Thursday 3 March 2016

Gender and Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call?

It looks very jolly, doesn't it? I'll more than likely head up 'anley duck to watch it come the release.

As you might expect, a few people have had a moan about the Ghostbusters reboot. Some of it is justified (three white scientists and a "street" black woman, really?), but the big whinges are reserved for the all-female cast. Never mind that comedy action family romps for mainstream audiences have typically centered on the antics of all-male gangs, oh no, the moaning only begins when women-led films dare to venture out of the romcom and super serious character study-type flicks. In fact, trying to think of anything in this genre led by a group of female characters and none immediately come to mind. In 2016.

Of course, anyone who's worried about the franchise "being spoiled" by the replacement of male by female characters need to get a life. But I can understand the anxiety while having zero sympathy for it. 1984's original Ghostbusters is a much-loved film. It's funny, has great effects (for the time), a simple goodies vs baddies story line, and characters an audience can relate to. I can remember the publicity back in the day - the scene where Slimer charges down the hallway toward Venkman (Bill Murray) was heavily trailed. But we never saw the sliming itself - that was left for the movie (unlike now where it appears all the best lines and set pieces make it into the publicity).

Beloved and fondly remembered it is, Ghostbusters was very much a boy's movie. Female characters had inessential walk-on parts as the secretary (Janine) and the love interest (Dana). Venkman practically stalked the latter until she gave into his leery advances. She was possessed by a demon called the gatekeeper while another, called the keymaster (groan), had to get together to summon their big baddie master, Gozer the Gozerian. It's all low-level sexist stuff that was par the course in 80s movies, and despite being very entertaining is hopelessly a product of its time.

Nevertheless, this sort of format was ubiquitous in the 1980s. This was years after the sexual revolution, and women were already present in the workplace in large numbers. Perhaps it was an expression of the revanchist tide of Conservatism that rolled over the United States, and did threaten the gains made by women and gay people. Part and parcel of this is a forgotten aspect of 1980s culture, and that's the permeation of film and music with 1950s nostalgia. Cris-crossing the Atlantic we had films based in small towns that had barely moved on since the days of the Great Society, we had Shakin' Stevens and Jive bloody Bunny exercising the record-buying public, numerous superheroes were revived from the 1950s heyday, there was a teddy boy inflection in the New Romantic scene. It was everywhere and it was horrible (except in Back to the Future, but that's for another time).

This 50s nostalgia of twee white families living in twee white houses with their twee fridges and twee Cadillacs spoke of a simpler time where gender roles were rigidly defined and everyone knew their place. Of course, that 1950s was the experience of a relatively privileged number of Americans, but it was they who came of age in the 70s and 80s and started churning out cultural product for the masses, and no wonder they would visit the (idealised) themes of their childhood. Therefore pally blokey movies, which have always been something of a mainstay, became even more ubiquitous as family-friendly entertainment not simply because of the conservative cultural climate which, itself, was conditioned by the turn to the right in politics, but also the cohort of (mainly) men moving into decision-making roles in the entertainment industry. As such, while Ghostbusters wasn't a retread of a 50s B-movie, it did stick with rigid gender lines and character archetypes. Even the car - Ecto 1 - is a 1959 Caddy.

Going from the trailer of the new Ghostbusters, it looks like the ghost of the 50s has been laid to rest. Good.


asquith said...

Will you be getting yourself down that new cinema by the Potteries shopping centre? If only it had been built years earlier instead of all the faffing round, eh? ;)

I'm more of a Film Theatre man, I can't imagine I'd enjoy watching this. But it's good, in my view, that we're bringing business back to Hanley and the town centres rather than grim places like Festival Park.

I'll be waiting for She Who Brings Gifts, famed for being filmed at the old bus station and having my wife* Gemma Arterton in it.

*may not actually be my wife

Chris said...

Words have gender, people have sex.

Use of the word gender to refer to people is a sure sign of a bourgeois.

Phil said...

What century do you live in?

Things change. Gender and sex are concepts, both of which are socially constituted. And it just so happens there are decades of research showing the history, development, and understandings of these terms. By opting for a naturalist definition, the only one spouting bourgeois claptrap here happens to be you.