Column: The Private Sector – Somebody Turn on the Lights!

Sorry guys, I was out on a smoke break (and I don’t even smoke, isn’t that weird). What’d I miss?

(Pauses as he hears about Chris putting the site into cryofreeze)…

Oh? Is that all? Okay.

No, do not adjust your sets, you’re not in some crazy time vortex where the site has auto-updated and posted an old article. Chris has given me the okay to post from time to time here on PC to keep some new content running in addition to the Broadsheets (how cool are those) and I thought, why not jump back in with another Private Sector.

Continue reading “Column: The Private Sector – Somebody Turn on the Lights!”

Column: The Private Sector – Pride, Prejudice, and HFCS

There were few things that you looked forward to in any given elementary school day: recess, getting to see the cute sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Bull who was a good twenty years your senior, running home from the bus to catch cartoons in the afternoon, and… oh yeah, before it became un-cool to bring your own lunch to school — lunchtime…

I was among the fortunate who were blessed with a new lunchbox every year, and looking back – it was interesting the gimmicks and devices that were used to sell things to us to occupy those lunchboxes year after year.

I’m sure you already know where I’m going with this: Ecto-Cooler.

But bear with me while I build dramatic tension a bit… Gotta give the people what they pay for. Wait; do I get paid for this? Guys? Anyway…

I could wax nostalgic for pages and pages about all the food stuffs that were available for my school lunch as a kid (Dunkaroos, Fruit by the Foot), but from around 1981 to 1990ish, there was a war being fought on the grocery store shelves.

The war to be the sugar water “drink” of choice in kids’ lunchboxes.

Think about it, Hi-C, Kool-Aid, Squeez-It, Capri-Sun, I could go on and on with the options that were available for kids to implore their parents to buy for them. Each, of course, had some sort of a gimmick that set them apart from their competition in the hopes that maybe leading you to obesity or diabetes in pouch form would be more appealing than the other guys.

I remember, as a kid, the “juice” isle stretched as far as the eye could see, with all sorts of juice box, pouch, and bottle options to choose from. It only makes sense that the marketing folks would spend countless dollars to make you identify their brand above all others. (Now, juice boxes are relegated to an end cap or a small shelf next to the “real” juices… interesting, no?).

But while Squeez-It and Capri-Sun had unique packaging that was immediately identifiable, Kool-Aid and Hi-C stuck to the tried and true juice box format. So what could they do to get notice? Kool-Aid opted for awesome advertising with the oft Seth MacFarlane parodied Kool-Aid Man, who became more identifiable than any of the flavored drinks they sold. Plus Kool-Aid devised the genius idea of Kool-Aid points, which you could redeem packages of their juices for “Kool” (nyuck, nyuck) usually Kool-Aid Man themed gear.

Hi-C, on the other hand, had me sold the minute they developed a Ghostbusters themed beverage in Ecto-Cooler.

It’s a pretty genius idea, actually. When you think about it on the simplest level, the drink has absolutely nothing to do with the Ghostbusters property. The first thing that comes to mind when seeing the mucus-like ectoplasm in the Ghostbusters film and in the animated show isn’t “citrus tangerine goodness.” (Unless there’s something the fan community isn’t telling me?) The drink wasn’t even really the same green color as your favorite paranormal entity and mine. But it didn’t matter, the minute they slapped Slimer on the packaging and named the flavor “Ecto-Anything,” it was sold to me.

This is what Star Wars did to us… but I digress…

Having had parents with a strict “milk once a day” rule – Ecto-Cooler at lunch meant that I had to endure drinking low-fat milk for dinner every night, but I didn’t care. It was worth it. Ecto-Cooler made me feel cool. Like I was drinking an officially endorsed drink from the Ghostbusters. No matter what a dweeb I actually was in real life, I was a Ghostbuster at lunch. Which, okay, arguably still made me quite the dweeb. But endearingly so, right? Right?

