Ghostbustresses

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OKCupid’s oktrends blog uses statistics from half a million users’ profiles to produce interesting statistical reports. The “stuff white people like” report looks at the most-used words and phrases in dating profiles separated by ethnicity and gender.

GHOSTBUSTERS comes fifth on the most common interests which are statistically peculiar to self-identified white men. Looking at the other keywords, for all races and both genders, it seems as though most OKCupid users are American. For instance, the white woman’s most frequent key phrase is “the red sox”. But it does suggest that a number of men will feel as sensitive about the gender of the Ghostbusters as they are about that of Dr Who or Thor.

Some women, like Dr Who’s chum the Master, don’t object to feminisation of job descriptions. They see it as empowering – it’s much harder to get ahead professionally as a woman, so to identify as a woman in a position of power is a badge of honour. However, there are disadvantages in the world of film and television. One recurring argument for the use of the word “actress” is that there is an award for “best actress”, so it would be silly for an “actor” to win that award. This argument is extremely glib and deliberately overlooks the fact that the awards system is designed to protect the ego of the male actor. So far as shiny trophies and glamorous ceremonies are concerned, a woman’s acting skill can’t be ranked above a man’s. Why on earth not? It’s easy to win “best actress” if you are the only female lead in a film – and there is usually only one, tops. If a woman won “best actor”, though, many of her male co-stars would do a wee in their pants. Also a poo. Lots of women’s job titles are just derivations of the male form – and we all know that’s ridiculous and unfair, and nobody would ever call a female spook exterminator a “ghostbustress” ffs because she is not using her vagina to bust; she is using an ecto-containment system. They didn’t call Ernie Hudson a blacktor, although they may as well have done, to add insult to the injury of his spare screentime. So let’s take “actor” back, please.

So are we all going to be precious about the Ghostbusters reimagined as women? The Ghostbusters are an emergency service, after all – and nobody wants to be rescued by a female firefighter (they are scared of singeing their hair), or have a woman lead a police car chase (you can’t chase a criminal effectively whilst driving erratically within the speed limit). Three of the Ghostbusters are parapsychologists – well, there are female lego scientists now, so we should be able to swallow that without a spoonful of sugar. However, Ghostbusters are funny, funny-looking and middle-aged – and we can just about handle a funny woman but she really needs to be easy on the eye and under 25 – or a token fatso – if she’s going to appear on the big screen.

castPictured above: Gillian Anderson, Ava Vidal, Natasha Lyonne, Chelsea Peretti

Obviously a reboot doesn’t need to match the original but it does need to have the same spirit. Therefore I’m looking at female actors who could hypothetically carry off the characters from the original. I’m not saying those characters have to appear in the reboot. Whoever the Ghostbusters are, they need to have powerful and distinctive personalities. Each character in the original is made familiar within the first few scenes of GHOSTBUSTERS and each character’s motivation is made explicit. I don’t want to see a geek, a fatty (i.e. a size 12), a cheerleader and a goth. I want to see four interesting and unconventional people.

Gillian Anderson is gagging to be a Ghostbuster. I think there’s a petition on Reddit. She would be a perfect Spengler – she never smiles but you can peep her self-deprecating humour even in The Fall, and we can of course buy her as an expert in the supernatural. Ava Vidal can be the token black woman – she can tell jokes despite being both female AND unwhite. It’s not possible to find anyone like Bill Murray, of course. But it would be good to have a character who’s compellingly funny, bitter, lovable and vulnerable. Believe it or not, there are women who can evince all of those things – for example, Natasha Lyonne has all the charisma needed for the dysfunctional leader of the pack. She was the coolest character in binge-watch series Orange Is The New Black and is comfortable in a boiler suit. Well, even a fashionista is comfortable in a boiler suit these days – apparently they are en vogue ffs. Every woman in Soho
is probably walking around looking like a Ghostbuster. Maybe that will brainwash some of the haters into giving the female Ghostbusters a break.

Chelsea Peretti is the female comedian who has most recently made me laugh. She made me LOL by tweeting just four words: “at a funeral LOL”. She can pick up the dorky Aykroyd role and improve on it – he was endearingly earnest but never quite funny enough, maybe because you can tell he actually believes in ghosts. Those are just off the top of my head. Someone like Keeley Hawes, Michelle Gomez, Lake Bell or Sarah Lancashire would also be cool. Whoever, I don’t mind, I just hope they are a bit funny looking and not too much younger than me. Because I feel possessive about the Ghostbusters too, and it would be cool to relate to the new characters. My tenth birthday party was Ghostbusters themed and my dad made me an excellent Peter Venkman outfit with a proton pack made of what I would now see as frat party trappings – litre cider bottles and rubber hosing. I remember watching the film for the first time, the year before. I had a problem with the scene where Dana gets grabbed by the possessed chair. It was bloody scary, and also kind of sexy in a kinky way. The demon hands grab her mouth, her chest and even her fanny. I had a fascination at the time with the kind of salacious, throttling erotica you find in giallo and detective comics, and this scene stirred up a wild mixture of feelings. I also remember feeling like it was a shame that Dana possessed by Zuul had to be a baddie. She only got to be sexy and alluring if she accepted the mantle of evil. I wanted her to be sexy and good. But most of all, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster, goddammit.

