Well, we all knew it was coming, but the escalating hate for the new Ghostbusters movie is reaching comic level proportions. But where is this rage stemming from? Is it just a small group of extremely vocal misogynists or is there something else going on? Let’s dig a bit deeper, because I think this one is actually a little important.
The Trailer Before the Storm
The largest story that’s developed as we lead up to the July 15th release of Ghostbusters is just how despised the trailer was and how upset MRAs and misogynists are by the film’s very existence. This has resulted in the trailer being one of the most downvoted trailers in YouTube history. Even I’ve said that first trailer was… not good, and I say this as someone who edits trailers. It seemed clear that incorrect decisions were made about the best way to market this film, and even the cast has responded as such.
In fact, even after the luke-warm reception to the original trailer, a new fan-cut trailer made entirely by trimming down the first was a marked improvement and was overwhelmingly accepted by fans as a better direction.
But a bad trailer does not make for a bad movie anymore than a good trailer makes for a good movie (re: see Sucker Punch) and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. Paul Feig’s Spy had a notoriously awful trailer campaign that undercut what was a surprisingly entertaining and kick-ass little movie. It’s almost as if marketing departments haven’t yet figured out how to sell a female led action or adventure without closeup shots of their asses on display.
But really all of this started before the trailer, didn’t it? Let’s rewind.
Who You Gonna Cast?
Ghostbusters 3 was a long swirling project that was on the table FOREVER. For the longest time the big holdup was Bill Murray, who made public his refusal to participate in the movie. When Harold Ramis died in 2014, it finally seemed like the chances for an original cast sequel were gone for good.
Almost immediately Sony hopped onto rebooting it with an entire new script, cast and director, but this enormous shadow was cast over the project by the almost obscene pop culture footprint of the original 1984 runaway success.
For people who weren’t alive when Ghostbusters was originally released, it’s as true a cultural phenomenon as you’ll find. It exploded with an almost immediate and omnipresent impact. It was exactly the right film at exactly the right time, and its lightning-in-a-bottle success is still mythologized and chased after in the film industry. But still today, no one knows exactly what caused Ghostbusters to strike so definitively in the culture (although Bob Chipman gives one of the better arguments I’ve seen) or how to replicate it. Even the same creative team was unable to capture that magic in the pretty universally dismissed Ghostbusters II. Every time a sci-fi/comedy comes on the books, there’s a not-so-secret hope that it becomes the next Ghostbusters.
What a gargantuan task and horrible predicament for whatever poor sap takes on the new Ghostbusters project, right? In this light, it’s easy to see why an all female cast makes sense. It’s different. It’s fresh. And the team of Feig/McCarthy has proven to be a consistent box office powerhouse. Throw in some SNL alum and suddenly it’s feeling like the same unpredictable ingredients that helped make the original Ghostbusters such a magical experience might be in place.
The response was entirely predictable.
Immediately there were scores of outrage online from people shouting “feminism is ruining my childhood.” Twitter campaigns and YouTube ranty videos were launched in opposition, knowing absolutely nothing about the film other than that it was going to feature four women instead of four guys.
The Men Who Hate Women
It seems like long ago, but really it wasn’t, and around the same time that the casting for Ghostbusters was announced, that there was another film that earned all the ire of the Men Who Hate Women — Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mens Rights Activists were so incensed by the protagonist Furiosa and the progressive ideology that drove Fury Road that they were calling for a mass boycott of the film, of course to hilarious results. It seemed as absurd then as it does now that there was a boycott of one of the most brilliant and violent action films of 2015 because of women. But it’s true.
Later that year, there was an equally absurd reaction from misogynists about Star Wars: The Force Awakens for having both a female and a black lead in the film. Pro-rape blogger Roosh V even went so far as to claim his website’s boycott of Star Wars cost the film millions of dollars using some very funny math to get there.
This all might seem like much ado about nothing — just a couple angry boys howling at the moon, but while they are extremely easy laugh at, there is a genuine cottage industry that has formed all around spewing vitriol at anything considered slightly feminist or progressive. And in the same way that I’m much less worried about Trump than I am the angry mob that follows him, it’s not the panderers here that are concerning, but the uncertain audience that follows them. This is the uneasy crowd that Ian Danskin dubbed “Angry Jack” in his brilliant series “Why So Angry?” I’m going to come back to this a bit later, but just know that Angry Jack is the audience these aggressors pander to.
There’s an overwhelming attitude in these communities that they are being besieged by women and minorities, and that the culture, having spent so long catering to the needs of straight, white men, is being slowly stolen from them. YouTube is aswarm with angryman videos of young males posed in front of their toy collections complaining about women and SJWs. (Social Justice Warriors, ie. people who are not the status quo)
One of my favourite hate pieces about Ghostbusters is a YouTube video by anti-feminist Thunderf00t who spends actually very little time talking about Ghostbusters and more time complaining about his favourite target — feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian. I’m not going to link his video for obvious reasons, but I will link H.Bomberguy’s hilarious reaction video to it.
