Ghostbusters is a Comedy: Male Genre Insecurity

Ghostbusters ends with a 100-foot marshmallow creature and advertising icon climbs a New York apartment building on Central Park West like a high-fructose King Kong.  Ghostbusters features a character who works out to exercise tapes on fast-forward to save time and feel twice the burn.  Ghostbusters includes a brief aside in a montage where someone dreams of supernatural foreplay.  Ghostbusters shows a ghost farting.  Ghostbusters is a movie about the fast approaching end of the world, which can only be brought about by a thinly veiled dick joke.

Ghostbusters is a comedy.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that.  You’re sensible.  You already knew it’s a comedy.  So why am I wasting our time?

Because a sad sector of the internet would like to disagree.

The somehow maligned-before-anyone’s-seen-it Ghostbusters reboot has brought about a veritable Baskin-Robbins of online hatred.  31 flavors of unchecked anger, including “I’m 43 and I Care,” “My Childhood is Dead,” “Women Aren’t Funny” and “Butter Pecan.”

 

The vitriol’s been a-spewin’ since the movie was first announced in 2014, back when all anyone knew for absolute certain was that Paul Feig was directing and he wanted  – gasp – the Ghostbusters to be played by women.

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How can this not excite you even a little bit?

If you really want to plumb the depths of that two-year-old river of slime, the Ghostbusters subreddit is the most intimate glimpse you’ll get without drowning in it.  The comment section on any even remotely associated YouTube video would also work.  Or, if you still have some faith in the simple joy of loving movies that you absolutely can’t stand holding onto, take a look at #Ghostbusters on Twitter.

But I can’t seriously suggest you do any of that. That’d be like asking a friend to inhale a healthy lungful of Raid to prove it smells bad.  All I really need you to know about is one of the latest (and, God willing, last) arguments against the new Ghostbusters – the original Ghostbusters is not a comedy.

The argument, far as I understand it, is that the trailers for the reboot tend toward broader comedy (Kristen Wiig’s character getting Gakked) and old jokes (“The power of Patty compels you!”).  It’s too silly to be a Ghostbusters movie.  The original wasn’t a comedy – it was a blend of science fiction and horror that had moments of humor throughout.  It wasn’t just a *turns up nose, pulls hand out of pants to do air-quotes* comedy.

Well that’s bullshit, isn’t it?

stay-puft
Pictured: not a comedy, I guess

Ignoring the facts that it stars four actors most famous at the time for sketch comedy, was at different times intended to feature Eddie Murphy, John Belushi and John Candy, or received nominations for two Golden Globes in the category “Musical or Comedy” (Best Motion Picture and Best Actor, respectively), The American Film Institute ranked Ghostbusters 28th on its list of the 100 funniest American movies of all time.  I’d say it’s pretty easy to call it a comedy.  But we do live in an age when a critic panning a summer blockbuster is enough to warrant libelous accusations of a Disney-funded conspiracy to sway Rotten Tomatoes scores.  If the internet’s good for anything, it’s providing an echo chamber for the willfully ignorant.

Ghostbusters is a comedy. The reboot is a comedy.

The only difference is thirty-odd years of changing styles, influences and filmmakers.

But this isn’t about the American film comedy. Or even the new Ghostbusters.

This is about genre and how dudes consider it a measuring contest.

If you’re a fella reading this and are yelling “NOT ALL DUDES,” first, calm down; you’re allowed to stop reading. Second, of course I don’t mean all dudes. I mean the type that don’t watch movies so much as attempt to conquer and outsmart them to prove their cinematic tastes superior to everyone else’s or at least whomever they’re targeting that particular afternoon.  I also mean the type that would get so defensive as to yell at a computer screen over an obvious generalization.

The argument that Ghostbusters isn’t a comedy, but horror that happens to be funny is suspect in so many ways, but most of all because no genre is more denounced in the name of masculinity than horror.

This is a tale of two terrors – It Follows and The Witch.

It Follows
I have my issues with It Follows, but it’s most assuredly a horror film.

Both overwhelmingly well received, especially for horror films.  It’s not much of a secret that horror, much like comedy, doesn’t get much love from more high-falutin’ critics and the awards show crowd. The blame rests on both sides of the aisle – pretention is pretention, but horror and comedy are the easiest genre to play to the cheap seats.  That just makes the reception and quality of these two movies stand out in starker contrast.  These aren’t Direct-To-DVD wonders only stocked at Wal-Mart to balance tables in the furniture department.  Yet if you trawl the comments section of reviews for either,  you’ll find a gloomier reception from audiences.

Well, that’s not entirely fair.  You’ll find a gloomier reception from people who disagree with a professional critic’s published review and are gutsy/ignorant/rude enough to publically tell them so.

These comments will contain one of three statements:

“It sucks.”

“It wasn’t scary.”

“It’s not even a horror movie.”

Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a hat trick:

“It sucks because it wasn’t even scary.  It’s not even a horror movie.”

Take out punctuation and misspell a few words and it’s like the commenters are in the room with us.

It’s always the same pattern – commenter isn’t scared by horror movie, ergo it must be bad, ergo it doesn’t deserve to be called a horror movie.  This logic posits that genre isn’t in the eye of the filmmaker or ingrained in the film itself, but dependent purely on the audience’s reaction to it.

In other words, arrogance in the name of being a badass.

