Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I Liked Ghostbusters (2016)

I saw the new Ghostbusters movie on Sunday and I liked it.


1. There were many small, funny jokes that were also commentary on gender politics -- like when Abby is scrolling down the comments and reads out "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts." But my favorite moment in the movie happened when the Ghostbusters are facing down the bad guy, Rowan.

Rowan wants to destroy the world because he feels he hasn't gotten the admiration and attention he deserves. At a climactic moment, he shouts to the women about how no one recognizes his true qualities, his worth, his genius!

It may have been my imagination, but I felt like after he shouted that there was pause, while the camera lingered on the faces of the Ghostbusters. What I saw in those faces was "We're women. You're going to try to tell us about having unrecognized worth and unappreciated qualities?!" Priceless.

2. All the ridiculous drama about the movie -- WTF? Sometimes when I disagree with people I sort of get what they're on about. But the rage that people seemed to feel over having four women ghostbusters -- it's truly mystifying to me.

I mean, it's not mystifying in the sense that yes, there are sexist people who just want to see men do things and women look pretty and they're threatened by anything else. But people don't like to state this as a bald fact, so they come up with "reasons." Like -- this movie is going to "ruin my childhood."

You know what? There are a lot of movies with premises I don't appreciate. I don't want to see a movie that guts the social satire of a Jane Austen book and turns it into a rom-com. I don't want to see Sherlock Holmes turned into an action franchise. I don't want to see anyone portraying Bertie Wooster and supplanting the mental Bertie Wooster I have in my head (who is a surprisingly good guy, BTW).

I might have confided to my closest friends that I regarded the making of these films as a perversion of art  and all that is good in the world. But, gee, somehow I managed to refrain from shouting all oer social media that anyone who wanted to make or watch these movies was a horrible cretin who was destroying everything and should go immediately to hell. FFS, people.

3. There's a very good subplot involving a moronic but conventionally attractive guy, Kevin, who becomes the Ghostbusters' receptionist. Some of the jokes are about how the Ghostbusters ogle him and act inappropriately and all that -- obviously a reference to the eleven million other movies in which a bunch of men hire a cute and ineffectual secretary to ogle and flirt with.

This reviewer describes the Kevin bit as "deserved reverse sexism." And I know the reviewer means well, but no, no -- it's not "sexism," and it's not "reverse sexism."

"Sexism" doesn't mean "inappropriate sexualization" and it doesn't just mean anything that is gendered. There's room for various definitions, but plausibly, "sexism" is whatever promotes or props up a certain system -- a particular system of gender difference and gender hierarchy.

If you're in an all male office and the male superiors ogle and flirt with their male subordinates, that is sexual harassment, but it's not sexism, because it's all men.

If you're in a mixed office, and the male superiors ogle and flirt with their female subordinates, that is sexual harassment and sexism: it's harassment that promotes and props up the existing gender system in which men get to do jobs and women are there to be ogled and flirted with.

If you're in a mixed office and the female superiors ogle and flirt with the male subordinates, that is sexual harassment, but it is not sexism -- because it challenges, rather than supporting, the dominant gender system in which men get to do jobs and women are there to be ogled and flirted with.

What happens in the movie is sexual harassment. It's not "deserved," but it is cinematically appropriate and good in the sense that by subverting, rather than promoting, the existing gender system, the depiction is anti-sexist and shows up the sexism of the vast majority of Hollywood blockbusters as movies. 

Sorry to be pedantic. But calling it "deserved reverse sexism" is so confused and wrong, it just plays into the whole misguided idea that calling out sexism is somehow, itself, sexist.

4. Many people have pointed out that it was weird to have the one black Ghostbuster also be the only non-scientist Ghostbuster. I thought that was true. If you want to hear Leslie Jones talk about it, you can, in her excellent interview on the WTF podcast.

5. I was astonished by the degree to which it was a big deal to me to see women -- particularly women scientists -- in a movie. I mean, I know we talk about this all the time, how it matters to see people like you doing your thing, and how there are almost no movies that pass the Bechdel test (must have at least two female characters, they have to talk to one another, about something other than a man), and about how women are virtually always just arm candy, or moms, or absent altogether. But somehow I didn't expect to feel so emotional about it.

I'm not a scientist, but I am an intellectual, and I spend a lot of time having conversations, often with other women, involving big words, and technical details, and complicated ideas, and differences of opinion. Seeing this activity finally depicted on film blew my mind. It's crazy to realize that I'd never, ever seen this activity, which makes up so much of my adult life, in a movie.

At the end of the movie, there's a scene where Sigourney Weaver plays the older, more experienced scientist mentor of the zany, young scientist and Ghostbuster Holtzmann, and tells her to do some things, and to not do some other things. And I got so excited: older, more experienced, female scientist mentor! Unfortunately, since it was a three-second cameo, just like that it was over.


Sarah Brown said...

I liked it too. It wasn't the best comedy I've ever seen but it was decent and we all know there are many male-centered comedies that are far less funny but aren't up to the same scrutiny (cough, Adam Sandler, cough) and seem to be able to secure sequels and franchises on much less.
What do you think about the argument that some aren't into it because they just don't like remakes in general? And why can't the female centered film be made with original content?
Personally my feeling is that remakes are being made all the time, why should women be excluded from that potential?
PS Leslie Jones is the best and I'm furious on her behalf that she was not only targeted by sexism with regard to this movie but also a large number of racist trolls on twitter.

Patricia Marino said...

Hello Sarah! Yeah, in a perfect world -- well, in an even mildly better world -- there could be stories involving women that were remakes and stories about women that were not remakes. Yes, Leslie Jones is the best and the abuse on Twitter business is enraging. BTW you can buy Leslie's comedy special on iTunes (and probably other places): https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/problem-child-live-from-hollywood/id353810807

Sarah Brown said...

Thanks for the tip! I'm going to have to watch that.