The Pop Culture Catch-22

by Bethany Rose

Believe it or not, I remember a time where most people I knew did not have an opinion on the newest pop culture moments—or at least they didn’t feel the need to voice that opinion. That age seems like eons ago. Now, the moment a film or show is announced, the moment an actor is cast, the moment an idea is pitched, it seems that everyone not only has an opinion, but it is an absolute need to shout that opinion from the modern-day rooftops known as social media sites. The result, though, is not a blending of minds, an encouragement of differing opinions, and an embracing of varied views; instead, these open networks of communication have created two groups: the rights and the wrongs—and we all belong to both groups all the time.

­­A good disagreement isn’t a bad thing. A good disagreement can result in valuable conversation, expanding the horizons of both parties, without necessitating one party change sides. Good disagreements don’t happen anymore. Take the factions created when Batman vs. Superman debuted. There had already been opposing views on the film before it premiered. Whether your reasons were tied to a DC vs Marvel dispute, a Love vs Hate of comic book movies dispute, a Ben Affleck dispute, or a Zack Snyder dispute, there were already clear lines being drawn before the film even had a chance. I’ll admit that my weariness of superhero movies, and my general dislike of Zack Snyder films (I didn’t hate Dawn of the Dead, but upon a recent rewatch, I realized I no longer love it the way I did when it was first released) created an instant distaste for this film. As soon as I heard it would be, I couldn’t wait until it was no longer (meaning a few weeks after its debut when most stories on it would abruptly cease and I could pretend it never was). But because I have long been tired of superhero movies, I didn’t feel too involved in the ensuing arguments that sprung from its earliest news through its release. I cannot say the same about an upcoming movie, the one that inspired this article: Ghostbusters.

I grew up watching Ghostbusters: the first film, the second, the cartoon. I had toys inspired by the series; I had the song memorized; I downed my Ecto Cooler like every great American child. So when a new film (re-boot/make/imagining/?) was announced, I was cautiously hesitant. I am not outright opposed to new or continuing versions of my childhood favorites. If the initial news had just been “There will be another Ghostbusters movie,” I might have even been more on the side of cautiously optimistic (the newest A Nightmare on Elm Street movie helped me approach all these announcements with a nice dose of caution). But the initial news created hesitance when I discovered it would be a Paul Feig film with a female group of ghostbusters. Let’s hold the phone for a sec, OK, and let me set the record straight that the genetic makeup of a cast doesn’t bother me—but more on that in a moment. What really took my cautiously hesitant stance over to a definite “I can’t wait for this movie to be no longer, either,” was the trailer. And it is precisely those two items, the trailer and the casting, that bring me here.

When the two factions “GB fans” and “GB foes” first made their voices heard, the casting took center stage. The fans were proponents of the new casting choices because they loved the idea of seeing a classic group of supernatural fighting heroes become a group of supernatural fighting heroines. Yay for women! The foes were opponents of the new casting choices because it was too gimmicky and unnecessary. Yay for women, but don’t make them into a novelty.  Both sides had some interesting points, though I don’t recall seeing either side acknowledge that. If you were opposed to the casting, then you must hate women, which certainly confused me since I can find many reasons to hate myself but being a woman is not one of those reasons; yet, there I was, hating on the casting. For me, though, it wasn’t because the ghostbusters would now be women, it was because of who the women—and the male director—are.

In 2011, Bridesmaids burst into theaters as a surprise hit. It was a raunchy, no-holds barred comedy with an all-female lead cast. The ensemble comedy made audiences howl with laughter, and even landed Melissa McCarthy an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. That was huge, considering that comedies hadn’t fared well for Oscar noms in general during that period—that the film was a solid R-Rated comedy made it even more surprising. After all, the nominated role was for a woman with a penchant for using the “f” word and pooping in a sink.  I love comedies, and I am certainly not opposed to a little bathroom humor, but I hated every second of Bridesmaids. I hated the jokes. I hated the characters. I hated the pooping in a sink. And I would have hated the film if it were called Groomsmen and featured an all-male lead cast telling similar jokes and pooping in sinks. It just didn’t work for me. When I first heard about the new Ghostbusters, my attention immediately went to its Bridesmaids affiliations, and that is why I was cautiously hesitant.  Had a different director or two different lead characters been announced, I probably wouldn’t have been as hesitant.

