The new Ghostbusters is hilarious and entertaining in the extreme. You should go see it. No spoilers below.
But yeah, I’m going to start by discussing the 1984 version.
In the 1984 all-male version of Ghostbusters (why don’t we call every all-male cast an “all-male cast”?), the Ghostbusters emerge from a haunted building and Bill Murray proclaims “We came, we saw – we kicked its ass!!”
That moment set the tone for the original Ghostbusters. It’s full of laughs, but it doesn’t have many jokes. The fun is in watching likeable characters triumph in unlikely situations.
Bill Murray is the dangerous hero: the selfish, unpredictable jerk we can’t resist. He’s Han Solo with wisecracks.
The 1984 Ghostbusters showed the victory of science nerds and snide outsiders. Only those heroic misfits could face the city’s demons and rescue civilization.
Recollections of that movie focus on the laughs, but I think that upending of social traditions was the real source of its appeal and humor. It would not have worked for Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to be the Ghostbusters, with or without laughs. The usual heroes could not take on such sticky adversaries.
So, imagine you’re an awkward boy in 1984. You embrace Ghostbusters because it scrambles the status quo and puts sarcastic freaks like you on top.
Some of the losers would now win, but not all. Rick Moranis’ clueless neighbor and Bill Murray’s snooty rival for Sigourney Weaver’s affections – the violinist, defined by his allergies – do not enjoy heightened status at the end of the movie. Ghostbusters isn’t particularly misogynistic (unlike so many movies of the time), but even Sigourney Weaver’s dignified heroine is mostly a damsel to be rescued and a prize to be claimed.
The eighties brought us Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science, Real Genius and “the snobs vs. the slobs” – that line from Caddyshack, another Bill Murray vehicle. The social revolution that would bring us iPhones, Google, and impossible Bay Area housing prices was just getting started.
So 32 years later, a new Ghostbusters – not a sequel, not quite a remake – casts four women in the lead roles. The jokes are very funny, and many are from a woman’s point of view: even a few apparent “dick jokes” are subtly replaced with female versions. Gags about men putting each other down are replaced by women stumbling over one another to be polite and supportive.
And some men who found redemption in the original Ghostbusters’ rattling of the social order are oddly threatened by their imagined victory now going to someone else.
Long story short: I think this explains why this year’s election has been such an angry train wreck.
Trump appeals directly to those who fear they’re losing their old place in the hierarchy. “Make America Great Again” means “Enjoy the benefits of racism, sexism and xenophobia, just like your grandfather did.”
Clinton appeals to those who know hierarchy is inevitable, and will inevitably evolve. “Death, Taxes and Hillary” indeed.
Third-party candidates appeal to those who reject the very idea of social hierarchy. They’re willing to imagine fantasy rescue scenarios and vote for impossible-to-elect candidates because they envision a truly level playing field, where the weight of consequence may safely be disregarded.
So, what can we do?
1) If they’re to cooperate, Trump supporters need to feel they have a place in the evolving hierarchy. Bill Murray has not been replaced, dude, and neither have you. Unfortunately, attacks that isolate them seem to make the problem worse. Trump has embraced cult-leader tactics, lying to his base to convince them of their own desperation.
2) Clinton supporters need to embrace support of the system and improvement of the system as equally necessary. Justice and fairness are exhausting, but injustice and unfairness are worse.
3) Third-party voters need to acknowledge that they are part of the very system they despise. There are realistic ways to slowly improve the system, but “sending a message” of aloof disdain for every available path forward is not one of them.
We imagine an improved society as something arriving from afar: some ideal savior will emerge to rescue us from the corruption and purify our soiled country.
Some people thought Bernie Sanders was that savior, and that his very clear loss at the polls exemplifies every kind of corruption that holds us back. Some of those concerns were legitimate; some were ghosts that continue to haunt both Clinton’s efforts and Sanders’.
But all the ugliness we have seen has a name: Democracy. We are subject to manipulation not because we are trapped, but because we are free. Our votes are expensive because they shape society more than any of us like to admit. (As some have reminded us: Hitler was elected.)
Our world will always have ghosts. We cannot destroy them all. What can we do? Together, we can learn to not be afraid.