The culture wars are an agonizing but necessary phenomenon. Unpleasant as they may be, cultural conflicts typically breed progress, clarity, and a clear path forward into a better, brighter future. The American Revolution. The Civil Rights Movement. Women’s Suffrage. All were the products of irreconcilable differences between individuals with very different ideas about how the world should be. All bore a much sweeter fruit than the bygone cultures that sparked those conflicts in the first place.
But like so many other things in life, the culture wars are downright merciless. Conflict of any type is an exhausting exercise, but cultural conflicts are unique in their abilities to pulverize lifelong friendships and alienate even the most respected and accomplished individuals. That’s never been more true than it is today. We’re living in an age when even the most innocuous comment on social media can lead to the most dreaded of all possible outcomes — the soul-crushing “unfollow.” But what’s a little disagreement between friends, you ask? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.
Entertainment – especially lighthearted entertainment like the new Ghostbusters film debuting this weekend – is usually intended to be an escape from all that drama. Unlike other science-fiction franchises, such as Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Ghostbusters has never had much of a political statement to make. It’s supposed to be a gift to the stressed-out masses. A temporary reprieve from the punishing toll of the nine-to-five. A goofy and nonsensical fantasy providing sanctuary to anyone looking for a short-lived vacation from the hardships that haunt them on a daily basis. That’s why the politicization of the Paul Feig-directed reboot is so incredibly disappointing.
The debate over Ghostbusters represents an amalgamation of the worst of identity politics, corporate subterfuge and overzealous fandom. And there’s no escaping the crossfire.
Don’t want to see the new film? You must be a raging misogynist. What other possible reason could you have for passing on a blockbuster that we all know is going to make the original Ghostbusters look like a low-budget, made-for-TV afternoon special?
You do want to see it? You’re going to spend your hard-earned money on this bastardization of one of the most beloved franchises in the history of modern cinema? You must be a “social justice warrior.”
No matter which decision you make, you’re bound to get criticism for it — if you speak openly about it, of course. One of my favorite Youtube personalities, James Rolfe, got a ration of you-know-what for informing his fans, many of whom were wondering whether he’d be reviewing the new Ghostbusters, that he’d be skipping it due to his disappointment with Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise. His position, which is undoubtedly shared by more than a few fans of the original film, sounds perfectly reasonable, but his critics obviously didn’t see it that way.
Meanwhile, professional reviewers who have praised the new film are being bombarded with accusations of insincerity. The assumption is either they’re too frightened of the potential backlash to risk giving the film anything less than a lukewarm appraisal, or they’re using this opportunity to deceitfully promote a politically correct agenda. Apparently, it can’t just be that they genuinely enjoyed the film.
None of this should be surprising. One of the preferred tactics of many culture war participants is to assume the absolute worst about those with whom they disagree. It’s not a particularly honorable tactic, especially when confronting complex, multifaceted issues, but it is an effective tool for reaffirming your own point of view. When you’re able to convince yourself that the people seated at the other side of the table are all cut from the same repugnant cloth — even if there’s little to no evidence to support that conclusion — it’s not too difficult to simply write them all off as lesser beings than you. We often see this tactic employed in political debates, but its use has become much more common in debates over far less significant matters. The debate over the Ghostbusters reboot is one such example.
With that in mind, let’s try to keep this relatively minor issue in perspective. Regardless of whether this film turns out to be a box office hit or a box office failure, very little is going to change. Hollywood producers will continue to churn out reboots of popular franchises for years to come because, well, it’s just good business. Additionally, this isn’t the first action-packed blockbuster film to feature women in leading roles — Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton blazed that trail long ago, and they did it better than many men are doing it today — and it certainly won’t be the last, even if this film fails to live up to expectations.
So my advice to you is this: Don’t let the negativity get to you. Ignore it. Dismiss it. See the movie if you want. Skip it if you don’t. Unless you’re a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool misogynist or a scheming opportunist exploiting this controversy for purely political purposes, you have nothing to apologize for. After all, this is just a movie we’re talking about. Let’s not lose sight of that fact.