I would beg and plead with my mom at the grocery store for Ecto-Cooler like a Mogwai wanting a snack after midnight. When Hi-C stated selling two liter cans of their beverages, the thought of cracking open one of those cans gives me more joy than tapping a keg of the finest brew as an adult today. Ecto-Cooler was the drink of choice when friends came to visit, just like scotch is for the suits in their executive offices. “Hey Brian, thanks for coming over, can I offer you an Ecto-Cooler? Boy, did you see Mrs. Bull today?”

It probably makes me beyond shallow, but Ecto-Cooler became associated with childhood, it became associated with a simpler and more enjoyable time. Much like a generation before me drank YooHoo, I drank Ecto-Cooler.

Of course, once the bane of our existence known as “nutrition” became a concern for families everywhere, the portion sizes of Ecto-Cooler slowly diminished. The boxes went from being monolith-sized, to matchbox-sized. Shortly after that, it ceased to be a juice and became a soft drink. It even suddenly became “An Excellent Source of Vitamin-C” (and pure sucrose by the tablespoon, probably) before eventually disappearing completely. It was missed, but life went on as juice boxes gave way eventually to Kool-Aid Koolers, which eventually gave way to it being cool to buy my lunch and drink school sanctioned milk, which gave way to a soda machine in high school, which eventually gave way to… I don’t know… girls.

There was a time around 2002 or 2003ish that Ecto-Cooler made a quiet and understated return, re-themed and renamed Screamin’ Tangerine. And I’m not ashamed to say that I, Troy Benjamin, at that time about to graduate from college, bought juice boxes by the case full. It was all a desperate attempt to take myself back to that moment in my childhood that Ecto-Cooler reminded me of.

Okay, well and when we discovered how good Ecto-Cooler and Vodka combined; it also became a means to inebriation.

But it’s strange to think that a marketing ploy during a highly competitive era where beverage companies were throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck became associated in such ways.

And it’s funny how much I want it back.

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, GB Fans, Ghostbusters.net, and Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

For more articles about Ecto-Cooler at Proton Charging, click here.

Column: The Private Sector – The Kenner Liberation

Hey there, folks. After a bit of a hiatus so that you wouldn’t get any more fatigued of my gibberish than you probably already are, The Private Sector is back. And this week, I’m going to come clean by getting something off my chest. Something that’s been weighing on me heavily since age eight… try not to hold it against me… all right… here goes… I stole Winston.

Whew… that felt good. Literally confessing your crime to the bajillions of good folks that read these fine Ghostbusters fansites (and most likely my mother, who will be reading this after hearing that her boy is a thief through the grapevine). I guess that a story is in order.

I was eight. And while my family lived comfortably, admittedly it was difficult for my wonderful and remarkable parents to keep up with my hungry appetite for the fine Real Ghostbusters related products that Kenner was releasing en masse. I wanted desperately the Ghostbusters’ trademark firehouse headquarters, but such a luxurious purchase just wasn’t possible at the time (for the record, I built my own firehouse out of spare house siding that was in my father’s garage, probably far more rewarding for my creativity but not for my Dad who had purchased said materials to patch holes before the winter). Even purchases of the individual action figures were very selective and planned out because my parents were able to buy the figures for me so infrequently…

Egon Spengler (the original blue jumpsuit version with Proton Pack) was first. He was my favorite character, so his priority as a purchase obviously was elevated. For the longest time, he was the only Ghostbuster (with the help of Robocop and Batman) to fend off Granny Ghost (whom I had received as a birthday present from a friend) and all of the invisible ghosts in my imagination. Egon was the lone Ghostbuster, breaking the first rule by venturing out into business on his own. Fighting ghosts in lands foreign to New York like an old Fisher Price castle my parents purchased for me several years before… or the bathroom.

Egon was soon joined by the original brown suit release Pete Venkman, and then quite a bit later the Fright Features Ray Stantz (because Ray just wasn’t Ray to me without the Ecto Goggles). A few other ghosts joined them including a Kenner Stay Puft I had fortuitously come across at a neighborhood garage sale, for the then hefty price tag to me of fifty cents.

