Troy Maguire

About Troy Maguire

Troy Maguire is an aspiring writer and film-maker currently living in Melbourne and studying Screen and Media at RMIT. He enjoys deconstructing Hollywood blockbusters in long-winded rants, movie trivia and long walks on the beach at sunset.

Gender, “Ghostbusters” and the “No Girls Allowed” club

Replying to Brendan O’Neill’s Ghostbusters reboot article, Troy Maguire takes the naysayers to task…we need more female parapsychologists on screen, not less!

 

In a piece published by The Huffington Post, writer Brendan O’Neill takes the new Ghostbusters film to task for crossing the gender streams. O’Neill’s article, in essence the equivalent of a “No Girlz Aloud” sign on the door of a prepubescent boy’s cubbyhouse, ends with a call to write a polemic “if you want to ‘send a message’ about women’s role in society.”

I ain’t afraid of no cooties, so I figured I’d do just that.

O’Neill begins his article with:

“I think we should call it Melissa McCarthyism – the trend for reworking cultural products in order to make them more politically palatable.”

Huh.

Out of all the things of which McCarthy is guilty (in my mind, at least) being the personification of censorship is not one of them. The comparison is so hyperbolic it’s practically libellous. If one were to compile a list of the similarities between Melissa and Joseph Raymond McCarthy it would begin and end with the surname they share. No reasonable, intelligent person could draw a parallel between the two. Comparing the aforementioned senator’s Cold War-era anti-Communist campaign to the casting of women in a Ghostbusters remake is a false equivalence of epic proportions.

At any rate, aside from a couple of Charlie’s Angels bloopers, McCarthy hasn’t even appeared in a remake before, let alone spearheaded an initiative to appropriate films that were originally vehicles for male comedic actors. As such, O’Neill’s decision to name the phenomenon he’s observed in her “honour” is absolutely ridiculous.

In a vain attempt to validate his argument (that artists and filmmakers are “subjected to pressure to be more politically palatable” by a Stasi-esque, authoritarian brigade of “online culture-watchers”), O’Neill cites the rumour that a “baddie in the new Star Wars movie who was supposed to be male was rewritten as a woman.” Yes, a rumour.

O’Neill seems to believe that holding entertainers accountable for how they depict gender and identity in their work sets a dangerous precedent, and as the article progresses, O’Neill slides ever faster down the slippery slope of Mt. Logical Fallacy until he lands at its base, whereupon he proclaims “this policing of art isn’t new – but it’s getting worse.” How, you might ask? Well, “Ray Bradbury received correspondence from a ‘solemn young lady’ asking him to revisit his Martian Chronicles and insert more female characters.”

Oh, the humanity!

Despite the fact the original Ghostbusters features four men “firing goo at green ghosts and giants made of marshmallow”, O’Neill writes of it as though it were a Kubrick or a Jodorowsky, calling it “one of the greatest movies of the 1980s.”

Similarly, the Facebook post that bought O’Neill’s article to my attention confused me with its un-ironic use of the words “artist” and “auteur”. When commenters noted that Aykroyd is just fine and dandy with the prospect of an all-female line-up, the author of the aforementioned post unwittingly undermined his own argument by claiming Aykroyd is only interested in the royalty checks. So much for artistic integrity, hey?

Looking at Ghostbusters through the prism of nostalgia doesn’t make it a work of art. By all means, if you prefer the original, watch the original. Granted, responding to someone’s criticism of a film with “nobody is forcing you to watch it” does not a good argument make, but since O’Neill’s objections to the new Ghostbusters flick fall flat on their face, it’s a point worth making. Has the script been leaked? Is the plot of the new film going to address the wage-gap between male and female parapsychologists? How is it a “fat advert for sexual equality”?

If you’re going to insist “classic movies be left alone” and that “movies should be fun”, perhaps you should revisit Ghostbusters II before you debate the merits of a remake you haven’t even seen yet. Ebert gave the 1989 sequel two thumbs down. I’m more inclined to give it two fingers up.

Obviously I’m aware that if anything in life is a testament to the subjectivity of human experience, it’s comedy, but O’Neill expresses his opinion as if it were fact. Even if it were objectively “true” that Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd are funnier than McCarthy and Wiig, it’s not 1984 anymore. It’s time to move on. Aykroyd himself understood that all the way back in 2009.

There’ll be a whole new generation that has to be trained and a leader that you’ll all love when you meet her. There’ll be lots of cadets, boys and girls.”

