The first angry, famous nerd to purse his lips, lift his sausage fingers in the air, and rail publicly—and loudly—against Sony’s female-led Ghostbusters reboot unleashed his flimsy outrage on the Internet just over a year ago. “They’re remaking Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford—you can’t do that!” shouted GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, waving his hands around emphatically for added agitated effect. “And now they’re making Ghostbusters with only women. What’s going on?!”
What is going on, indeed. Up is down. Right is now horribly wrong. The torch has been passed from the heroes of yesterday (aka your childhood) to new heroes who might just inspire the same kind of love for a new generation of movie lovers. And now a new vocal and irate critic has weighed in with a rallying volley for the misogyny-flecked backlash against the all-female Ghostbusters.
In a six-minute video that went viral on Tuesday, vlogger James Rolfe—best known as the Angry Video Game Nerd to his 2 million YouTube followers—planted his flag on the field of battle in the most venomous ideological war to hit the post-Batman v. Superman summer movie season.
The target of his wrath: Sony’s upcoming Ghostbusters remake starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.
The July 15 blockbuster tent pole is such an abomination of the 1984 original film’s legacy, he argued on his website Cinemassacre, that he would refuse to watch and review it altogether.
“If you already know you’re going to hate it, why give them your money?” Rolfe said, launching into a self-righteous dissertation on why the groundbreaking female-led remake was offensive to his sensibilities. “Maybe the actual movie is better than the trailer,” he admitted. “Maybe it’s good. It’s a possibility. I know I’m biased.”
Insinuating that the late Harold Ramis might roll over in his grave at the notion of Paul Feig’s updated take on a team of misfit heroes who take on spectral evils in Manhattan, he complained most passionately that the new film does not star the cast of the old film and its lesser sequel, Ghostbusters II—even though original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and Ernie Hudson all reportedly filmed cameos for the reboot.
“We wanted to see the original cast back together for one last time, while they were still alive,” he said, speaking for untold tens or hundreds of angry nerds, “and then maybe introduce a new younger cast, work them in, win us over, and then pass it on for a new generation.”
Instead, the makers of the new Ghostbusters had the gall to update a 32-year-old franchise in a way that does not reflect what he, a Ghostbusters fan, loves about the original. The new story, which tracks McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, Jones, and their male secretary Chris Hemsworth in modern-day New York vs. 1980s New York, has no connection “to the original story or characters,” he argued. How dare it call itself Ghostbusters!
Venkman and Co. may not be back strapping on the proton packs, but nothing in Ghostbusters the remake is like Ghostbusters the original… except for those shapeless khaki suits, the ecto-slime, the general group dynamic (all the way down to, alas, Jones as what the trailers make out to be a token African-American Ghostbuster), and the gender-flipped Boy Friday.
And as a new trailer reveals: a skeptical city bureaucracy that will most undoubtedly doubt the team before it relies upon them to save the day, that revamped but unmistakably iconic Ray Parker, Jr. theme song, um, Slimer, and the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man come to life.
The youth of today who didn’t grow up with the O.G. Ghostbusters like Rolfe did may not recognize all of these obvious throwback signposts to the Ghostbusters of yore. Older fans, however, will—if anything the parade of shameless references was designed for them, not for newbies.
So it’s not as if the studio and filmmakers have completely forsaken Ghostbusters fans, farted out some completely unrelated plot starring heroes who have vaginas, and slapped the same name on purely to cash in on brand recognition.
Will it be good? Well, we won’t know until we see it. Because that’s how you make informed judgments: You have to actually watch a movie to know what happens in it, and in turn pass judgment on how said things occur. One wonders if Rolfe wishes he waited a day to launch his crusade.
But wait! The real problem, he says, is the title. Ghostbusters: The Next Generation would be better, he even argues, adding his own dubious suggestion. Instead of a remake or a reboot, let’s call Ghostbusters (2016) a “name-make.”
In the very least, he adds—again, without having seen the actual finished film—Feig and Co. should have taken a cue from The Force Awakens, which force-jammed a single line of fan service into its marketing material, right out of Harrison Ford’s mouth: “Chewie, we’re home.”
“That’s all you need,” Rolfe lectures with a self-satisfied grin. “It makes us feel like WE went home, back to our childhoods. It’s as simple as that. It’s how you do a reboot.”
It’s a childish demand that a movie be made exactly for one kind of fan, exactly to specifications that acknowledge and validate his or her own fandom and reasons for loving the original. Unfortunately, it’s a sentiment expressed loudly and controversially by established male film journalists from the moment the new Ghostbusters was announced.
