[ASIDE: I started writing this last week but hadn’t yet posted it. Seems appropriate that it goes up now, on International Women’s Day.]
I am a Ghostbusters fan. I love both movies (and, yes, I more than occasionally do the lines along with the films). I watched the cartoon growing up. I lamented my lack of a quality gaming console when the game came out years ago (touted as the closest thing we would ever get to a sequel). I drank my fair share of Ecto-Cooler. And I was cautiously optimistic as I listened to rumors about a new film: Akroyd was working on a new script with Reitman, Murray wasn’t thrilled with it…all that news was circulating in the back of my conscious.
I lost my mind. In a good way, mind you. Not in the way that many of the male fans lost their minds on the internet. You know…the ones shouting “OH MY GOD, THERE’RE BOOBS IN THIS MOVIE AND NOT IN THE WAY I DEEM ACCEPTABLE MY CHILDHOOD IS RUINED THIS MOVIE IS RUINED EVERYTHING IS RUINED.”
First off…if all it takes to ruin your childhood is one bad movie based on something you loved as a child? That’s a pretty shitty excuse for a ruined childhood. You know what actually ruins childhoods? Molestation by an adult or other child. Loss of a parent or guardian (or, for some unlucky ones, both). Living in a box or a car on the street. Having to work even when you’re a kid, just so your family can eat. My dad became the “Man of the House” at age eleven; two days after his dad’s funeral he went to work making items to sell in the family’s store. And even he never classified that as a “ruined” childhood. Sharply curtailed, yes, but not ruined. Sadly, there are a large number of children out there who are dealing with more life-ruining moments than the reboot of your favorite movie with an all-female leading cast. Your life won’t be ruined, even if the movie turns out to be awful.
Second, no, your childhood isn’t ruined. Because it already happened. Presumably, you are no longer a child – despite your attempts to convince us all otherwise through your behavior. Unless you’re planning to take a time machine back to the days when you were just a little tyke, blissfully ignorant of what growing up would truly mean, and beat your child-self into the ground while screaming “THIS IS BECAUSE OF THE GHOSTBUSTERS REBOOT!”…your childhood is not ruined.
Instead, what has been ruined (and not ruined, per se, more like threatened) is your ability to pretend to live in a world where women or people of color are incapable of being captivating major characters in a story. And, I’m sorry, but if you’re a fan of SFF, that should have already happened. Ripley from Aliens. Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games. Korra in The Legend of Korra. Petra Arkanian from Ender’s Game. Rey from Force Awakens. Hermione and Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley (and book-Ginny Weasley) from Harry Potter! Soldiers in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, NOT the movie). Lauren Olamina in Parable of the Sower. Superhero and detective Misty Knight (several different comics series). Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel.
[Granted, some of the studios and publishers still struggle with depicting people of color, but I like to hope we’re getting there.]
Okay, so some of these are more recent examples, and that’s kind of the point of some of this. It can be hard to find movies and shows where women are featured as fully-realized characters with as much knowledge and skill as their male counterparts. Even in shows where women could be considered equals (i.e., The Big Bang Theory, where Bernadette is a molecular biologist and Amy is a neuroscientist – played by an actual neuroscientist), female characters are often pigeonholed into stereotypes – the awkward nerdy girl who had no friends or love interests until one of the main male characters came along – or have their laudable merits overshadowed by boob jokes. It’s a hard world for female characters, y’all, and that doesn’t just affect women. It affects men, too. When all you see on television are a bunch of supposedly smart men reducing the equally brilliant women in their lives to boob jokes and nerd stereotypes, why wouldn’t you think twice of doing the same thing to the women you know in real life? Why wouldn’t you think it’s okay to make comments about someone’s body, or pursue them repeatedly even though they’ve said no (Again, I’m looking at you, Big Bang Theory**).
