Recently it was announced that there would be a new version of the movie Ghostbusters with women in the lead roles. There was a lot of outrage from certain corners of the internet, a quick backlash to remind people that the original version of Ghostbusters wasn’t going ANYWHERE so just pipe down, and a certain amount of bafflement that anyone cared that much about a movie that will be 31 years old this summer. It’s that last one that I was most confused by. Of COURSE people care about the movies and TV shows they were brought up with. This is how human culture works. That doesn’t mean they’re right, or that I don’t think there should be a new Ghostbusters movie, but I understand how that reaction could come about.
We, as people, have always defined ourselves through stories. Sometimes we call them myths, sometimes legends, sometimes fables or parables. Sometimes we call them a part of our religion. But these stories generally have the same goal; to show us who we are, to teach us what rules to follow, and to help us identify those who don’t believe in the same things. This has been true for all of human history. What is relatively recent is our ability to pick and choose which stories we build our identities around. Some might say the biggest culture gap in my parents’ upbringing was that my mom was raised Protestant and my father Catholic. I might say that my mom’s appointment TV was Twin Peaks and for my dad it was The Simpsons. She felt it was important to show me Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Star Wars, and The Gods Must Be Crazy before I went to middle school, and she watched E.R and The X-Files with me as we both dealt with chronic insomnia. My dad sat down with me and appreciated the glorious chaos that was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Pinky and the Brain, and indulged my desire to watch every single sport featured at The Olympics every time they were on. I have become a person who will throw a party with themed snacks for the beginning of a Game of Thrones season, and who waits patiently for years for a new The Venture Bros while idling the hours away with Scandal and Criminal Minds. This is not all of who I am. It is not all of who they are. But it is a part of our culture.
To a certain extent, I can be protective of this culture. I don’t think they should reboot The X-Files. I have strong feelings about which seasons of The Simpsons and E.R “count”. But I understand that these feelings are MINE. They are not rules, and they are not reasons to snub or exclude other people who enjoy these things. I actually like meeting other people who share these interests, because it gives us an easy way to start to get to know each other even if their knowledge and preferences don’t fall exactly in line with mine. This, apparently, is not a feeling shared by everyone who has strong feelings about a particular movie or television show.
The shock is not that people respond so passionately to the idea that “their” stories are being changed, but that they don’t recognize that the change is vital to building that culture. If you were a fan of the original Ghostbusters, your movie still exists. You have your heroes, and your heroes look and act a certain way. Maybe you think people should just rewatch the original, but things don’t always translate well across decades and the internet has personalized media in a way that is still very new. If your primary entertainment outlet is the internet, it’s very easy to miss out on huge swaths of older TV shows, movies, or even current ones that just aren’t something you’d deliberately seek out. For a new generation, the heroes might have to look and act a little different. One of the most amazingly insightful things I’ve heard so far this year was Gina Rodriguez’s speech at the Golden Globes where she said of the popularity of Jane the Virgin; “It represents a culture that is ready to see themselves as heroes.” She’s right. The stories are still basically the same; of heroes and villains, of how to be good people, of how to be smart and funny and kind. Nothing about that requires the hero to look a certain way, or be a certain gender. The values represented by Ghostbusters cannot be damaged by creating a new version of the tale, because the original tale still exists and the lessons to be gleaned from it are still available to those who want it. This new version will just bring that to a new audience. An audience that is ready to see themselves as heroes.
I hope that, in time, the original fans can accept the new ones in to be part of their culture, to share their language. Because however many of us there are, and however large the world can be, I think it’s impossible to have too many people on your side.