Predictably, misogynistic bros on the internet are whining about the new Ghostbusters movie that stars four women. Some are saying the new film will “ruin their childhoods,” which were devoted to Ghostbusters’ male characters. But it is possible for a movie to retrospectively ruin a misogynist’s childhood? Matthew Cull says… maybe.
This month will see the release of a new Ghostbusters movie, which features a ‘gender-flipped’ cast, starringKristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy as four Ghostbusters trying to save New York from a ghostly invasion. There are reasons to be cautious about the film: if the trailer is anything to go by, the problematic racial dynamics of the original seem to have been carried over to the new version. Ernie Hudson, the only African American member of the original Ghostbusters cast, happened to be the only Ghostbuster to not be an academic, and had a hugely reduced, tokenistic role. Leslie Jones, the only African American member of the new Ghostbusters cast, also happens to be the only non-academic, remarking of the white women that “You guys are really smart about this science stuff.” Her character appears only to be employed for her ‘street smarts,’ and the trope of the sassy black friend is turned up to 100. Sigh…
However, without having seen the film in its entirety, it’s difficult to make any kind of serious judgment about it (even as we rightly lambast those who created and edited the trailer). But despite having seen only trailers, the internet-bro-hivemind has unequivocally rejected the new film. It has become the most disliked film trailer in youtube history, with nearly 900,000 thumbs-down. Much of the backlash is openly misogynist, motivated by the fact that it is four women who will play the lead roles. The following comments were screenshotted by Molly Fitzpatrick at Fusion magazine, before Sony deleted them:
And Twitter has also seen its fair share of such remarks: ›
Obviously such comments are symptomatic of a larger disdain for women, and feature a problematic notion of women’s presence being political, as opposed to men, whose presence is taken to be apolitical or neutral. If you’re a man, you can appear on film and everything is taken to be normal, but if you’re a woman, you have to justify even your presence in the public eye—and groups of men on the internet will shout at you that you shouldn’t be there.
Meanwhile, some of the comments also claim that now that women have this film, they should stop complaining, or even stop being feminists. I suppose it is nice to get a female-fronted Ghostbusters—perhaps things like political liberation and access to reproductive healthcare can be put on the backburner for a while!
These aspects of the comments are worthy of discussion in and of themselves, but I want to focus on a particular kind of misogynist response to the new movie, and what I take to be the mistaken reaction to that misogyny: the idea being that the new, female-driven movie will spoil childhoods that were spent devoted to the old Ghostbusters and its (male) characters. The comments sections of many websites and forums are full of phrases such as ‘it’s spoiling a classic’ or ‘it will ruin my childhood’.
At first glance, this claim seems odd—and in response journalists in progressive publications have run a variety of articles mocking the misogynist commentators for making it. How can a new film can ruin a classic, or retrospectively tarnish a childhood? This is perhaps exemplified in this tweet from games journalist Paul Dean:
However, whilst I have a lot of respect for Dean, and the others who have argued that a film can’t possibly go back in time and ruin a childhood, I think they are quite mistaken. Why? Because these arguments presuppose that we can read texts, watch movies and experience art in isolation, when in fact the lens through which we interpret and interact with cultural texts is largely determined by the other cultural texts we have come into contact with.
Take, for example, reading the Harry Potter books and then watching the movies at a later time. If you had an image in your head of what Harry looked like after reading the books and before watching the movies, you may find it very difficult to remember that image after watching the movies. Basically, it’s really hard to imagine Harry not looking like Daniel Radcliffe once you’ve seen the movies. Alternatively, think of how uncomfortable it feels to re-read Alice in Wonderland once you find out about the sexual feelings Lewis Carroll had towards Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired the eponymous character. Should we have a moral objection to Alice in light of this creepy inspiration? Probably not—certainly, for myself and many other readers, Alice in Wonderland is not utterly ruined. Nonetheless, I cannot help but read the book differently in the light of those uncomfortable facts about Lewis Carroll. This is one manifestation of what literary theorists call ‘intertextuality’.
If this phenomenon occurs when we read cultural texts, might it not also occur when we remember our own pasts? Of course it does! Reading a new book can change how you think about the past, and seeing a beautiful painting of a place you grew up can change how you see your childhood. It may even change the parts of the past as we recall them, triggering forgotten memories and obscuring things that were once clear.
If this is right, then once we see the Ghostbusters (or perhaps even just the trailer) our interpretations of the original Ghostbusters movie will change—for the better or worse. We will watch the original Ghostbusters in the light of the new version. Whilst this might enrich our experience of the original film, for the misogynistic internet commenter, if they so detest the very presence of women in the new film, then it may well ruin the original Ghostbusters for them. It may also ruin their childhoods (or at least their interpretation of their childhoods) if their childhoods were so interwoven with the idea of the male leads of the original movies.
This means that the original responses by journalists were mistaken, and we should take more seriously claims that new films will spoil older ones. However, before we start feeling any sympathy for our dear misogynistic trolls, we should remind ourselves that their memories are being tarnished because they are misogynists. I humbly suggest that tarnishing a misogynist’s memory of their childhood in this way is not a problem that we should be particularly worried about.
The increased representation of women onscreen can only be a good thing, if those representations are complex and nuanced—just like the people they depict. We will soon see if the new Ghostbusters gets this right. It may even change the way some of these misogynists think of women, asking them to come to terms with stories that are not told from a man’s perspective. Of course, they might also just whine about it online and not see the movie, but culture is a complex phenomenon, and with more and more narratives by and for women out in the public sphere, living under a misogynist rock will become a choice and not the norm.
Matthew Cull is a Queen’s University graduate student who’s interested in Feminist philosophy, epistemology, action and science.