So, it is a big deal for the new Ghostbusters movie to feature an all-female lead cast. Just maybe not for the same reasons some of those fans are screaming. Think about it…we’ve now gone through an Avengers movie where the merchandising led to Black Widow being left out of the toys (and replaced with a man riding the motorcycle that she was featured riding in a big scene) AND a Star Wars: The Force Awakens where the same treatment was given to Rey, arguably the main character of the movie. And the reasons given, time and again, for the lack of toys showing these female characters is that boys don’t want to play with them. Hmm…Why not? Consider the potential reasons:
- Boys don’t want to play with them because the idea that anything female is bad and somehow lesser (but feel free to objectify them all you want).
- Girls aren’t driving the market – i.e., they aren’t buying all the toys, like the boys are, so we’re not going to produce the things with girls on them.
Neither of these reasons, when you get down to it, are really good reasons. Or rather, they shouldn’t be. The argument that “Boys only want to play with boy toys” is bullcrap, because those boys had to be taught that the girl toys were somehow lesser. And they are taught that, in part, by erasing major female characters from toys used in expressive play. It’s a vicious cycle.
And, as far as girls not driving the market…who do you think half of the Lego sets that get purchased go to? How about a portion of those Hot Wheels that have been around forever? Hell, how do you know the Star Wars toys aren’t going to be taken home to little girls? Growing up, my brother had so many hot wheels, and Legos and action figures that we had to keep them in individual garbage bins. Trash cans, people. Each of them at least two gallons. And do you know how he got most of those plastic bricks and metal cars?
That’s right. From my sister and I. [Heather had a sizable collection of Hot Wheels before Andrew was even born, and was rather territorial about them. She could tell when I had played with them while she was at school, despite my trying to put them back where they belonged in the storage case.]
Now…I’ve gotten a little off topic. Ghostbusters reboot.
The trailer came out last week. And, again, I lost my mind. I watched it five times that morning. Then I clicked through the trailer, shot by shot, combing for little clues. And then I watched it again. I want the intro, with the Ghostbusters theme plunked out on a piano, playing on a loop for the next few days. The ghosts sort of remind me of the live-action Scooby-Doo movies (and I’m unsure how I feel about that), but I love the look of the new packs and equipment (check out the aluminum foil!), and the characterization via clothing choices has me excited about the possibility of some cosplay/office life overlap (Yes, that means I am extremely tempted to dress as Melissa McCarthy’s character when I go to work).
I like the complete gender-swapping of the cast, too, with Chris Hemsworth being cast as the secretary, Kevin. There has been some moaning about this casting, too, from folks who claim that he’s too attractive to be a nerd. To which I reply…”Have you ever been to a convention before? Do you even know the geek community?” Because, believe it or not, being a nerd or a geek does not mean you can’t be attractive. This isn’t an either/or situation. People are drawn to all sorts of different things, and those loves aren’t dictated by another person’s classification of their appearance. It’s not like, if someone happens to fit the American standards of beauty they automatically have “better things to do” than be smart.
(I mean…look at this nerd right here. Isn’t he handsome? It takes a special kind of person to proudly sport a dashing Super Bunny on his cheek at a festival. He manages to be both geeky and attractive – at least, I think so.)
Also – and probably most importantly – “attractiveness” isn’t necessarily a defined marker. People are attracted to different things. Not only are there pretty big cultural differences in what is considered “ideal” in various countries, but people within those cultures often have different ideas about what they like and don’t like. I’m sure there are a number of people who don’t particularly care for Chris Hemsworth (honestly, when he’s at the higher end of his bulked out muscles, for later versions of Thor, he kind of freaks me out), just as there are others who love him. Plus, this is not the first time the Ghostbusters have had a secretary who falls into beauty standards. I mean…Annie Potts. Enough said.
This is not to say that I don’t recognize some problems with the new movie – for instance, the very real concern about a lack of diversity in the cast (still predominantly white). And Leslie Jones’ character fits into the category of “Sassy Black Friend” that Chris Rock poked fun at during this year’s Oscars. At least, as far as we’ve seen. She mentions that the three other ladies have the “science stuff” down, and she has the street sense. It would have been nice if she could have been a science nerd, too.