Deadline Hollywood’s editor in chief and self-described “knuckle-dragging Neanderthal” (and my former boss) Mike Fleming Jr. led the charge in 2014, unapologetically bemoaning the notion of a woman-led Ghostbusters because it ran contrary to the “guy comedy” classic he felt ownership over as a male fan.
“[Does] that give them the right to take Ghostbusters from knuckle-dragging Neanderthals like me who have little else going for us but our all-time top 10 or 20 favorite guy movies, and the prospect of a revamp that feels like the original guy version of one of the films on that list?” he wrote. “What’s next, a Goodfellas redo with female mobsters pulling off the Lufthansa heist? A Raging Bull redo with Rhonda Rousey? Brian’s Song, set in in the WNBA? Animal House at a sorority?”
(A version of “Animal House at a sorority,” by the way, is kind of what this week’s Neighbors 2 did in turning the 2014 bro-centered hit comedy into a shockingly thoughtful sequel about campus gender inequality. See for yourself this weekend.)
Clearly Fleming Jr. wasn’t alone in that resistance to the brave new ghostbusting future. Internet fans erupted in irate mouse-clicking rage at the remake’s first trailer, quickly making it the No. 1 most hated movie trailer of all time on YouTube. As of this writing the tally of down votes is up to a ridiculously disproportionate 782K and counting, and the comments… well, enter that miserable pit of despair at your own risk.
That leaves Rolfe clinging onto a far more problematic argument. All this pre-release uproar founded on paper-thin whining amplified heretofore unknown factors into a firestorm of pre-judgment, leaving the only legitimately major difference at hand the gender of the protagonists.
Rolfe’s rage also completely and willfully ignores the idea that there might be other moviegoers who represent over half of the human population who deserve to have their experiences reflected onscreen in major motion pictures, too.
Making a new Ghostbusters movie with new characters who are women gives that same rare validation he got back in 1984—seeing heroines pal around and fight ghosts and save the world—that hordes of nerd-bros have enjoyed for three decades. More importantly, its existence doesn’t negate that of the universally loved original film, its less-beloved sequel, or the spinoff cartoon that even fewer fans remember (and once name-checked Trump).
But the Angry Video Game Nerd’s feeble outrage conjures the indignation of another outspoken critic: the aforementioned ex-Celebrity Apprentice Host Donald J. Trump.
Given to belittling women by judging or denigrating their superficial looks, Trump famously called his female foes, as Megyn Kelly challenged, “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”
It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing Trump’s relentlessly unapologetic woman-hating ways collide with a wave of angry fans upset over the lady Ghostbusters as the 2016 election year grows exponentially more hostile. The worst of the GamerGate trolls taught frustrated white men the art of anonymous online intimidation, an ugly phenomenon that movie fanboys adopted earlier this year, for example, when critics rightly called Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice an epic letdown.
There were plenty of male film journalists who got disproportionate hate for that DC misstep (one so undeniable in its floppage that Warner Bros. made swift behind-the-scenes moves to put the DC cinematic universe in surer creative hands). But female film critics who expressed the same sentiments received heightened degrees of gendered hate from the minor segment of man-boys who found their interests, values, and very existences threatened.
It’s creepy, abusive, and not terribly far removed to how an overwhelming portion of Ghostbusters haters’ most poisonous critiques of the film, based on the trailers and marketing materials, tend to scrutinize the physicality and fuckability of its four stars.
Examining the sexism that’s reared its head during presidential election, Melanye Price in Ms. Magazine used the term “aversive sexism” to how some Hillary Clinton haters employ a deniable streak of latent misogyny, borrowing from a study in racial prejudice published in Psychological Science.
“[Because] aversive racists do possess negative feelings, often unconsciously, discrimination occurs when bias is not obvious or can be rationalized on the basis of some factor other than race,” the study found. “Aversive racists recognize prejudice is bad, but they do not recognize that they are prejudiced…” (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1989, p. 25.)
Extend that theory to low-key Ghostbusters misogyny and you get what Birth Movies Death’s Devin Faraci perfectly describes in a piece titled “The Soft Sexism of Hating on the New Ghostbusters.”
Every conceivable minor quibble with a movie no one has yet seen has been tallied to add up to the inalienable conclusion that Ghostbusters the remake is an abomination created to devour and erode and co-opt that thing from your childhood that you loved and allowed to partially define you.
Retrograde gender politics and a resistance to a progressive future go hand in hand, in pop culture and elsewhere. And if angry video game nerds can’t see that ugliness in their undue animosity toward a female-fronted movie that doesn’t directly impact their actual real lives, then we all have a lot more to be afraid of than ghosts.
Or, as Feig himself so aptly put it in response to the hateful misogynist fanboys of the Internet: “Geek culture is home to some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life.”