The Last Temptation of Christ, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Pink Flamingos… and the new Ghostbusters remake. Yes, somehow a bit of innocuous summer entertainment has joined the ranks of the most controversial films of all time.
Internet flame wars erupted left and right as soon as the film and its cast were announced. Discussions and comment sections dripped with more vitriol than is usually afforded even the most despised reboots of beloved franchises. The film’s first trailer quickly became the most down-voted movie trailer on Youtube and cracked the site’s top ten most disliked videos of all time. How did this inoffensive comedy become the center of a societal game of tug-of-war?
Dissecting the reception of the Ghostbusters reboot requires an examination of many larger cultural forces at play. What obviously separates this movie from other reboots is the gender-swapped, all-female cast. Most amateur internet critics didn’t cite the women themselves as the reason to hate or refuse to see this film, but instead opted for roundabout reasoning, leveling accusations of “gimmickry” and “ruining” childhoods. But bolder and angrier commenters proclaimed the new Ghostbusters was “feminist propaganda,” inadvertently cutting closer to the real root of the anxiety and outcry about the movie.
In a society that is increasingly discussing and valuing diversity, representation, and equality, the privileged are feeling displaced and unappreciated. These feelings are largely unfounded however, especially in terms of visibility in media. According to advocacy organization, Women and Hollywood, only 34% of major characters in film were female in 2015, and only 22% of protagonists were female in the top 100 grossing films of last year, despite women comprising 51% of the ticket-buying audience. The vast majority (76%) of female characters were white. These statistics illustrate a modest increase from 2014, but they hardly represent a feminist takeover of Hollywood by the politically correct elite.
The tastes and preferences of men, particularly white men, have been catered to in every form of media, to such an extent, for so long, that even the smallest step toward parity feels like a personal affront. Women and minority characters aren’t perceived as simply existing; they are perceived as being foisted upon the viewing audience. And in the case of Ghostbusters, women were not only there, but “replacing” a cast of beloved male characters. Women continue to represent a larger and larger percentage of the workforce and are now outpacing men at earning college degrees. Many men in the real world feel that they too are being “replaced” in their lives and in society.
But, of course, to feel replaced is to feel a sense of entitlement – to feel that your spot has been taken, that you have been usurped or slighted. The colossal tantrums thrown internet-wide over lady-Ghostbusters belie childish entitlement, and the same resentment that put the White House in the small-handed grasp of an openly sexist, racist ideologue this year.
As if it weren’t already apparent to observers that that misdirected anxiety and resentment were the forces behind the Ghostbusters backlash, sole African American star of the film, Leslie Jones, was first subjected to a barrage of racist online abuse and later had private photos released in a hack. The campaign against Jones and the film at large resemble #GamerGate, a reactionary movement against diverse representation in games.
The ridiculously disproportionate reaction to Ghostbusters the reboot forced people to vehemently defend what is ultimately a moderately good, fun summer comedy. This film should not have been thrust into the center of a “culture war.” But there is a segment of our society grappling for something to keep for themselves. Today it’s busting ghosts.