This attitude is continually fuelled by alt-right conservatives like Gamergate figurehead, Breitbart blogger and imitation human Milo Yiannapoulos as he’s struggled for the last year to trend the phrase “Feminism is Cancer.”
For Yiannapoulos, Ghostbusters is just one more stop on his endless campaign against what he considers to be a popular culture hijacked by a liberal ideology. Every thing he publishes feels like the empty chest beating of a sad child, and it is, but that would be discounting the increasingly fascist, young community he rallies to use as cudgel in his long winded attempt to shove the needle of popular culture towards alt-right conservative ideals.
We’ve already seen the results of that cudgel in one of the more successful anti-progressive campaigns called Gamergate, a hate movement that many are surprised to find out is still active today and searching for new victims to terrorize, like with their recent organized smear campaign that cost Alison Rapp her job at Nintendo earlier this year.
Yiannapoulos may be a lot of things, but he’s not ignorant of the fact that there’s a large population of vaguely angry young men out there who really want to blame feminism for everything wrong in their lives. He knows that he can pander to their fears to cultivate an angry mob, convincing them they are under attack by a politically correct culture war that must be fought and won at all costs. He continually demonstrates for his followers that there are no bad tactics or bad targets, and invites them to follow in his terrorizing footsteps. (tactics which recently cost Yiannapoulos his Twitter verification)
The Anti-Trailer Campaign
It was this mob that actively campaigned to destroy Ghostbusters, a decision that organically formed in the minds of The Men Who Hate Women long before the trailer had even been released. People with too much time on their hands and using multiple sockpuppet accounts (a common channer and Gamergate technique to artificially skew online demographics) rapidly downvoted the trailer to make it the most disliked trailer in YouTube history.
Of course none of these metrics meant anything, because they were all artificial. The proposed narrative was that consensus reaction to the trailer was so overwhelmingly negative that it was a foregone conclusion the film was going to be horrible. Many of the articles written about the downvoting picked up that it was a sexist culture jamming campaign to hurt the film, but others did not and just took the artificial YouTube metrics at face value.
But for the people who engage in these campaigns, the metrics mean everything and they’re often convinced that with enough force, the culture can be changed, or at least frozen. The sense is if everyone sees the Ghostbusters trailer is hated then they will similarly adopt that same opinion about whether or not to see the actual film when it’s released.
It’s About the Things Not Said
The most recent log on the fire was YouTube movie and game critic James Rolfe, who goes under the name Angry Video Game Nerd, and with over 2 million subscribers published a video simply titled “Ghostbusters 2016. No review. I refuse.” In it, he calmly explains while surrounded by his toys that he’s refusing to see the new Ghostbusters film and then spends the next six minutes talking about all the reasons why a movie he hasn’t seen will be bad. He considers the existence of the movie an affront to his childhood and even says that he’s glad Harold Ramis isn’t alive to see it.
I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a media critic of any kind essentially stamp their feet and refuse to watch a movie, and then proceed to give a movie a negative review. It comes off with all the maturity of a six year old who refuses to eat their dinner because they’re afraid they might not like it. It’s toxic geek culture snobbery disguised as criticism. I guarantee James has watched a lot of bad movies, and in fact he’s made a career of it by providing snarky banter, but for some reason Ghostbusters is the straw that broke the nerd’s back.
If Rolfe doesn’t want to see Ghostbusters, all he has to do is absolutely nothing and that goal will achieve itself on it’s own. But instead he decided to make a proclamation of his defiant bravery to not see it, like so many men who haven’t really accepted that indifference towards something not meant for them is an available option.
It’s really easy when you’re just talking about this one singular movie to dismiss the criticism. No one is obligated to like something, and if someone genuinely doesn’t like a thing, that’s simply how they feel. But as you step back, there’s something about all this criticism that just seems… off.
Where was this level of vitriolic campaigning against the reboots of Robocop, Predator and Total Recall? There simply weren’t any. How come this one singular mediocre trailer received an unprecedented level of anger directed towards it while the thousands of bad trailers that have been released over the years have been largely ignored? Why is it that female led films like Hunger Games, Salt and Spy can get released to the world without having a full on culture war launched upon them?
And what about those other films I mentioned? Why is it that the three most protested films of the last year happen to be Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ghostbusters?
The picture starts to become clear, because they are all franchise films where a woman is taking the lead in a role that used to be reserved for a man. It’s literally a fear that white men are having what is rightfully theirs taken from them.
In fact we see this level of hatred directed at films in other forms too. Remember how I said Star Wars was also targeted for casting a black man as one of the leads? Similarly Josh Trank’s Fantastic 4 came under attack by people upset that Johnny Storm was now a black man. None of this is really surprising when you see there is a large overlap between The Men Who Hate Women and white supremacists groups. In fact, Breitbart blogger and Junior Trump impersonator Milo Yiannapoulos recently tried to appeal to members of the Daily Stormer and recruit them as part of his alt-right army.
