to me. Growing up, I loved the Ghostbusters franchise, whether it included the movie, cartoon series, or Hi-C’s Ecto Cooler. When I heard they were bring it back with two of my favorite current SNL players along with Wiig and McCarthey, I was ecstatic. Having the film open a day before my birthday didn’t hurt either. The entire time I watched this film, I just kept thinking, “I wish I had something like this movie when I was young.” That feeling would swell even more when I’d glance at the young girl sitting next to me. She looked memorized during the entire thing and so happy. I’m glad she has these characters as well as Rey from the Force Awakens to emulate during playtime. She doesn’t have to be the secretary or princess with the boys on the playground if they are playing Ghostbusters or Star Wars. She can be one of the strongest holders of the force since Luke Skywalker or Patty, who drops historical references and lessons every chance she gets.

    Sadly, not everyone thinks this way, and yes, I too have encountered skepticism from heterosexual men regarding the importance of female representation in pop culture. After I saw the movie, I got in a debate with my male coworker. He didn’t see the big deal in having the team be all female. I tried to explain to him why it’s important and how significant it was that three of the Ghostbusters were scientists with advanced degrees. I can’t think of one movie or even tv show with an all female main cast who are scientists. Sure, there’s Laura Dern’s paleontologist character in Jurassic Park, but she’s one woman amongst a main ensemble of men. Same goes for Jodie Foster in Contact and (not surprisingly) Denise Richard’s Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. He couldn’t think of any movie with an all female ensemble of highly educated women either but still refused to acknowledge the importance this movie’s role is amongst female fans young and old.

    I can think back to the movies and tv shows I enjoyed as a kid and the types of female characters they presented in the mid-to-late-80s.
    Rainbow Brite – small child who controls all the colors in the world
    She-ra – brought on mainly to ride the He-man coattails and, like her twin brother, was only created by Mattel to sell toys
    Thundercats – Cheetara and Wilykit were holding it down for the ladies, but Lion-O was the leader and main star of the show
    Disney movies – Belle loved her books, but she became a princess in the end who happened to love books
    Wizard of Oz – Dorothy helps save the day…with the help of some male friends

    Yes, the movie wasn’t perfect, but what movie is? Had this movie not been accompanied by the initial pre-production backlash, I don’t think it would have received the same amount of harsh criticism from OG-fans who have and even hadn’t seen the 2016 iteration. It’s like people are nitpicking Ghostbusters in every direction to find something wrong. To quote another childhood pop culture favorite of mine, Haley Mills’ Pollyanna says, “When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.” Same applies for this movie.

    It’s also interesting to note the contrast between Ghostbusters release and fan reaction in comparison with Suicide Squad’s. Right when Suicide Squad’s first trailer dropped, fans were excited, including myself. I love the DC universe and get Harley Quinn’s solo title reserved in my box at the comic shop every time it’s released. To see her and some of my other favorites of the DC rouge’s gallery on the big screen heightened my anticipation for this movie. Once reviews started rolling in, it was clearly evident critics hated the movie. Then fans started to protest and say they didn’t care about critics even though none of them had seen the film either. When fan reviews started to populate the Internet, it was clear people were willing to overlook major flaws in the Suicide Squad’s plot to either defy the critics’ reviews or just because they were loyal to the franchise. I know I wanted to love this movie so much because I, like many others, had been waiting a long time to see it. Again, these are my observations and impressions, but I do think it’s worth noting.

    AND Ghostbusters passed the Bechdel test with flying colors.

  5. Jay Kennedy says:

    Hi guys, I love your show – but this episode was outstanding. Great work!

    As for the film, I didn’t love it but I definitely didn’t hate it, and it didn’t disappoint me. Some genuine belly laughs and I’ve just got to say this — these four women are heroes. There is a point in this film where I was in awe of how heroic these everyday people were and I loved that. Also, the self-referential Youtube comments had me smiling the entire time.

    As a “middle aged, straight white man” THANK YOU for sharing your story about the importance of seeing a female ghostbuster on screen, you’re right about it’s importance.

    Thank you again you two.

    Sidebar: I run a little podcast out of Toronto all about movies and geeky stuff with my female co-host and I HAVE to share this with her. I’m going to take the time to comment on this on an upcoming episode and through our social media (hope that’s cool) because I think this work is wonderful. We’re based in Toronto, so maybe a collab talking horror some time might be fun!