In fact, Alyssa Milano and Elisha Dushku were originally considered for parts in the planned third instalment. And to think, O’Neill dismisses the current choice of cast as a “Spice Girls-style sexing-up” of the franchise! So what “pressure” was Aykroyd buckling under exactly? None, it would seem. Considering that in this instance the “artist” is complicit in the supposed devaluing of his “art”, why then, has he not been lynched by a cybermob for selling his soul and destroying the original film’s “legacy”? Because women, I guess.

The filmmakers are simply trying to reach a new generation of audience members, while exploiting nostalgia to rope in the old one. It’s called the “movie industry” for a reason, and this is smart business. In any case, there is no such thing as an original idea. Imploring Hollywood to try something new is beyond futile at this point, given that six of the ten highest grossing movies of 2014 were remakes, reboots or sequels.

Unsurprisingly, O’Neill isn’t only the white man who’s had a lot to say on the subject of political correctness “gone mad”. Ironically though, this seems a more problematic trend than the one O’Neill is railing against. I do agree with O’Neill on one point: the Bowdlerisation of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn is indeed a grievous, and unforgivable sin. The omission of “nigger” in new editions of the novel is tantamount to whitewashing America’s past, but of what relevance is such an observation? By O’Neill’s own admission, ghost fighters aren’t a thing. So while he may deem the film “brilliant culture”, it isn’t exactly historically significant. As such, I don’t see why the gender of the main characters in the remake should be an issue. Casting women instead of men can hardly be considered a sugarcoating of the unsavoury views, values and attitudes prevalent at the time. Perhaps I might think differently if the new film were set in 1984 and featured four openly gay men that were allowed to keep their jobs despite having AIDS.

Furthermore, apart from being remastered and presented in 4K, the 2014 cinematic re-release of Ghostbusters was not altered in any other way by Sony Pictures. The male cast members’ likenesses weren’t subject to digital vaginoplasties or breast implants, nor were their voices replaced with those provided by female actors. Ivan Reitman didn’t pull a George Lucas (Greedo shot first!) or a Steven Spielberg (twelve-gauge walkie-talkies) either, so I don’t understand the animus. What O’Neill fails to remember is that the new film is a new film.

Throughout the article, O’Neill asserts (no less than three times) that the “gender overhaul” of Ghostbusters is “being done to send a moral message to the masses.” In order to substantiate this claim, O’Neill turns to the highest authorities on the matter… Salon and The Washington Post. Needless to say, the writers (whom he neglects to mention by name) for these publications can’t speak to the intentions of Paul Feig, Katie Dippold, or anyone else that may be involved, for that matter.

In any case, how on Earth does trying to appeal to the other 50% of the world’s population constitute “gender-pandering”? Are men incapable of enjoying movies with female protagonists? What even is gender-pandering? Is writing films with strong, three-dimensional female characters instead of “scream queens”, “damsels in distress”, and “sexy lamps” gender-pandering? How about supplying the demand for more playable female characters in videogames? What are the ramifications, I wonder? A broader target audience? More tickets sold at the box-office? A sense of inclusivity? A platform for four of the most popular people in comedy right now?

How terribly heinous.

Yes, McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are indeed all female, but if Ghostbusters truly is some sort of feminazi propaganda film, it seems pretty odd that the director should have a penis. Perhaps there is no agenda beyond filling a gap in the market and making money, Brendan?

O’Neill’s preoccupation with the “feministing” of his beloved schlockbuster seems unhealthy to say the least. Not only does O’Neill wield the word “feminist” like a soiled diaper, he also refers to McCarthy as a “pretty funny broad”.

Broad? What is this, the 1920s?

His tone smacks of latent misogyny, and his frustration seems to have little to do with the fact that Hollywood keeps churning out “gimmicky remakes of old movies” and everything to do with the apparent bastardisation of the Ghostbusters franchise by way of vaginas.

I’d be interested to know what O’Neill and his sympathisers have to say about Ridley Scott’s biblical epic-cum-minstrel show, Exodus: Gods and Kings (now 99.9% shoe polish free!), which featured Caucasian actors portraying ancient Egyptian and Hebrew people. How might they justify the absence of non-white faces in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, or the fact that Rooney Mara has been cast as Tiger Lily in Joe Wright’s forthcoming Pan?

Would O’Neill or anyone else have batted a single fucking eyelash if a classic (such as Alien, for example) were remade with a male playing the role made famous by a woman? I doubt it.

We need more black Annies, more female Ghostbusters, and more third example that I can’t think of. Not less.

When the “something strange in your neighbourhood” is four women, who ya gonna call? Headshrinkers. Just a thought.

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