Fear and fun are subjective.  What I find funny, you could find dull as a Babylonian butterknife. What I find frightening, you could find fit for toddlers.  Neither adds or subtracts anything from the movie. We were just affected differently.

Likewise, whether or not a horror film scares you doesn’t make it any more or less of a horror film.  I saw Psycho at a drive-in recently and pulled the cosmic short straw because I a Kia-load of high school students parked next to me.  The entire movie, which none of them had ever seen, they tried to get ahead of it and outsmart it.  They laughed at the tank-sized cars. They laughed at phones that had these weird curly-cue things attached called cords. They laughed at Marion Crane’s conical bra. Once Mother finally made her agonizing entrance in the cellar, I heard an argument that broke my heart.

Psycho
Pictured: not scary, I guess

“I CALLED IT!” shouted the only girl in the bunch. She’s had 56 years to figure it out; I couldn’t give her the credit.  But she was earnest, despite trying to beat the movie instead of watching it.

Then the boys had to say something.

“It was OBVIOUS. C’mon.”

“God this movie sucks.”

“Is this supposed to be scary?”

Insert raucuous laughter between each.

85 years ago, Boris Karloff petrified audiences as Frankenstein’s monster.

Someone brought their infant to that same drive-in showing of Psycho.

We’ve all gotten desensitized since the 1930s.  I’m not here to say whether that’s good, bad or a sign of the end times, but it’s a fact when it comes to horror films.  If you showed The Exorcist to the same audiences that ran away when a train was shown rolling toward the screen, you might actually kill some of them.

Considering this hypothetical scary-quotient for determining the legitimacy of a horror film, what would that make Frankenstein? The Exorcist?  If they don’t shiver your spine, what are they? Dramas?

 

It’s a flawed gauge that inevitably ends up disowning some films from genre entirely.

It Follows is a deliberately paced mood piece. The jumpscares can be counted on one hand.  The unsettling terror comes from the periphery, the dismembered and disfigured phantom always creeping in the background.  A sickening inevitability drowns every scene.

To some, that’s downright nail-biting. To others, the only time the movie will get their pulse up is when something jolts and the soundtrack shrieks.

Does that make it a horror movie to the first group, but not to the second?

Judging a movie by its effect isn’t invalid – that’s criticism.  But judging a movie genre by its effect is unfair and meaningless.

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Pictured: a comedy, which is apparently an insult

Again, it’s a means for macho men to prove themselves above a movie, above the genre.  In the case of horror, revoking its genre is a way to show how tough they are. In the case of comedy, in the case of Ghostbusters, revoking the genre is an attempt at elevating one movie while belittling another.  The original can’t possibly be a comedy – it’s more than that.  The reboot is just a comedy.  By sticking to their argument, they’re making two statements:

  1. Comedy isn’t a genre worthy of respect.  Otherwise why claim the original isn’t?
  2. They find the reboot funnier.  If genre depends on response, and the original isn’t a comedy but the reboot is, this only follows.  They accidentally support the new cast and new movie by making the comparison.  If the dudes keep pushing this argument, take solace in the fact that they are admitting this.

Horror is only horror when it’s scary. Comedy is only comedy when it’s cheap or broad. And the dudes are better than both.

But at least it’s confined to the nameless masses of comments sections, the most wretched hive of scum and villany.

Right?

“I don’t consider [my] film a Western.  Western is in a way a genre, and the problem with genres is that it comes from the word ‘generic’, and I feel that this film is very far from generic.”

That quote comes from director Alejandro Inarritu, talking to Kevin Jagernauth for IndieWire on his film, The Revenant.

To Inarritu, genre is some kind of slur.  Classifying a film is akin to crucifying it.  Now realize that this comment is from a man who also said that his work ought to be seen in a temple. If any director would claim his movie about Leonardo DiCaprio literally killing himself to get an Academy Award out of pity is without genre, it would be Inarritu.

The Revenant
I liked it better the first time when it was called Jeremiah Johnson.

And that’s bullshit, too.

It’s set in the 1800s. It takes place in the American west. Native Americans attack. Revenge is sworn. It’s a Western.  Sure, there’s snow on the ground and it was (a willful) hell to shoot.  But it’s a Western.  And that’s okay.

Genres are generic in the same way rental cars are – a quick-and-easy way to communicate what to expect without getting into any detail.  Sometimes you reserve a compact car and it’s exactly what you expect.  Sometimes, it’s a rolling heap.  And on those rare occasions, it’s a car so nice, you never want to return it.

The original Ghostbusters might be that one-in-a-million rental.  Not only is the interior free of cigarette burns, it smells of a virgin stream and comes with free Sirius Satellite Radio.  Maybe it even has a backseat that folds down so you can shove an entire kayak into the trunk and still close it.

But it’s still a mid-size four-door.

And that’s okay.

But if you stand in the rental office, yelling at the poor bastard behind the counter and proving to them that it is not, in fact, a mid-size four-door but a luxury sedan that everyone else only thinks is a mid-size four-door, that’s not okay.

You might want to take a step back and really look at that car.

Maybe consider that you’re only trying to prove it’s a different kind of car to yourself because your crippling insecurity can’t let it be a mid-size four-door.

There’s no reason you can’t love it like a luxury car.  But you can’t also say it doesnt have four doors because the brakes are stickier than you’d like.

Because it’s still a mid-size four-door.

And that’s still okay.

Because Ghostbusters is a comedy. And I love it like a luxury car.

GB 1 4
A very goofy luxury car.
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