The trolls are taking over. Not long ago, they were restricted to just the comments section on posted articles, typically political in nature. And then, suddenly, everything became offensive to their tender little minds. Gradually, they took over the forums, spewing their judgemental rhetoric at anyone who threatened their sphere of fragile existence. Celebrities joined twitter to communicate with their fans, only to get lambasted by foul-mouthed keyboard jockeys. Suddenly the life choices of the famous were open for commentary by anyone with a smart phone and some free time.
Everyone with an internet connection now feels that their opinions are more important than everyone else’s’. There was GamerGate, and then video game developers received death threats for delays, and now political campaigns have gone violent because of internet fires spilling over to stoke the rift.
Rabid fanhood is simply out of control. It’s gotten so bad that popular culture is being negatively influenced by people’s inability to keep their opinions to themselves. Not only is it harmful to the creative process of developing new content for existing movie, TV, and book franchises, but it is impacting the ability of people to do their jobs (or, even have jobs in some cases). Even more concerning, is that it influences the decisions of large companies such that they are less and less likely to do something new or different, for the fear of upsetting potential customers.
This is a problem for a place such as the United States where large capital-heavy institutions play such a major role in plotting the course of popular culture. Lack of originality due to fear of backlash will eventually grind the creative process to a halt and at that point all the complaining in the world won’t reverse the trend. The point is plain, incessant and aggressive nagging doesn’t help us to make better movies, TV shows, and books. Instead, it hurts our ability to do so.
Ghostbusters (2016) is the most recent film to come under significant fire from unrestrained web animosity. The gauntlet of negativity that this film went through is a perfect example of how harmful this behavior can be by bringing out the worst in each of us.
At the surface, it may have looked like fans simply protecting one of their beloved franchises. In fact, that’s what many of them claim. That’s a somewhat rational reason to be upset, right? The studio is trying to remake something that you’ve held in high regard all this time. By making a new version, it diminishes the awesomeness of the original. But the argument that this is the reason for so much backlash against Ghostbusters does not hold up.
That type of fear is something that happens EVERY TIME we see a new remake on its way, which is happening more and more these days. IT’S NOTHING NEW, so why, all of a sudden, are people claiming that it is such a huge issue with Ghostbusters? Studios are taking that chance of upsetting the fan base of the original whenever they decide to make a new version. And as long as you keep paying to see remakes or reboots, studios are going to keep pumping them out. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
Many, many reboots and remakes have come out, many of them based on cult films or TV shows with similarly devoted fan bases. J.J. Abram’s Star Trek? The upcoming TV “re-imagining” of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Dawn of the Dead? The Karate Kid? None of these have met with the same blind criticism as Ghostbusters has. Therefore, you cannot claim that the backlash against the new Ghostbusters film is simply a result of a fear of damaging the original. It’s not a gut reaction to loving the original film so much. No, the backlash against Ghostbusters comes from a more disturbing place, a problem that continues to purvey our society, even if people try to claim otherwise or try to hide it as a fear of the new film leaving a bad taste on the franchise. Much of the negativity occurred before people had even seen the film. They were incensed by the very idea.
The problem is established gender roles. Many people see the new Ghostbusters switching the male leads for female leads as a belligerent feminist effort at the expense of their precious childhood memories. They feel that something they loved is being used to make a point.
Those detractors claim that the new Ghostbusters film is just an effort to pander to a certain demographic. Well, honestly, it’s true. But it’s not that surprising, and this is definitely not a bad thing. In actuality, it’s a very good thing. Really, stop and think about it. What is Hollywood trying to do? Make money. How do they make money? Making movies that people want to see. Just because a female-led Ghostbusters is a movie that you don’t want to see, doesn’t mean that other people will feel the same. Last time I checked, the human population consists of about 50% females. Don’t you think they would be more inclined to pay to see a movie with female heroes? We should be celebrating Ghostbusters because for once Hollywood finally has the gall to make a big-budget movie that has flipped the tables on established trends.