  6. Stacy Livitsanis says:

    What a wonderful episode. It was very moving to hear you both speak so passionately about this film and what it means. There’s no need for prevarication about things that don’t quite work or that aren’t as well executed as they could have been. When a film makes you feel this good, for whatever reasons, it’s a great film. Watching Ghostbusters 2016 was a much more profound experience than expected, and you covered why perfectly on this episode. This movie doesn’t remotely try to pander to me as a straight white male. In the last few years, and this is surely an untenable state of mind for anyone not in this hugely overrepresented group, but sitting in my towering fortress of straight white male privilege, I’ve been thinking, ‘I’m really goddamn sick of seeing ‘myself’ represented onscreen’.

    From now on, movies that pander to straight white men (also known as ‘movies’), can frankly get stuffed. Ghostbusters is the first film I’ve seen in a theatre in 2016 (twice now). Batdick Versus Superdick (watched on home video the same week I saw Ghostbusters) signalled a long overdue death knell for excessively penis-oriented cinema. I’m happy to dance on its grave.

    In a world of equal representation this movie would probably be no big deal. It’d be just another remake. In that world you could point to all the other mainstream genre movies with majority female casts who are people who get to do things and without being positioned for the male gaze and then you can settle down to argue over whether or not it’s a good movie, ignoring issues of representation. Since we’re not remotely close to that world, it’s not fair to dismiss this movie for not being mega-awesome in every way. That’s missing the point. It’s because there aren’t other movies that do what this movie does that makes it very special. And that’s pitiful. It’s pitiful because this level of representation should obviously be the norm. Well, in fact, we can do much better. Have Holtzmann be explicitly queer. Hell, have all the Ghostbusters be queer. (There’s a fun piece on Autostraddle going with this extrapolation, called, “All the Ghostbusters are Gay, Deal With It”)

    You can catch a glimpse of another potential variant in the 90’s-esque music video made for the Japanese release of the film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is31GGfhz8o), which features a team of very awesome-looking Japanese women (also with diverse ages and body types) as the Ghostbusters. Goddamn I want to see that movie.

    Ghostbusters 2016 is one of the very few films that fails the Reverse Bechdel Test, in that there are no significant conversations between males. (Yes, Ed Begley Jr and Rowan Woods talk to each other for five seconds – I said ‘significant’. A Bechdel pass means more than two women sharing a few words, meaning the original Ghostbusters fails.) The women all have their hair tied back for chrissakes. You never see that in movies. No sexy slo-mo hair twirling. Miraculous. Three of them are over forty! This is incredible for a Hollywood movie. The fact that it’s incredible is ridiculous.

    Where I differ from clearly most people is in not caring about the 1984 Ghostbusters, and the massive continuing love for it genuinely baffles me. No matter. People love it. Fine. But with no lingering nostalgia for the 1984 film there’s no hesitation in saying I like the new film much more than the original. It might be another remake, but like Mad Max Fury Road, it’s because it does genuinely do something different with formulaic elements and has such an impressive gender consciousness and powerful female presence that it will linger and stand out among all the other remakes of recent years. Even though I’ve been unable to convince any of my male friends to see the film, I’m probably going to go see it a third time.

  7. Luke says:

    Great episode – keen to see it. Its performance at the box office is a disappointment. On the 10th August the Hollywood Reporter projected the film has lost about $70 million – and it’s unlikely a sequel will follow. Did the studio overestimate how many people wanted a reboot of this franchise, or is it possible that the all-female cast actually hurt the film’s gross? I would sincerely hope not, but this film is part of a highly successful franchise with big A-List actresses and a formidable marketing campaign behind it. If it wasn’t the all-female cast which hurt the film’s sale, what was it?

  8. Paul says:

    For many weeks now, the streets of Great Britain have been awash with angry, moderately drunken 30 year old professional women camped out on hillocks playing with their imaginary GHOSTBUSTERS toys and abusing fans of ENTOURAGE. Terrified law-abiding men have admitted this is the reason they voted to leave the European Union. Enough is enough. God save the Queen!

  9. Sam Costello says:

    Great episode (as always). It was particularly interesting to hear you both talk about how much you loved Ghostbusters as kids and what the possibility of a female Ghostbuster would have meant to you. That point—both about this movie, but also about the general issue of representation opening possibility to young girls (and other groups)—is something that I didn’t understand well until recently. I’ve long thought of myself as pretty progressive, but this issue didn’t really sink it until I talked with my partner about this very issue. She had that same desire as a girl to be a Ghostbuster. It’s only been in talking to her about this and similar issues over the years that I’ve really started to understand what this meant to her and what this means to other women.

    I’m hesitant to say that one person can’t understand another person’s experience simply due to differences in the people—that a man can’t understand a woman’s experience, etc.—but I more and more think there’s at least some truth (perhaps even a ton of truth) to it. For that reason, I’m a little skeptical of the cis hetero white men (like me) who have been tepid or negative about this version of Ghostbusters.