However, we don’t yet know her backstory. Maybe she’s an ordained minister who went to seminary, has a Ph.D in religion, and has to work a part-time job in New York transit to support her family. Maybe she was an academic scholar in a non-science field. Maybe she was a marketing rep who is used to taking big ideas and jargon and distilling it into bite-sized pieces that the average person can understand (this is important…remember Egon’s twinkie comparison from the first movie?) Maybe she is retired military.
Maybe the producers thought that casting all women in the main parts was shaking things up enough. Maybe they were just trying to keep with part of the demographic breakdown in the original movie. My big hope is that there is some serious room for her character development in the film. Who knows? She might have a tremendous backstory, like Ernie Hudson’s Winston was originally supposed to have. [I am really glad to have this backstory, by the way. Winston was always my favorite of the four, and I felt he could have had a film all on his own.] My second hope is that, as the series moves forward, there will be room to accommodate more voices that aren’t often included in big budget films.
Now, before I wrap this up, I will leave you with one final thought about the impact of this cast. I’ll do the same thing I did when talking to Robert last night.
What do you notice? Need another look?
Did you notice it? The wide presentation of body types? I am so used to the heroes of a movie fitting into one body type, and it’s refreshing to see more variety here. “But the guys in the original aren’t necessarily buff gym bodies,” some might argue. That may be, but it’s generally more acceptable for a male main character to be larger than a female main character. Think about all the female superheroes you see in movies, t.v. shows and comics. Think of all the female action stars. It’s only recently that we started getting comic characters like Faith, or super-spy Susan Cooper (played by Melissa McCarthy…well, look at that).
To have an all-female cast for Ghostbusters, and watch them kicking ass, and see that it’s not just all typical Hollywood body types? It’s very possible that I am going to cry when I go see this movie, and not because I think my childhood is ruined.
[I’m also really excited about the presence of what looks like a proton-pack fueled set of brass knuckles, that McCarthy appears to be wielding during a fight with ghosts. I’ve always thought the Ghostbusters needed some type of melee weapon, instead of just relying on the gun-like proton pack. Definitely cosplaying as Abby Yates]
**While I love the fact that Big Bang Theory has helped to bring science and geek-related topics to a greater audience of non-geeks, and there are still plenty of episodes and witty banter that I like, there are still a lot of things about the show that I find problematic. The amount of sexism – disguised and excused away as “these guys are belittled and made fun of, too!” – that the show exhibits is hard to put up with, particularly as a female fan. Think of how many times the show has shown the male characters pursuing a female character…even going so far as to make unwanted physical advances on her, despite her repeated denials:
- Consider the episode when Penny first really sets things out for Howard, after being objectified and made uncomfortable time and again. She’s seen as mean for being human, and expressing how she feels when he says or does these things. When she apologizes (because the guys think she’s at fault in this situation) he tries to kiss her And, of course, at the end he thinks he’s close to getting pity sex. Again, missing the point that she is trying to make.
- Think back to the episode where Amy is being pursued by the geologist down the hall and Howard and Raj insist that she can’t just tell the truth – that she doesn’t like the guy like that. Instead, she has to “let him down gently.” AKA – the guys tell him she’s a lesbian. Because the only way to get someone from following you is to make them see you as someone else’s property, in some way. Because it’s not enough for the woman to just say she’s not interested. No, we’ve got to let the guy off gently, and forget about a woman’s agency.
These are just two examples I’ve pulled out of the long history of this show. Like I said, I consider myself a fan of the show, but that’s also sometimes really hard to do. Because, the truth is, examples like this – from popular shows – highlight the problems that women deal with day in and day out, without actually recognizing that they are problems. I would love it if the writers of Big Bang Theory used these moments as an opportunity to advance the dialogue.