Destroy All Monsters: The Toxic Masculinity of Shaming the GHOSTBUSTERS Haters
The cadre of solipsistic, misogynist Ghostbusters fanboys executed what one hopes would be their final coup de grace against Paul Feig's imminent Ghostbusters reboot this week, by spamming the IMDB (and Letterboxd) with disastrously low user ratings for a movie which, to the last man, none of them have seen yet.
It neatly sums up the whole experience of their "argument," though I'm sure you can tell by the quotations that I don't really consider it much of one. Suffice to say, though: the idea of this product, sight unseen, is so contrary to what they need to be true about the world that the actual movie itself is now entirely outside their consideration.
I dunno. I'm still having trouble believing that anyone cares this much about the original Ghostbusters. Ivan Reitman's movie was a notable highlight of a pop culture packed 1984 but which, in retrospect, I'm sort of starting to hate by association, for the same reason I hate most music: the fans are the worst. And the more they think they have an elevated viewpoint on the thing they claim to cherish so much, the worse they get.
These haters have turned Feig's Ghostbusters - Ghostbusters?! - into the most politicized movie of 2016 so far, and watching it has become a political act. The alchemies of Hollywood's management of its large franchise properties are not easy to track, but it's actually fair to say that if you're a feminist at all, you are going to need to get out to the theatres to see this thing, and vote with your dollars... because if you don't, and if the movie can even marginally be described on a shareholder call as a "disappointment," the impacts for women in film in general, and women-fronted blockbusters in particular, have the potential to be catastrophic for years to come.
That the haters are misogynists is beyond question. ("Actually, it's about ethics in video game journalism.") That they are lost in a hopelessly delusional idea of themselves and their importance in the world is also, probably, true. But hey, if everyone in the western world has been told repeatedly to rage, rage against the dying of the light since grade school, then these guys are sure as hell doing a good job of it. Anyone who saw Ghostbusters in theatres in 1984 (myself included) is going to be patently irrelevant in about two days, and for the rest of our lives, at least from a pop culture perspective. But these geeks definitely didn't see any need to go down quietly.
"These geeks." Here's what troubles me about the response to this whole conversation. It's so easy - and, as above, possibly even wholly appropriate - to pathologize this group of men into every existing stereotype of the feeble, infantile, socially maladroit, sexually inexperienced, masculinity-challenged "nerd" archetype. I've been doing it myself, like crazy, for months. I have described the Ghostbusters haters as, interchangeably, losers, dweebs, dorks, virgins, crybabies, manbabies, adult males still consuming breast milk, basement-dwellers, children, compulsive masturbators, and bottom-rung social failures who - like their hero, the Heath Ledger Joker, might have put it - wouldn't know what to do with a vagina if they ever actually located one. And don't even ask if they've heard of the clit.
I am going to stop doing this.
Look, beyond question, there is absolutely something wrong with these guys. And as a lifelong nerd who until the last couple of years, naively believed that - if nothing else - nerd culture was a kind of Star Trek-inspired utopia of inclusiveness, rationality, and good manners (kind of like Canada!), it disturbs me beyond description to discover that everything about Revenge of the Nerds turned out to be true, for a lot of the members of my clique. The stuff about not being able to beat the jocks in a fight, sure; but also, that a lot of my bespectacled brethren are violent, disturbed predators who apparently grew up without the most basic empathetic understanding that women (or several other demographics of people) are, y'know, people.
But it also disturbs me how quickly the language we use to express our distaste for this madness turns to sexual shaming, toxic masculinity, and tropes of manhood that are, to put it bluntly, as much a cause of all this mess as any far-flung idea that Annie Potts deserved to put on a proton pack at the end of Ghostbusters II, alongside Rick Moranis. (She did.)
When we say "manbaby" or its inverse, "dudebro" - or even when we use the original, highly gendered, diminutive, "fanboy" - we are perpetuating a seemingly endless cycle of performed ideas of what type of male has and deserves voice and value in social conversation. And yes, I'm aware, this week of all weeks, that concerns around which men (and, presumably, a lot of white men) have voice is not a particularly high priority. There is way scarier shit going on.
All of these forces, though, are part of the same cycle of judging, categorizing, and stripping of agency; we don't create advocates when we use sexual experience, preference, or belief as a weapon of shame against anyone. We create enemies. In this case, we've created and empowered enemies who are successfully hiding within the cloak of the poor, outcast nerd (whose fan-identifying properties have dominated the pop cultural landscape for at least the last ten years); and from this secret base, they have somehow, improbably, managed to dominate the conversation around something that had nothing to do with them in the first place - because that's what privileged folk do. Always.
Well, let's just own it. Nerds aren't outcast any more; they're the center. That whole identity is faulty, and so is the way we talk about them in relation to "normal" gendered behaviour and social values. There might be a heretofore-unseen, gargantuan quantity of toxic shitheads in nerd culture, but getting toxic back at them isn't doing anything but making them stronger and hiding the roots of the problem.
I hate that this is the conversation around the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters, and I dislike the men who brought us here. But I feel sorry for them, too. I can't quite say I've arrived at empathy yet, but I'm trying. Whatever their deal is, they're still just (highly malevolent) symptoms of a whole cultural problem around how we discuss and value gender. I won't throw more gasoline on that fire. But I will go see Ghostbusters this weekend.
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on twitter.