But Winston, the heart and soul of the Ghostbusters, was always noticeably missing.

By the time another purchase was granted by the folks, the original Winston with proton pack and jumpsuit was long gone from stores – replaced by the horrid Fright Features Winston who always looked like a strange ventriloquism dummy with his unhinged jaw. And why was he in a Formula One racer outfit? Fright Features Winston felt like a fraud to me. An imposter sitting on the pegs among his Kenner brethren. When given the opportunity by my parents to finally pick up Winston, I was stubborn and always passed said Fright Feature figure up.

Until one day… at a yearly check-up at my pediatrician’s office… I was sitting waiting in a patient room for the doctor to arrive. And there he was…

Sitting, surrounded by Fraggle Rock McDonalds toys and a couple Ninja Turtles in a box of toys conveniently placed on one of the exam tables (presumably to distract the patient from the terrifying injection the nurse or doctor was preparing to stick you in the arm with) – was the original teal green suit release Winston.

Now, I was raised Catholic so things that I haven’t even done already unexplainably weigh heavily on me. So the first thought in my head wasn’t “I’m going to steal this thing”, it was actually, “No way! That’s such a rare figure that I can’t find, what’s it doing here?” That figure sitting in the Tupperware tub might as well have been the Lost Ark of the Covenant to me after the couple of years that I had pined for it.

But as much as I eyed the figure, I did nothing during that visit but marvel at its presence.

Until a year later, once again – by chance the same exam room, the same tub of toys, Winston still in there (but noticeably a lot of the Ninja Turtles toys missing). Once again, first thought was, “No way! Him again! How cool!” Nowhere near, “I’m going to deprive dozens of Ghostbuster fan kids at this doctor’s office of a moment of joy getting to play with a Winston figure by stealing it…” And besides, I was (then) eight years old. Do you know what the punishment for stealing is to an eight-year-old kid in the late 80s? No, are you kidding me, man… not a stern talking to or a time out, my God, this was the time when parents weren’t all politically correct and bashful about sprawling you over their knee and beating the snot out of you. Children actually feared and respected their parents instead of dragging them around on a leash. There was no way that this good kid would even think of such a thing let alone do it…

Until the doctor injected me with one of those aforementioned needles in the arm.

Then I wanted vengeance.

They had inflicted pain and drawn blood from me. They took something forcibly from me without my permission. It hurt emotionally and physically and, to quote an immortal movie, “Son of a bitch must pay…”

So I took him.

Teal jumpsuited Winston was smuggled away from that hellish prison where children were tortured with no reward. He wasn’t stolen. He was freed. Or so I told myself at the time… until later when Catholicism kicked back in and the guilt weighed so heavily on me that Winston taunted me. He remained on the shelf because I felt guilty to play with him. I couldn’t sleep at night in fear of the punishment to come for what I had done.

It was a long and difficult year until I had made up my mind that, on next return to the doctor’s office, I would return Winston to where he came from. Just as I had smuggled the action figure from the pediatrician’s office a year prior, I snuck him back in and despite not being in the same exam room that time around, deposited him back into a tub of toys.

And funny enough, there he stayed and remained. Each and every year that I visited my pediatrician (healthy, of course – as they had special quarantined lobbies and exam rooms for the sick kids), Winston would be spotted occasionally.

For all I know, he’s still there to this day.

Unless some new generation of young Ghostbuster fan is considering liberating Winston from his sterile confines…

Don’t hurt me, mom.

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, GB Fans, Ghostbusters.net, and Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

Column: The Private Sector – The Girls in Grey (A Boys Club No Longer) Part 2

Part Two (read Part One here)

Welcome to Part Two of a Very Special Mr. Belved – er… I mean, The Private Sector. In yesterday’s column, I hardly scratched the surface, hoping to present the perspective of the female members in the growing online Ghostbusters community (which I affectionately for some reason continue to refer to as The Girls in Grey). In yesterday’s column, it seemed that many of the women agree on how they were introduced to the fan community, how they participate, and how passionate they are about their fandom. But it was when I started talking about personal matters that parallel lines started skewing.

