In the 1980s, Indonesian kids had different ideas with Malaysian kids when they were talking about the Ghostbusters. Indonesians thought about two men and a gorilla, while Malaysians thought about three white men and a black man, all with uniquely Dutch surnames.
That is because TVRI picked an animation series based on a 1975 live action series, while Malaysia’s RTM picked the more famous and expensive cartoon adaptation of the 1984 motion picture starring Dan Aykroyd, who wanted to make another Saturday Night Live duet with the late John Belushi after The Blues Brothers (Belushi’s role was replaced by Bill Murray).
The success of the cartoon series made Ghostbusters a global brand. In 1989 Ghostbusters II was released with a soundtrack helmed by Bobby Brown, and more toys and video games came out. It was a part of my childhood.
Over the last 20 years there have been several Ghostbusters cartoon series and video games released but none could recapture the popularity of the 1980s’ brand. After the death of key cast member Harold Ramis in 2014, rebooting seemed to be the better option than Ghostbusters III. Paul Feig, who created the millennium’s cult drama-comedy Freaks and Geeks, was confirmed as the director and recruited Melissa McCarthy, who worked with him in Bridesmaid, The Heat, and Spy.
Since then “controversial” has become the word that follows the new Ghostbusters. The super naive me sees the project as a natural successor to the legend. McCarthy has been dubbed as the hitmaker of comedy in this decade, the heir to Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy. Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are juniors to Aykroyd, Murray, and Ramis in Saturday Night Live. All’s good, right?
Cue the scream of thousands of men saying that this reboot ruins their childhood. Why? Because these ghost busters are girls. Well yeah, they are women...and reboots have ruined my memories too. Take Mission: Impossible 1996, where TV hero Jim Phelps is written as the villain. Or numerous whitewashed movies like Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution. Or Amazing Spider-Man (2012), which undid all the cuteness of Peter and Mary Jane coupling.
But Ghostbusters is different. Men who are angry with the female Ghostbusters grew up watching the cartoon, and Jim Phelps is not a cartoon hero. Most of men who are angry with the female Ghostbusters are white men who have no problem seeing Speed Racer and Goku played by white men (protests of few Asian-American bloggers went unheard while Asian audience generally are indifferent). Men who are angry with the female Ghostbusters are of course more interested in Spider-Man’s action scenes than in how Peter and Mary Jane work out their career and money concerns.
The actors of Ghostbusters original movies also represent the 1980s, when America was done with the moral relativity and anti-heroes of the past, reinvented entertainment for the white guys again, and won the Cold War. To replace them with four women, who are not usually described as “hot”, is not only scandalous but reinforces the white man’s fear of this decade: Women and minorities have aggressively pushed the men out of the center stage and tell a story that is different to what they use to hear – “you rule”.
Hold on, by claiming that “my childhood is ruined”, doesn’t one admit that he is a man in his 30s? Who still doesn’t grow up? At first that sounds sad, but that’s the point. The man is used to identify himself with any fictional hero out there, but now it’s no longer possible. And he doesn’t want the “girls” to think that they can be heroes too. They should stick being damsels-in-distress or sexy villainess.
So in July 2016 Ghostbusters is released. Critics see it as a mediocre movie, but certainly better than Ghostbusters II. But like many other ordinary things, it is fun and it makes money. The angry men are furious, because they wanted critics to rip it apart and to see it being a box office flop.
What happened next was awful to Leslie Jones. Thousands of men attacked her on Twitter with racist, body shaming, and misogynist tweets, and even made fake tweets and screenshots portraying her as a homophobic. The campaign was orchestrated by British journalist Milo Yiannopolous, who in this decade has become a hero for racists, misogynists, and neo-Nazis online. Frustrated, Jones declared that she was leaving Twitter. The next day, Yiannopolous’ Twitter account was permanently suspended and Jones announced her return to Twitter, while speaking on television that racism and harassment are not free speech.
Jones was singled out because she is a black woman. She was harassed in the same month that saw an increase of shooting of African-American civilians by police and in the same month with the horrific 2016 Republican National Congress (RNC). Yiannopolous hosted the Islamophobic “Gays for Trump” party and the RNC showed a tweet from a well-known white supremacist, weeks after Donald Trump tweeted a neo-Nazi meme. Trump’s acceptance speech shows that millions of Americans believe in one thing: white men should dominate America again.
A mainstream movie, however, has challenged this message. Ghostbusters is proved to be a hit and feminists say they like it, because it is funny and the characters are cool. Indonesians might not be interested in a women-led supernatural comedy, but hopefully the buzz from United States can persuade more to choose this movie. Mattel also reports unexpectedly good sales from the toys, and we can expect more girls and women to dress up as Ghostbusters this Halloween.
My nephew is not interested with the new Ghostbusters and prefers to see The Secret Life of Pets (which is a more appropriate movie for him). But he grows up with a pop culture that shows that everyone could become a hero. These heroes will prompt more Americans to do the right thing this year and show racism and misogyny the way out.
Read Mario’s piece on the church and homosexuality and follow @mariorustan on Twitter.