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In reply to David Sirota

Full disclosure; I have work to do and I really don’t want to do it, so this is, at least in part, me procrastinating. But at its heart, this is something that annoys me – reworking Ghostbusters to fit some crappy, deconstruction that sounds clever.

Case in point is columnist David Sirota’s synopsis of Ghostbusters. Others have often written essays similar to Sirota, but none of them have written a book on it.

Ghostbusters (1984): Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddmore seem like happy-go-lucky guys, but these are cold, hard military contractors. Between evading the Environmental Protection Agency, charging exorbitant rates for apparition captures, and summoning a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the merry band shows a Zoul-haunted New York that their for-profit services are far more reliable than those of the Big Apple’s wholly inept government. At the same time, the Ghostbusters were providing 1980s audiences with a cinematic version of what would later become the very real Blackwater–and what would be the anti-government, privatize-everything narrative of the twenty-first century.

Well. Bullshit.

Allow me to expand on that. But first, the heart of the film, which on its surface may echo (or in a pinch, can be forced to echo) themes of the 80s, but at it’s heart the film harkens back to two very specific types of movies; the first are classic ghost comedies, like those of The Bowery Boys, Bob Hope, Martin and Lewis, Don Knotts, and on and on. Average Joes facing the supernatural is funny. The second are the science-fiction films of the 50s, which were the golden era of The Science Hero. Often handsome, but just just as likely to be an old professor. Looks didn’t matter – brains did. And brains pitted against The Unknown. These were men that thought big and as a result where the only people who could deal with something the human race had never seen before – giant bugs, alien invasions, radioactive lizards… and 112.5 foot tall marshmallow golems.

Anything outside of this is just the viewer’s (or in this case, writer’s) cherry-picked deconstruction. I can see, and almost agree, with the Conservative and Libertarian takes on Walter Peck (he certainly is the poster-boy for bureaucracy gone of the rails), but Sirota’s take is from the opposite interpretation; The Ghostbusters as military contractors (even likening them to casting foreshadows to our current, privatized era of war.)

No, this is a stretch too far. True, there is an argument that the Ghostbusters fly in the face of Government oversight, public safety be damned. They are wearing unlicensed nuclear accelerators afterall (something in which neither the EPA or Department of Energy seem to have any interest.) And Sirota is correct that there is a message that the private sector is handling something the private sector cannot, but let’s not forget… it’s hard for a government to plan for and deal with something most people don’t believe in. That the Ghostbusters opt to go into business to take care of the matter themselves is kinda noble, or at the very least intrepid. They wouldn’t be the first movie men of science to get laughed at, but continue to fight the unknown until the rest of the world catches up.

But likening them to Blackwater is ridiculous – you can’t privatize Ghostbusting when it was never funded by the government in the first place. Their only public funding came from the University, and that was just pure research. Becoming spectral exterminators was their post-university plan to monetize their research. Hard to fault the logic. And throughout both the first and second films, the Ghostbusters are private, but not under contract to the city (don’t tell Sirota about the video game, where they are. It’ll only mess up his book.)

To be honest, given the charges Sirota levels against the team, in order to make them out to be Blackwater-esque, it’s downright insulting to even suggest they are some faint precursor to the 21st Century’s biggest private army. A quick look;

– Summoning the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. This was an accident – the mechanism by which Gozer manifests is – surprise! It’s a movie – not clear. If one wants to get right down to it, if they had not been there, there’s nothing that says the minds of the crowd below couldn’t have filled the void, and New York would have been crushed by a 100 foot tall Cindy Lauper. But regardless… they fixed the problem in the end.

– Evading the EPA. Well, covered above, but to reiterate, as undiplomatic and unwise as Venkman’s response was, he was within his rights to demand legal order. It certainly lead to a confrontation and accidental explosion that could have been possibly avoided if he’d said, “Dr. Spengler will be here shortly and would be happy to show you the facility”, but it was his right. And fair’s fair… Peck was a dick.

– Charging exorbitant rates for apparition captures. I pondered this, and in the end had to do a little math. A major New York Hotel, with a reputation of class, has an entire floor menaced by a foul and horribly stinky ghost. Assuming a low-end per night rate in 2011 is $250, that’s approximately $125 in 1984. I have no idea how many rooms a floor has, but given the suggested running around they did in the movie (they needed walkie talkies?) let’s just say, for the sake of argument, 50 rooms. That’s over $6000 a night. Not that Slimer was emptying the floor in a night, but it’s fair to say that in short order, his increased activity was going to make that floor impossible to use – there’s no way the hotel would risk booking a room, only to have them leave in disgust. That’s why they were called in after all; “The guests are starting to ask questions, and I’m running out of excuses. Within a week, Slimer would easily cost them five grand, just in guests. Smashing and slime clean-up is even more!

Let me put it another way – right now, if a hotel is infested with bedbugs, it can cost anywhere between $50,000-$60,000 to deal with them today. $5000 in 2011 money is approximately $11,000. You had no idea it would be so much? DUDE! That’s a steal even before you factor in the Ghostbusters are the only game in town AND have some wild overhead costs.

Sirota has a book to write, and given the premise – that the films of the 80s primed us for the reality of the new teens – sometimes you may have to stretch a bit. But there’s Die Hard priming us for the idea of a political rogue (nevermind Die Hard didn’t exactly invent the idea), and there’s turning a team of university-educated, bleeding edge scientists into Blackwater. It’s more than a little insulting.

Nothing about the Ghostbusters reminds me of the privatization trends of today – they have always reminded me of scientists (public or private) hunting down some very, very unique brassrings. From CERN to the X Prize, the Ghostbusters were brought to life at the start of a new wave of science and technology. They represent the idea of forwardthinking to the point of hilarity – in the theaters, they were right. In the real world, Satellite Phones and PDAs came a little too early… but from there, we ultimately did get SirrusXM and iPhones. And yes, sometimes scientist-inventors fall flat on their face – but for one call, the Ghostbusters nearly went bust. And indeed, between films, they basically did. All of this framed the idea of entrepreneurship to me, not anti-government privatization.

But all that said, this is just Sirota’s Huffington Post encapsulation of something that is likely a chapter in the book, so until I can read it, I have expressed my thoughts, but will reserve final judgment for now.

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