I’m not going to lie; I get nervous when a member of the opposite sex sees my bedroom. Get your mind out of the gutter (but feel free to snicker at the possible inadequacies as a lover that such a statement might initially invoke, I’ll take the cheap laugh). I’m a fanboy and it shows. We’re not talking “40-Year-Old Virgin” bad, but I’ve got Ghostbusters and Star Wars swag on the bookshelf (which also is home to stereotype inducing comic books, of course). It’s a true testament to any future proceedings with friends or potential romantic links when they find out that I’m a fanboy. But my questioning of the Girls in Grey gave a unique opportunity to hear about the shoe being on the other foot. I realized that I was conversing with ladies that had boyfriends into football, MMA, and watching people get hit in the junk on Spike… while they were in the garage perfecting the cyclotron on their replica Proton Pack.

I decided to ask the Girls in Grey how their friends and loved ones outside of the online community reacted to their fandom. Especially given the great number of proppers and costuming ladies that responded, I was curious to hear their responses. Knowing how the people in my life are either extremely receptive or immediately raise an eyebrow when they hear that I’ve built my own Proton Pack, it was enjoyable hearing the response of Traveler of Games who told me, “People either love you or hate you in costume. With friends, it’s a hit-and-miss. It’s the same with co-workers and others. Some people tease me, others don’t care, but when it comes to co-workers, the majority either love the costume or my ‘courage’ to show what I love in public.”

The majority of the Girls in Grey expressed similar sentiments, although it sounded like a good deal of them were used to a reaction of surprise when others find out about their fandom. Indeed, the term “fanboy” does indicate a specific gender. And the common misconception of fan communities is the lonely pale guy in his parents’ basement – so the response of surprise to anyone outside of that stereotype is understandable. But friends, family, significant others all seem to respond differently to the fandom of our female members.

One member, who asked to remain anonymous, informed me that her boyfriend was not only uncomfortable with her fandom, but also was uncomfortable with the fact that she was posting pictures of herself and talking with a group of fanboys. The jealous type exists no matter what the scenario or relationship, but with this particular Girl in Grey, he was jealous of Ghostbusters. “At one point, he told me he felt that I was more into Ghostbusters than I was into him.”

I didn’t think to ask the follow-up if she was still with said significant other, but what’s to be jealous of? It’s just a group of fans, all with common ground, gathering in one place to discuss and explore a franchise they hold dear to their hearts. It’s not like she was getting hit on or receiving marriage proposals… right?

Wait…

Actually, she was.

“In response to one of the photos I posted, I was told that it would ‘look better lying on the floor of (his) bedroom,” said the anonymous Girl in Grey. Another told me that when she was asking for opinions on flightsuits, a member had sent her a link to a choice ensemble from Fredericks of Hollywood. I’m sure that the latter was in jest, but obviously a bit forward. And thanks to my day job being taken over by a large corporation, sexual harassment training has told me that it doesn’t matter what your intentions are, even if it was in jest. Based upon the responses that I received, almost all of the girls (there were two exceptions, and one of which said she had been “indirectly asked if she was seeing someone”) had been hit on or the focus of flirtation at least on one occasion.

For the record I, your humble columnist, have been posting and around the community for (my God) over fifteen years… not once have I been hit on. It’s cool. Just saying.

Despite my complete lack of personal attention, for many of the Girls in Grey it sounds like it’s a frequent occurrence. “Over and over in strange ways but hey, I have to give some of the guys credit for originality,” Michelle told me. “Some private messages have come my way that were downright crude and based simply on the fact that I fall into the ‘female category.’”