chairWhy is it that when a woman gets menaced, it has to be sexual? I suppose Zuul/Dana menaces Peter and Louis in a sexual predator sort of way, but it doesn’t really bother them. If there was a chair scene with a guy, maybe a demon hand on his family jewels would make it into a comedy scene. But a hell-claw threatening to penetrate him – e.g. fist him up the pooper – that would be seen as too dark and disturbing. Leave it to the women to get their bits roughed up.

If GHOSTBUSTERS is to match the excellence of its predecessor it’s got to pass the Bechdel and the Mako Mori with flying colours. The dialogue was crucial to the original. It offered a perfect balance of exposition, plot and character development. Also funnies. It will be funny for your whole life – some jokes are old friends, some are there to discover when you get older. It’s structurally smart; we know what is happening and why. And the film concentrates so much on the central characters that we only see one ghost being busted – Gozer’s golems don’t count.

Ohhh Gozer. GHOSTBUSTERS’ screwball take on Lovecraft’s Dunwich Horror centres on Ivo Shandor, a Mengele/Anton LaVey type who designed the whole Central Park West building post-WW1 and included a Hellboy-esque portal on the rooftop, to welcome a creature powerful enough to extinguish the “sick” human race. Thirty years later, imagery from the Great War and its sexier successor is still a horror staple; and a preoccupation with zombie apocalypse and dystopia shows that we still secretly think we are sick enough to deserve our inevitable self-destruction. The GHOSTBUSTERS franchise has endured, however, because of its optimism and faith in humanity. So it makes sense to have a set of female Ghostbusters, marking another step toward equality and away from sexism’s internecine mistrust.GHOSTBUSTERS II, Ernie Hudson, 1989, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

GHOSTBUSTERS was originally riddled with negative icons of patriarchy: Louis Tully was to be a conservative, uptight businessman and Gozer was to be represented by an Ivo Shandor avatar, portrayed by Paul Reubens. Only the interfering EPA agent Walter Peck made it to the final draft – Louis Tully became a geek and Gozer appeared as an androgynous glam-rock god. The evil doesn’t have a human face – Shandor’s whole building is an evil avatar of capitalism and commodification, and 80s excess and corruption is the enemy to be overcome. And when SPOILER Gozer is defeated, we realise that there is still hope. We’re not red-eyed, wretched or beyond redemption – we’re just silly, selfish and misguided, like Slimer.

GHOSTBUSTERS is about celebrating and not denying our mucky underbellies – a high-class hotel like the Sedgewick keeps its cleaners and pest exterminators tucked out of sight, but Venkman leads his colleagues boldly through the corridors, trashing everything as they go. The new Ghostbusters can’t be girly – they need to carry on the tradition of embracing chaos. They need to remind us that what goes around comes around – if you abuse your position as a psychologist, or jobsworth your way into a ghost containment concern, it’s going to come back to haunt you with not a little poetic irony. The Ghostbusters need to be practical and rational in the face of the paranormal – the originals are white-collar intellectuals with doctorates but they welcome a black marine as the fourth ‘buster, and they’re not afraid to wade through a sewer, or get soaked in ectoplasm. That’s not the kind of thing you will usually see a woman do on-screen. If she wades through a sewer, she will come out unscathed, with her top clinging to her bra-less torso and an aesthetically placed little smear of poop on her cheek. If she gets slimed it’s going to look NSFW. We need our female Ghostbusters to be real and down-to-earth. The original ‘busters break down societal barriers – they address a cop, a mayor, an ancient god all in the same way – just as people. A reboot with female leads encourages/enables us to see women in film as people, and not just muses, prizes, mothers and sluts. Crack open the exotic art deco of a woman and you’ll find that she’s no mystery – she’s just as clarty, clumsy and chaotic as a man.

You can tell me whether rumoured director Paul Feig would be any cop because I haven’t seen any of his stuff. He has worked on Weeds which is pretty good and HEAT which I’m too squeamish to try. What about Goldman, Talalay, Taylor-Wood? I just hope they partner a decent director or directrix with a decent writeress, and that Gillian Anderson does get recruited as one of the lead actrixes.

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2 thoughts on “Ghostbustresses”

  1. “I don’t want to see a geek, a fatty (i.e. a size 12), a cheerleader and a goth.”

    Yay, GhostBreakfastClubsters. Maybe they could go on an emotional journey, and the goth could get a makeover from the cheerleader, and be all like “hey, forget ghosts, I like boys really”. Depressingly, Hollywood would probably go for that like a rabid dog chasing a postman made of pork chops.

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