And so what if the film is catering to females? There are more than a hundred years worth of films that cater to males. The Force Awakens traded in the traditional male protagonist that had been the star of the previous 6 Star Wars films for a female one. Where’s the backlash on that decision? Yes, there have been movies made by females for females, but this is different. Can you name another big-name franchise where established roles have been switched as an effort to make it new and exciting? Ghostbusters is a new take on a traditional remake or reboot. Perhaps that’s all it is, a gimmick to increase anticipation. But again, Hollywood is in the business to make money, and gimmicks are one way that they can do this. Splitting books into two (or three) movies, 3D and 70mm presentations, cameos, reviving dead characters, and a movie filmed entirely in first-person are all recent gimmicks that you’ve paid money to see. Why not switch men with women for a reboot?
Hatred was so strong that when the trailer posted on YouTube, it became the video with the most dislikes in the history of YouTube. Many claim that their hatred of the film was simply because the trailer looked terrible. I don’t disagree that the trailer wasn’t the best, but can you really have that much distaste for a film without seeing it? You know the old saying. The trailers for Paul Feig’s films never seem to be that good anyway. Actually, that’s one thing that I appreciate about his films. They don’t tend to give away the funniest moments in the trailers. And while we’re talking about Paul Feig, his take on Ghostbusters isn’t that surprising, when you think about it. Just last year he released Spy which was basically a spoof on a traditional spy film with the gender roles reversed, and critics and audiences loved it. There were no mobs with pitchforks simply because it wasn’t based on a previous property where people had pre-defined expectations for the genders of the characters.
More proof that men in general simply can’t find the film’s female-centered cast acceptable can be seen in the demographics of the reviews on IMDB. If each gender should contain the full range of opinions and tastes within its separated population, why are men hating Ghostbusters so much more than women? What’s even more frightening about this is that the negative reviews for males under the age of 18 are among the strongest. If, backlash against Ghostbusters is really a matter of those fans of the original upset by the prospect of a new version to replace their treasured memories, why are the strongest detractors of the new film those that weren’t even born when the original was released? If it’s a matter of loyalty to the original film, we should expect the strongest opinions against the new film to come from those who originally saw the original film(s) when they were released in theaters.
Furthermore, people under the age of 18 have more recently been more receptive of remakes and reboots than those that are older. Jurassic World, which is actually very similar to Ghostbusters in being a pseudo sequel/reboot, was a success in theaters because young people went to see it. They accounted for nearly 39% of box office sales. That is a RARITY in today’s marketplace. Look at the IMDB rating demographics for 2015’s Vacation, another pseudo reboot/sequel of a fondly remembered 80’s classic. That film saw those people under the age of 18 give the film its best ratings, on average. The same with Independence Day: Resurgence, and Mad Max: Fury Road. In fact, people under the age of 18 are more likely to give average reviews that are better than the other age groups. Go ahead and look up nearly any film. Why is Ghostbusters the complete opposite of this trend? Something doesn’t add up.
When you look closer at the backlash against Ghostbusters, it’s not just a matter of a majority of people being upset with the fact that the new film may tarnish the reputation of the original, treasured film. It’s clearly a matter of people taking issue with the filmmaker’s choice to use women to replace highly-regarded male characters from the original film. They take offense to this as some sort of political statement despite many legitimate examples of how this is a creative and business decision, and have responded to the situation with pure uncomfortable anger. Rather than wait to give the film an equal chance to win them over, the majority has already made the decision that it is unacceptable.
And this had nothing to do with whether the film is actually any good or not. If you have genuine problems with aspects of the film, that is one thing. But you have no ground to stand on if you claim your rabid anger towards the film is caused by a disgust towards it being a new interpretation of one of your favorite films. That is a problem inherent with modern Hollywood. If it has taken until now for you to realize that this is an issue, then it simply hasn’t hit home with you yet. Instead of reacting negativity against this film, which actually has a lot of important things going for it that other reboots/remakes do not, we need to call out the system. On the other hand, a reaction against the film because of the cast of women instead of men is just downright childish and insecure. If Hollywood, and indeed, American pop culture has any hope of remaining relevant and influential in the future, it can’t be hampered by insensitive opinions voiced through vicious internet trolls. Perhaps it is time that we take a step back and look at how beneficial film has been to all of us before it becomes yet another means through which we wage wars with our disagreements.