Though I was hesitant, I vowed not to make any actual judgements on the movie based on other people’s speculation and any articles I read. I would reserve judgement until I witnessed the film, even if in very small part. And that is what I did. I waited until the first full trailer (I am so, so, so over teaser trailers) arrived, watched it with as much of an open mind as possible (I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t already in some way influenced toward a negative view), and did not say a word until the trailer played in its entirety. As soon as it was over, I made my first vocal judgement. Without repeating it verbatim, I will say that it was a clear negative. Nobody who heard my take on the film could be confused as to what my true feelings were. I thought it looked like an uninspired remake with uninspired jokes and an uninspired plot. I didn’t see an exciting new take on the idea, or even a relevant update of the previous installments. I just saw a poorly recycled cash grab. Of course, until now, that judgement had only been made in the privacy of my own home and was heard by only one other person, and I planned on keeping it that way, too. Until I realized that’s just now how things seem to work anymore.

While I was trying to keep my ideas to myself, everyone else seemed to be sharing their ideas on social media. And it was clear that there were really only going to be two sides. The people who hate the idea are clearly right because the film is not anything new and it is insulting and it is destroying childhoods across the nation. The people who love the idea are clearly right because it is updating an older idea and introducing new generations to a beloved childhood memory and championing women in action comedies. And if you aren’t on one of those two right sides, then you are on one of those two wrong sides. So instead of just saying “I’m really excited for the new Ghostbusters,” or “I’m really not too excited for the new Ghostbusters,” or being completely crazy like me and saying nothing at all, each side had to explain how the other side was clearly WRONG!

I am completely for people stating their opinions, and as someone who was basically raised on a heavy diet of pop culture, I absolutely think it is fine for people to state their opinions on pop culture. But these combative, binary, anger-filled arguments have created a catch-22. You are damned if you like the new Ghostbusters idea/trailer/casting and damned if you don’t. You are jumping the gun if you hate it and embracing the dregs of Hollywood if you love it. The whole scenario brings back one of my worst memories connected to a film.

When I was 19, I took a film class and absolutely loved it. It was my first ever film class and I was excited about every movie listed on that syllabus. I loved that Mulholland Dr. was on the schedule. It was a film I’d seen twice already—the first time I didn’t care for it, but was intrigued, and the second time I absolutely loved it. I was blown away. I didn’t know what films could really be until I watched Mulholland Dr. that second time. So I was beyond excited for all my classmates to see this life-changing film. The lights dimmed and I once again became completely entranced with Lynch’s world. I took notes without ever letting my eyes leave the screen. The film ended, the lights brightened, the professor began to ask questions, and the students began to respond. The results? They hated it! They loathed it!! It didn’t make sense!!! With each new comment I got angrier and angrier. How could one of the movies that changed my life be so completely disregarded as garbage?? So, unfortunately, I spoke. And I said that anybody who didn’t like the movie just didn’t understand it. Well, my film professor sure got a good laugh out of that, and he told me during the next class that his wife loved that I said that to the entire class—but that didn’t make me feel better since immediately after class was over I got the look of death from nearly every classmate. One particularly feisty one made sure to call me pretentious as she walked by. I felt miserable. I couldn’t believe that a film which I didn’t even like after the first viewing was one I could make such a bold claim about a mere two months later. Worse, I couldn’t believe that I was willing to insult an entire group of people who didn’t see one film in the same way I did.

Ever since then, I have been a lot more thoughtful about my claims toward people with differing opinions of movies, shows, music, and any other pop culture phenomena. So to see that the internet has now become a more ubiquitous version of my 19-year-old self makes me worried. I understand it can be frustrating when it seems like something hasn’t been given a chance, or when it seems like something you are so sure is wonderful (or horrible) is viewed as horrible (or wonderful) by so many others. But I shouldn’t be able to replace Ghostbusters with Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton and still have the writing make sense. Why can’t we take our passion for pop culture and write about the films or shows or songs or books or fashion statements that inspire us? And when we do have a pop culture disagreement, why break it down into two very simplistic sides? Let’s engage in thoughtful discussion, even if it means we still don’t agree with each other.

Yes, I absolutely feel that I cannot make any further or really solid claim about the new Ghostbusters without actually seeing the entire film (or at least make an effort to watch as much as possible), but I do not think it is wrong for anyone to draw a conclusion from a trailer. At the least, a trailer is meant to give a sneak peek into what the film is—the tone, the style, the plot—so it isn’t completely ridiculous to assume a trailer will draw strong emotions, whether those be overwhelmingly positive or negative. And yes, some people are only hating on the film because it is a reboot (?). And sadly, yes, some are only hating on the film because of the female leads. But those are only two of the varied sides, and wouldn’t it be much more fun to just ignore them and have an actual discussion about the film or reboots (?) or marketing? Or wouldn’t it just be fun to (not) see the movie? I don’t want to keep hiding my feelings on these topics in fear that I will be called names and, worse, have it assumed I made my choice because I just don’t understand things.