While it’s unfair to say that every member on a message forum or chat room is guilty of making fandom awkward for the women trying to participate, all that it takes is one person to be overwhelming and unbearable to points that escape is the only solution. Several members told me of one particular instance where a female member had posted a picture of herself on one of the forums and received so many direct and forward private messages and comments out in the open that she eventually felt the bombardment was too uncomfortable to continue visiting and has not been back since.

Again, no love for Troy. Fifteen years. Just saying.

But despite love connections, being a minority, breaking social stereotypes, and the rare exceptions of those that have run for the hills: the Girls in Grey say that they’re here to stay. (Hey, I can make a rhyme every time… coming soon to The Private Sector, Troy’s Green Eggs to Ghostbusters analogy.) Some tell me that they enjoy the fact that they’re part of a small, tight-knit group of females and that it has made them bigger fans of the series and larger fans in general because of the friends and relationships that they’ve made through the online Ghostbusters community. Despite some of the social pressures and nuisances, every response that I received was overwhelmingly positive about the encounters they were having in this ever-growing community. While many still may look at it as “A Boys Club,” and may continue to do so well after these articles have been buried into the recesses of the internets, you can’t deny the fact that there’s a growing group of ladies out there dialing in on their 14.4 modems (that’s what the kids do nowadays, right?), ready to chat about a franchise that they’ve come to know and love and become extremely passionate about over the years.

Special thanks to all those Girls in Grey that took the time to respond to my questionnaire and to those that entrusted me with their honest thoughts and opinions. The Private Sector will be back to form with more of my semantics and gibberish next week, but as always if you have thoughts, questions, found more typos, or you want to break the fifteen year fast and ask me out to a steak dinner, leave them here in the comments section of your favorite Ghostbusters fansite or drop me an email at netsolo@aol.com!

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, Ghostbusters.net, GBFans, and via Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

Column: The Private Sector – The Girls in Grey (A Boys Club No Longer)

Part One

A funny thing happened to the online Ghostbusters fan community… back in the early to mid-1990s when Bill Emkow’s Message Board was the only game in town, I could count on one hand (a difficult feat for me) how many female members actively posted and contributed. If memory serves, half that number were the significant others for the male members that posted on the then appropriately titled “Ghostbusters Homepage”. But with the recent resurgence of Ghostbusters in the public eye based upon the new licensed properties, the forthcoming sequel, and the general nostalgia for how things used to be: it’s only natural that there’s a new diversification of those that actively visit and participate in the online community.

According to GBFans.com Webmaster AJ Quick, 10% of the over 13,000 registered users of his site are now female – and on top of that, nearly a third of total visitors to the site are female. It may sound like a lot in comparison to the five folks I remember from the stone age but given these numbers I immediately think of the other 90% testosterone filled, woman crazy, male members and my God, what must these female members think of it all? I mean, there are “Sexy Ghostbuster” calendars on some sites, there are clueless male members posting diagrams as to why they don’t believe the female anatomy is capable of wearing a backpack, and if you’re a lady and post a picture on the message board – you’d better be prepared to fend off the hoards of lonely dudes that will be outside your window playing Peter Gabriel on a boombox… why hasn’t this 10% demographic run to the hills in fear?

So, my dear Private Sector readers, I decided to turn investigative reporter for a two-part column to give the female fans out there a loud and resounding voice. To find out how and if participating in the message boards, comments, and immensely interactive fan community is overwhelming, intimidating or, as I found, if a lot of the ladies out there have learned to take a lot of things in stride. This isn’t meant to be a sociology experiment, thesis paper, or scientific work – after all, this is The Private Sector and my opinion will be dispersed throughout (read: if major news outlets are reading this, they’ll probably hire me to cover politics). More so this is meant to be a glimpse into a different perspective in this crazy community that we call home.