And as you start to pick away all the little complaints, there’s nothing still that can explain why this film of all films has sparked such vocal outrage when so many other “geek culture affronts” have passed without conflict beyond the fact that it’s a movie with women instead of men. And while they’ll jump up and down to proclaim that it’s not because they’re sexist, it’s explained with all the subtlety of someone who’s clearly hiding something while screaming, “there’s nothing in the closet!!”
I’m not specifically calling out Rolfe as being sexist, but given the gender skew of his audience, a decent portion of them almost certainly are, and no YouTube personality has ever become popular without pandering to what their audience wants to hear. Rolfe is no different. He created a video hating on Ghostbusters because that’s what his audience already wants of him. It’s a chance to piggyback on the marketing campaign of a film already decried loudly by The Men Who Hate Women, and while Rolfe’s “critique” of it is not targeting the film based on gender, he had to be aware that many people were. Indeed, for Rolfe to release a statement of refusal about not just any movie, but this movie, is an incredibly safe video for him to make, given his audience demographics.
I’m guessing that he’s wishing the attention to it ended there.
Even Rolfe completely contradicts his false outrage as in an earlier video he did with YouTube personality Nostalgia Critic, they come to the conclusion that the Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is okay because “it’s not the final word in the franchise” and “one more variation” is a good thing.
I guess as long as the turtles aren’t gender swapped.
This is where we need to talk about Angry Jack, and yeah, I’m going to plug Ian’s series again because it’s kind of required viewing for the broader picture here. In it, Ian does a great job of differentiating between the small group of angry aggressors and the more prominent Angry Jacks who live inside a bubble where sexism is something that has largely been solved and misogyny is something done by men in ski masks hiding in bushes.
Recently, Neil Druckmann, director of Uncharted 4 revealed that there was a belligerent focus tester who ultimately had to be removed from the group because of his unchecked aggression about the inclusion of women in the game. My question is how many other play testers in the room agreed with him or had similar thoughts but chose not to voice them for fear of being called sexist? How many couldn’t rationalize it or even put it into words, but just felt a general uneasiness about seeing Drake get beat up by a woman? How many buried their insecurities and in the end just factored it into Uncharted 4 just not being quite as good as previous games, despite being unable to articulate why.
Given the absurd overreaction to Ghostbusters, one eventually has to step back and question how much of it is an actual dislike for the material versus a conscious or even unconscious inability to accept women.
Jack doesn’t see himself as a sexist, but he’s afraid of being labeled one. He sees a scientist get flack for wearing a tacky pin-up girl shirt and worries that someday it will happen to him. He sees articles written about The Men Who Hate Women campaigning to destroy Ghostbusters, and fears that if he doesn’t like the movie that he’ll be painted with that same brush and shunned by society. He’s worried about other people’s judgement of him… or more accurately, his perception of that judgement while completely missing that he’s not actually being judged at all.
Ironically enough, Jack’s solution is to do what Rolfe is doing — to refuse to see the movie. If he doesn’t watch it then he can’t be shamed as a sexist for thinking it’s bad, completely missing that this is functionally indistinguishable from the boycott of The Men Who Hate Women.
By the way, most of these boycotts are largely affectatious and they’ll go see the movie anyway. They just won’t talk about it afterwards.
The Real Loss
Film critics and myself have already lamented that the true shame about the eventual release of the Ghostbusters movie is that it will be impossible to discuss its merits and failings without also addressing the gender politics involved. Because the movie has already been turned to a lightning rod for whiny men to bemoan the collapse of everything good in the universe, it will be years until any meaningful, objective critique of the film can happen, if ever.
None of this has anything to do with anyone’s genuine opinion of the movie. But in order for you to have one, you actually have to see it. That’s how it works. Until then, all you’re doing is voicing your opinion about the existence of the movie or making uneducated predictions.
It’s okay to not like a movie and it’s okay not see a movie, but when you need to proclaim so loudly that you’ll do both it becomes clear that what you’re saying really isn’t about the movie at all, but rather about you.
Ghostbusters still might be a bad movie for all I know, but given Paul Feig’s track record thus far, there’s no reason to expect this is the case. I’m going to go see it with my daughter who is excited to see an all female Ghostbusters, because she’s the one this movie is really made for.
Added July 20, 2016
After the official North American release of Ghostbusters, Breitbart blogger and serial harasser Milo Yiannapoulos led a campaign to harass Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones on Twitter. What followed was an onslaught of racial and sexual insults, threats and even being shown an image of her picture covered in semen. This resulted in Leslie leaving Twitter, and Twitter finally taking action permanently suspending the alt-right blogger who has been suspended multiple times for similar actions.