Op-Ed: Patt Morrison asks: Author Rebecca Traister on ‘Ghostbusters’ and Hillary Clinton
It’s happening this summer, it’s groundbreaking, it’s controversial, it’s a milestone for women — and it’s not Hillary Clinton’s run for president. More than 30 years after the original “Ghostbusters” movie, another “Ghostbusters” is here, with women wearing the proton packs. And the pants. Rebecca Traister is a writer for “New York” magazine whose best-selling book, “All the Single Ladies,” sizes up how women’s lives have been radically reshaped — in about the time it takes to say “boo.” And here, she analyzes why the hate out there for the all-gal “Ghostbusters,” and what it has in common with the national mood.
There’s been an internet storm of reaction and some resistance to the upcoming all-female remake of “Ghostbusters.” Why?
I truly cannot believe people are so angry that they’re remaking this movie with women. And I guess I have some sympathy, because I myself find myself as a 41-year-old, Oh why are they just remaking all our old movies? I get some of the, Why do you have to remake a beloved movie to begin with?
And there was a comment I saw that, “You’re ruining my childhood,” from a guy.
So don’t see the movie! To me if this were the only movie that were being remade, but it seems to me that remaking older movies is part of what Hollywood is doing at the moment, playing on nostalgia, playing, hopefully, in positive cases.
I think that this is something maybe that the “Ghostbusters” remake is trying to do, that there’s a sort of commentary on the original in the remake that might add value or at least offer a different perspective.
But in so many cases, classic movies are just being remade for the hell of it with a new generation of stars who play better to younger audiences.
So if you’re annoyed just that you’re remaking movies, that’s one thing, but the particular fury in this instance seems so directed at the fact that these previously male characters are now to be understood as women, and played by women.
I can’t believe that the anger is real. Part of me thinks it must be some Internet hoax, that people would be so distressed by this, but of course I know it’s not.
What could be the cause of this anger apart from, “Gee, I really loved this movie and I will never get it out of my head that you have chicks as Ghostbusters”?
We are a nation right now that is riven by resentments and fury about all kinds of pieces of social progress that are very slowly expanding opportunity for more kinds of people in the United States. This “Ghostbusters” thing is such a minor — certainly compared to the kind of anger and rage we’re seeing expressed via the Trump candidacy or the violence, the mass shootings that we’ve seen enacted, most recently ... at a gay nightclub and before that at a black church in Charleston and at a Planned Parenthood clinic. There are all the incredibly serious versions of that fury and that violent anger, and “Ghostbusters” seems a minor example of it.
But I think it’s of a piece, that there’s so much resentment toward space that used to be occupied exclusively by white straight men now being occupied increasingly by people who are not necessarily white or male or straight. And so I think this is just one pop-cultural example of what is a much larger set of resentments and discomfort that the United States is experiencing as it slowly tries to expand its opportunities to more of its residents.
So even in the pop culture realm, the sense of, as you say, spaces where these men may be thinking, “Is there nothing sacred? What next, Jane Bond instead of James Bond?”
Right. And what they’re not thinking is why have we only ever had James Bond? One of the things about this is that we never look at what has come before. We don’t look at the ways in which men have been privileged in the past; we consider that the basic norm from which we’re starting.
So, given that that is the norm in Hollywood, that in itself is pretty juvenile, that that’s what we’re working from as our starting point. You can think of lots of movies about men that could be described this way: This is a movie about men’s jobs. There is a romantic interest — I’m thinking of the original [“Ghostbusters”] — there is a romantic interest, obviously Bill Murray’s and Sigourney Weaver’s characters have a romance, and so do Rick Moranis and Annie Potts.
But the other guys, the other three male stars of the movie, they’re in the movie because of the job they do: ghostbusting. It’s a professional movie, a movie about men doing jobs.
You know how few movies there are in the world about women and their work? I mean, it’s like “Silkwood” and “Erin Brokovich.” There are exceptions, but they are so exceptional. Women’s roles in the movies remain for the most part girlfriends, mothers, wives. I know ghostbusting is kind of a silly version of the female professional movie but you know, the fact, it is a very unusual thing to conceive of.
It’s been interesting that two of the stars of the original movie, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, have been asked more than once about the remake but also about the fact that it’s being remade with all women. And they’ve said they like it.
Sure, they seem like menschy people! And it strikes me that the recasting of “Ghostbusters” with women has the potential to make a series of really interesting points, especially given that we do talk in this country all the time about this very basic, silly question of, can women be funny? And that we are in the midst of a real of the emergence of many women as comedic superstars.