You might recall, several weeks ago at the end of a Private Sector column, I had asked for the help of female members willing to participate in answering some questions. I expected three or four responses… I received dozens. Right off the bat it was clear to me that the number of women visiting the fine sites that publish The Private Sector was well beyond what I had expected. In fact, the response was so overwhelming that it took me a while to respond to them all and actually gave me the opportunity to expand the scope of just what I wanted to know from the ladies in the community.

The majority of women that responded were actually new to the community, or had joined recently and still considered themselves to be new to the whole atmosphere. The new video game seemed to be the catalyst that inspired many of the Girls in Grey to seek out Ghostbusters online. A couple of the veterans (including one whom I’ve known for quite some time) were also kind enough to chime in with their experiences and perspectives. No matter when they joined, no matter their age, no matter their sense of humor, everyone responded that it was clear the Ghostbusters fanverse seemed like a boys club. In fact, dear friend Michelle whom I have the privilege of knowing from my days running GBHQ commented that it made sense given the characters that populate the franchise. Michelle kindly observed that, “Hey, even Stay-Puft and Oscar are male!”

But the broad appeal to the imagination (and funny bone, obviously) of Ghostbusters is strong and there’s no reason that a female audience shouldn’t enjoy the world and the characters that populate it… there isn’t a startling divide between male and female about Ghostbusters as there is toward a franchise like… oh… I don’t know… Twilight (have you ever seen men more hostile toward something? I mean, honestly dudes, all our blood boils but the ladies love it). With Ghostbusters, the broad appeals makes sense as to why both male and female members would seek fan sites out on the internet and want to share their fandom. But why aren’t there more of these Girls in Grey signing up and speaking their voice?

Interestingly enough, I found that the majority of responses said that they were shy when it came to posting on the message boards and popping into the chatrooms. They lurk, they read, they’ll utilize prop references and discussions without ever actually chiming in. It seemed like the consensus was a resounding shyness toward participating. However, an exception to the rule was recent GBFans Costume Contest Winner Traveler of Games who told me confidently, “If you like something, you shouldn’t feel afraid to join in.” She added, “I learned that from being a gamer for many years.”

But why were some still hesitant to chime in? Michelle put it best for those with pause when she told me, “At times, I feel like I am stepping on their ‘male’ time and so I leave them to it.” To me, based upon the responses, the sheer numbers sound overwhelming to our female friends. It recalls the attitude and response a patient and loving ex-girlfriend had toward my friends huddled around playing poker, exuding testosterone, throwing back beer as if water… she holed up in the bedroom with the door closed or left the house entirely. It didn’t matter that she loved poker and could have kicked all our asses. She just didn’t want to be around all the grunts and bodily noises.

It’s absolutely not a sign of weakness or lack of confidence though. Every single response that I received showed that The Girls in Grey had incredible senses of humor, were patient, and most of all – for lack of better term, they sounded like really tough chicks akin to Traveler of Games’ fearless viewpoint. Arizona Ghostbuster Stina mentioned to me that she was selective with her posting and was nervous when she first joined, but took comfort in knowing she was surrounded by fans of something she loved. It sounds to me that silently observing isn’t something our female members are forced to do by a long shot, but rather a choice that they are making.

It’s abundantly clear that the female fans are just as rabid, just as passionate, and as much fanatics of Ghostbusters as their male counterparts. Any adversity doesn’t seem to discourage them in their enjoyment of being a fan, or their confidence in calling themselves a Ghosthead. In fact, when interactions were strictly on a level playing field about fandom, propping, movies, cartoons, you name it – that’s when I could hear the passion exuding from every response.

But when we started talking about personal interactions, that’s when I started to hear the Girls in Grey (digitally) start shifting in their seats uncomfortably.

Join me tomorrow for a special Thursday edition of The Private Sector, where part two of The Girls in Grey gets personal and looks at how those outside of the online community react to their love for Ghostbusters (including boyfriends) and will tackle the question that I know is on everyone’s mind…

How many of these lonely fanboys have hit on you?

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, Ghostbusters.net, GBFans, and via Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

(click here for Part Two)