    While I agree that this isn’t a perfect movie, that seems like a high standard to judge it against. Sacrilege warning: I don’t think the original is perfect, either. It’s good and it’s a lot of fun, but we re-watched it after seeing the remake and it was just … good. Important at its time and to the development of a lot of horror fans, no doubt, but it didn’t strike the 39-year-old me as the untouchable classic that it’s being referred to as in the current cultural discussion.

    But, as you said, the meaning of this movie is just as important as its quality (which I think is high. I think this is a very funny movie, maybe even moreso than the original). It seems just very hard for men to understand what it could mean to provide this representational example for girls today. I mean, my partner actually cried during the Holtzman action sequence because of what it would have meant to her as a girl. That’s pretty profound and a lot of the men talking about the movie seem to miss that completely.

    Clearly there’s misogyny at work in the opposition to the film (though that’s certainly not the only reason to critique it, as you showed). The marketing of Paul Feig’s work is maybe a little suspect, too. There’s something about his work that doesn’t seem to translate to trailers. Take Spy, for instance. Based on the trailer, we skipped it. We watched it on HBO or something, and it turned out to be a hilarious, smart movie—something the trailer didn’t even hint at.

    Lastly, I particularly enjoyed the movie’s gender commentary on the reaction of the smart outsider to being put down and excluded by the mainstream. For the villain, being a smart guy who doesn’t get what he sees as his due is a reason to destroy the world. For the Ghostbusters, being a smart woman who is marginalized and mocked is just something that happens, something that they soldier on in spite of. It’s a small point—though one the characters directly address during their first confrontation in the villain’s lab—but an incisive one about male entitlement, female socialization, and the dangers that patriarchy and the expectations it gives men about what they’re “owed” pose to all of us.

  10. Thanks for this episode and your insights. I haven’t seen this movie yet, so I can’t contribute much to the conversation except to say thanks for making a great case for the timeliness and necessity of this reboot. Looking forward to the French extremity episode.

  11. Cameron M. says:

    Wish there was more in-depth critique about the flaws in the movie. Feminism also is super hip and sjw are quick to attack negative reviews whatareyoutalkingabout. Great editing and please don’t feel the need to apologize for saying “ballsy,” that was cringeworthy.

  12. Amanfa Nagy says:

    I was pretty excited to go see Ghostbusters, I watched it with my baby in a stars and strollers show so i was a little distracted but I was still able to enjoy my experience at the movies. I can’t say I loved it as a movie,I did like it however I did love it for everything you ladies are talking about. I came out of the theatre feeling empowered and wanting to kick ass!! Thank you for reminding me why I loved Ghostbusters

  13. Richard says:

    Dear Professors,

    So just today I got to watching Ghostbusters 2016. My apologies for the several-month lag. I tend to avoid movies that have a lot of hype around them, as I’d like to watch them without the miasma of spin over my head, and frankly because it finally hit one of my cable movie stations.

    Personally, I am glad to see that the backlash is primarily gone. A quick search for word on this reboot after I’d watched it offered little of the (late’s face it) sexist crap that was going on about this movie in its pre-release days. I’m also gratified to see a 73% Rotten Tomatoes rating, because I enjoyed the damn thing. Personally, I found McKinnon and Jones the funniest ones, but in the (unfortunately expansive) world of sequels and reboots, this was refreshingly one of the few that actually presented a REASON to reboot. While sequels are notorious for negating everything about its predecessor to create a conflict for the new one (think Alien 3), or a reboot that just tries to recycle everything about the original with rarely little of its success (into which category I’d happily argue The Force Awakens), this Ghostbusters made an effort to create a new storyline and an interesting set of characters, reminiscent of the original but still stand-alone and independent of the original. Yes, the storyline lags and suffers some problems, but let’s face it, so did BOTH the two original-cast endeavors, so let’s not pooh-pooh something that is more focusing on the humor and relationships of the characters, which is the strength of all three.

    Speaking of original-cast, yes it was gratifying to see cameos from all but Moranis (Ramis by way of homage in the credits), and I respect Moranis’s wishes not to appear.

    But overall, it was a solid undertaking, and I wish them a sequel. Maybe it will go the way of sequels, but I was glad to see it, enjoyed it, and am even more glad the stupid sexist backlash seemed to get swallowed by cooler heads. Wish the same had happened in our last election cycle.

  14. Troy says:

    This movie showed me the importance of representation. I LOVE the original Ghostbusters, but my wife has never liked it. However, when we went to see the reboot, I liked it, but she loved it. It spoke to her because it was speaking her language.

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