Being successful in comedy was very difficult for women for a very long time. And it’s only recently that we have gotten a crop of stars who we now consider very successful female comedians. And so, whereas a group of successful male comedians was well established — that’s the group of guys who made “Ghostbusters” and “Stripes.” These are guys who were the Second City/“Saturday Night Live” group of men who made all kinds of very successful and very wonderful movies in the 1970s and 1980s — nobody questioned their ability to make people laugh, because they were men. And that was in an era when those questions certainly were being asked about women.
And so I see the argument for taking one of those beloved male comedies and turning it on its head and reimagining it with a bunch of boisterous female leads.
I do think of women comedians — someone like Phyllis Diller comes to mind — but women comedians for the most part were making fun of themselves for being ugly or undesirable, unlike women in comedy now, who are very powerful and assertive — and there may be nothing more threatening than a funny woman.
This is one of the real innovations for women in comedy. Yes, there have been women in comedy. Moms Mabley was one of the earliest; she was an African American comedian, she often dressed up as an older, disheveled woman. Then you had Phyllis Diller, who was constantly making fun of her own looks and her own lack of sex appeal — that was part of her schtick.
And that began to change really over the past few decades. Roseanne was a huge groundbreaking comedian. Margaret Cho. Ellen DeGeneres, and then on “Saturday Night Live,” the era of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler sort of helped to bring in an awareness of a new generation of women comedians, often women who were feminist in their comedy, who were unafraid — and this came from the genre of show that was emerging.
Now you have women who are comedians who are slapstick comedians, prat-falling comedians, you have women who are feminist comedians who talk about politics, talk about race, women who use comedy to express their anger — and there’s a really strong connection between comedy and fury.
And the cast of the new “Ghostbusters” is drawn from that generation where now the women aren’t necessarily the exceptions to the rule any more — they’re part of the rule in comedy.
A couple of weeks after “Ghostbusters” opens, Hillary Clinton will be starring at the Democratic National Convention, presumably — as we say at this point — the first woman to head a major party national ticket and shoot for the White House. There must be some parallels going on here?
Well, there are certainly parallels in terms of the expansion of opportunity for women. It’s important to note that Hillary’s nomination will be coming on the heels of the nomination and presidency of Barack Obama, our first African American president. The world power structures which have historically been white and patriarchal are shifting. They are being challenged. And yes, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is a great example of that.
And by the way, Donald Trump’s candidacy, which is powered on very open sexism, racism and xenophobia, is an example of how furious people are about the ascension of people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in presidential politics, and that fury, I think, is not unrelated to the fury that you see when people are angry about “Ghostbusters.”
You have to wonder whether “Ghostbusters” with a female cast becomes a surrogate for all those other issues.
I think that it becomes a surrogate in a certain kind of community. I think there are communities that get angry about politics, and communities that get angry about movies, and they overlap, certainly.
But I think all these different areas where you see both the increased presence of women and people of color, and the resentment of people who were used to and liked white men taking up that space, and so, yes, it may be an issue of “Ghostbusters” being a surrogate, but I also think these are widespread resentments and they take lots of different forms.
You have interviewed Hillary Clinton, spent time with her, written about her, and she also seems in some ways to be the antithesis of the stereotype used against women in politics for a long time: that they’re hysterical, that they’re emotional , that they’re flighty, that they don’t have a serious grasp on issues. Hillary Clinton seems to be none of those things, and maybe that’s working to her disadvantage, just as the other stereotype has been used to other women’s disadvantage.
The vast set of systems that are used to keep people on the margins are so vast that they pretty much come up with stereotypes from every angle. So yes, the notion of women as flighty or hysterical — Hillary Clinton manages to escape that, but she lands squarely in other stereotypes of being boring or remote or cold or hard or unreachable.
The stereotype she really seems to fit and gets tagged with every time she runs for office is the sort of Tracy Flick hand-in-the-air Hermione Granger know-it-all stereotype, where women of course are asked to be extra prepared in order to prove they are capable of jobs that have historically been done only by men.
And then, when they’re extra-prepared, they come off seeming like un-fun, hand-in-the-air bores compared to the guys, who can be so much more relaxed in their approach to power. Our system in society works to ensure there is almost no path, at the moment, that exceptional people can take to power that doesn’t land them with some disqualifying stereotype.
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