by Matt McKenna
Long before the new Ghostbusters film was released, a vocal group of internet commenters had already decided what the movie meant to culture at large. Some commenters thought that the main characters being women was an obvious indicator of an overly politically correct culture. Others thought that the existence of bitter comments about the main characters being women was an appalling indicator of a sexist culture. Battle lines were therefore drawn before the film hit theaters, and the content of the movie appears to be nearly as irrelevant to politically engaged adults as it is to the children who enjoy the Mattel-produced Ghostbusters-branded toy tie-ins. The ultimate combination of politically engaged people and consumerist children, however, met at the Republican National Convention last week. As with Ghostbusters, for politically engaged individuals, the content of the convention was entirely beside the point and merely provided an opportunity to consolidate their faction’s previously held beliefs.
The 2016 Ghostbusters stars Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Melissa McCarthy replacing Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson from the original 1984 film of the same name. As with the original, 2016’s Ghostbusters begins with a hapless character (this time played by Zach Woods) being surprised by a ghost. This first scene provides laughs and scares, but the film has trouble maintaining its positive momentum. Though the leads pepper the screen with mostly good jokes, their affability is drowned out by the gooey, disjointed action sequences in which the Ghostbusters crack wise while shooting apparitions.
But I've already wasted too many words on the content of the film–instead I should have written about how my seeing the film served to confirm something I already believe. After all, this is how politics in the United States works: events aren’t input into an opinion-making process, but rather they are shrewdly interpreted to justify a previously held opinion. The Democrat and Republican nominating conventions are prime examples of this sort of confirmation bias. The conventions are unadulterated pomp in which the only output is to remove the “presumptive” qualifier from the “presumptive nominee” title of the candidate who won the primary election. Therefore, the conventions aren’t introspective events where people think about candidates and concerns, but instead they’re places where dissent is squashed and re-branded as “unity.”
This year’s Republican National Convention shows just how powerful the desire is for this type of dystopian unity. Donald Trump, a candidate whose policies have little in common with the policies of the party he represents, has been the benefactor of the insane death drive demanding acquiescence to the prevailing winds of politics. A startling expression of this insanity occurred when defeated primary candidate Ted Cruz, in his otherwise boring speech at the RNC, didn’t specifically endorse Donald Trump thereby refusing to add his voice to the chorus of unity-seeking Republicans who through gritted teeth sing the praises of Trump while nervously looking at each with wide, frightened eyes that wonder, “Is this okay? This doesn’t seem okay.” For Cruz’s brief encounter with integrity, he was rewarded with a volley of boos. This is how political discourse works in America–go with the flow or don’t go at all.
Skimming through online reviews for Ghostbusters, it appears approximately half the writers address the voluminous pre-release editorializing on the gender of the film’s main characters. Mentioning the controversy makes sense, of course, considering the bizarre, outsized hullabaloo generated by adult men upset by women being cast in a sci-fi comedy movie. Because the controversy can’t go unmentioned when talking about the film, 2016’s Ghostbusters has been relegated to the status of a political talking point rather than a motion picture. Ghostbusters role as proxy battle in the culture war is unfortunate since, although the film isn’t very good, it certainly has its moments, which is more than one could say for the Republican National Convention. If we’re lucky, perhaps Sony will put together a sequel that will not only be better but also escape the swirling vortex of internet outrage. Until then, we have to suffer the displeasure of the upcoming Democrat National Convention where unity will once again be a theme.