“Ghostbusters!” or Criticism of the Things You Love

Currently, there’s a lot of hate going on regarding the new Ghostbusters movie. A lot of folks seem to dislike it categorically, many claim that it “shatters their childhood.” I decided to dig a little deeper, trying to find the root of what’s really behind it all and arrive at an examination of how to deal with criticism.

A short disclaimer: I can only speak from my personal experience and impressions, so I can’t back up my arguments. Reader discretion is advised.

If there’s something strange…

So there’s a new Ghostbusters movie coming out in July 2016. We only know cast and trailers so far, and that’s enough for a heated outrage on the interwebz about how terrible it’s going to be just ’cause. A nasty aspect about this issue is that some are using it as thinly veiled vehicle to justify sexism (“how dare they cast women!”), while many others feel that their “childhood is under attack”.

Let’s take a step back first.

If you are passionate about something you love, you tend to lose your objectivity. When you love something, it’s only natural for your opinions to harden unless you make an ongoing effort to keep an open mind. Over time, you identify with being a fan of something, something you discovered for yourself, something you feel you own. In part it made you become what you are; who your friends are. A shared passionate love for something is a fertile foundation for lifelong friendships and beyond; “I met my spouse at a Calexico concert.”

We even tend to classify certain periods of our lives in relation to what we loved at the time, “this was my Radiohead phase”, “that year I discovered Lovecraft”, “I lost four months of studying playing Counterstrike“. Love and passion for a song, a movie, a person thus become an integral part of our lives. Looking back with nostalgia at watching Star Trek on TV is never just about the show, it’s about a whole mix of emotions and flair of those days.

I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation and eagerly watched every episode after school. I adore the design of the D-Enterprise and the early visual effects. When I had the chance to speak to Rob Legato, the VFX supervisor on the show, I was able to thank him for inspiring me to delve deep into visual effects myself, starting my career in post production. But if someone had said that Next Generation is a bunch of family friendly, wishy-washy sci-fi-fantasy crap, I would have been shaken to the cover with uncertainty. As if they had implied that I am an idiot for liking this show, that all the memories I formed around this show are worthless, and I should rather dream of getting “a real job” instead.

To many, criticism of their cherished idol automatically translates to a personal insult; a “narcissistic wound”, if you want to get all Freudian. When people feel their “self” under attack, they strike back with whatever means they see just, involuntarily following the first stages Kübler-Ross model of grief. At first, there’s denial, followed by anger. The Ghostbusters trailer got taken apart by rampant fans of the first two films; almost every shot got torn to shreds with gleeful vitriol.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts

To avoid falling into this trap yourself is relatively easy. Anita Sarkeesian urges us to be “critical of the media we love,” something I wholeheartedly second. It’s easy being critical of something you don’t have an emotional reaction to, whether it is positive or not. Instead, criticism offers new perspectives on something you thought you grasped in its entirety.

The hard part is not giving in to the first emotional response you have when somebody share their opinion. Instead, try to make it a habit of parsing the criticism for what it is. “Star Wars is stupid” translates to “I don’t connect to Star Wars“; whereas “only idiots drive Toyota” means “I personally noticed a correlation among the people I know who I consider idiots and the make of cars they drive”.

A criticism of something you love is not a criticism of you as a person.

I too love the old Ghostbusters movies. As a kid, I even made my own crude proton-gun from a piece of wood, a ghost-trap out of a shoe carton with string. But there’s no denying that the film isn’t pure gold, especially viewed from today’s perspectives on equality, lifestyle, or visual effects. Does this diminish any of the joy I had as a kid hunting “ghosts” with a piece of wood in the garden? Not a bit. How could it?

How does this tie into the new Ghostbusters movie then?

Who you gonna call?

Much like criticism can be viewed as a personal attack, a reboot, re-interpretation or other kinds of derivative treatment can be perceived as an attempt “improving” on what we already deemed “perfect” through our rose-colored glasses. “How dare they ruin [FRANCHISE]!?”, “They don’t treat the original with enough respect!”. Currently that’s the 2016 Ghostbusters’ trailer and cast, later it will be the film.

As a creator, it must be hard (if not impossible) to appease a diverse fan base of something. If you try anything new, people will get their hate on, “That’s not [FRANCHISE] anymore!”; if you stick to what everyone liked in the original, you get scolded for rehashing the same old tropes.

Even if some of those haters do watch it and actually kind of enjoy it in parts, it’s hard to change your opinion once you presented yourself as a crusader who is categorically against it.

The Garfield movie did this for me. I felt that the writers didn’t understand (or care to understand) the characters, their motivations, or even the humor; that the film was just a cash-grab pulled by a recognized name. But it didn’t magically strip all previous comics of their wit retroactively; quite the opposite instead. In any case, it added something to the original experience. Re-reading Garfield strips from 1986 was even the sweeter.

So: Relax, nothing is getting erased from history along with your childhood.

Ghostbusters!

Will the new Ghostbusters movie suck? We will know when it’s out. Will it destroy your childhood memories of the 1984 Ghostbusters? I doubt it. If you don’t like it, hey, no big deal: You still got the old films and the video game from 2009 (written and voiced by the original cast) which you can over and over indulge in.

If the new one is alright, do yourself a favor and don’t nitpick for flaws where it doesn’t hold up to the original. The joy of this is short-lived and will leave you with a sour taste (believe me, I hated on the Simpsons movie when it got out and re-reading my post makes me cringe). Instead, see it as an opportunity for the franchise to find new fans who weren’t even born when the first two films were playing in theaters.

Cut the new film some slack and judge it for what it is, not for something it cannot be: Having had strawberry ice cream on a hot summer’s day, sitting on the couch watching TV and laughing so hard at Bill Murray getting slimed that you almost choked.

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