So, Dave Futrelle over at “We Hunted the Mammoth” is taking a look at the reaction to a recently released clip from the new “Ghostbusters” movie. I haven’t watched the clip myself, but from what Futrelle says the clip essentially shows the replacement for Janine Melnitz from the original movies. Since the powers-that-be decided to flip the gender roles and make all of the new ghostbusters women — purportedly in the name of equal representation for men and women, which is a very odd way to go about that — it seems that they also decided to gender flip Janine and make the character male, played by Chris Hemsworth (of Thor fame and probably some other fame as well, but that’s the one I’ve seen). However, they also seem to have made the character essentially decorative; he’s portrayed as attractive but pretty much incompetent at his job. The implication from this is that he was hired for his looks and not his skills, and given that people on the Internet (Futrelle assumes that they are all or are at least mostly men) are protesting. Since Futrelle’s site is one dedicated to mocking MRAs and the like, Futrelle mocks this, with the overall impression that, well, this is no big deal and nothing to complain about.
There are, however, a number of problems with it that you don’t have to be opposing feminism to see (although, for one of them, it helps).
The first issue for me is this: I really liked the Janine character, especially with how she evolved in the “The Real Ghostbusters” animated series. Her cynical attitude really did work, and gave something to ground Ray’s and Egon’s fascination with ghosts while also providing a foil for Peter, and also potentially for someone for Winston to relate to. Was she used that way in the movies most of the time? No, but her cynical approach definitely did shine through (just read the quotes from her on IMDB for that). Most importantly, she was portrayed as someone who was very competent at her job, if snarky. She wasn’t hired for her looks, but for her skills, and she had them. This, then, is not a replacement for that character. This is replacing a superior stereotypical secretary with an inferior stereotypical secretary. Making the character male but equally snarky might have worked, but the character that I liked is now completely and totally gone. And I can’t see any good reason to go this route, especially considering how problematic this stereotype is. The only reason I can think of is for the writers to take a shot at the stereotype itself … but, as I’ve said before, when works sacrifice entertainment for message they end up, well, sucking. So, this is not promising.
The second issue is what this choice implies: that whomever was doing the hiring chose this person on the basis of their looks rather than their skills. This … is not a good way to hire someone. At the very least, the only reason the person still has a job is their looks. So … which of the Ghostbusters is the one who hires on the basis of looks rather than ability? Which of them is that shallow? Is it all of them? Are they all that sort of person?
See, in the original movie you could get away with that by simply having Venkeman hire the secretary, because as was established early that was totally in character for him. But the key thing here is that that part of his personality was the big flaw in his personality. If I recall correctly, he originally goes with Dana because she’s attractive and he wants to hit on her, but at the end they only at least somewhat get together because he overcomes that and starts to actually care about people and about the job. He moves from being seen, at least, as nothing more than a scam artist to someone who is willing to die to save the city. He gets redeemed.
Now, the original movie didn’t do this. But if it had, Ray and Egon would have protested at least as soon as the secretary screwed up something important, and either the secretary would have had to prove that she had a role, or Peter would have had to admit that it was a bad idea and then accept hiring someone more competent. In fact, I strongly suspect that there was an episode of “The Real Ghostbusters” where Janine quit due to not being appreciated, Peter hires or tries to hire someone who was just hot, and at the end they all realize that they really miss — and need — Janine after all. I could be wrong about that one, but it does sound like something that a cartoon would do.
So, does this happen in the movie? Or do all of the Ghostbusters decide that when women objectify its female empowerment and so not really bad at all? So, are all of them in favour of hiring on the basis of looks in a movie that pretty much is trying to subvert that notion?
Which leads to the third issue, which is exactly that, and something that some of the commenters that Futrelle mocks mention: this movie, as near as I can tell, is about at least trying to present more equality and less sexism than Hollywood movie typically do. Yes, Dave, it’s a movie about ghostbusters, but it’s also a movie going out of its way to be “inclusive”. Having a man who is objectified doesn’t, in fact, do that, and if feminists — like you, Dave — don’t stand up and say that objectifying a character and hiring on the basis of looks as opposed to on the basis of ability is bad no matter what the gender of the people doing it and the person it’s being done to then you only further the stereotype that feminism is about women, and not about equality at all.
Now, Futrelle tries to defend it:
Sometimes comedy plays with stereotypes and is funny. Sometimes it just reinforces stereotypes and while this is often not so great, comedically or otherwise, sometimes it can actually be funny too.
For comedic actors, the best roles are often the ones in which they make themselves look like the biggest idiots. Who was the most idiotic character on I Love Lucy? (HINT: Her name is in the title.) Who was the star in I Love Lucy? (HINT: Her name is also in the title. Because it’s the same person.)
Anyway, dudes, relax just a teensy weensy bit. Men are so overrepresented in movies these days, as protagonists and as supporting characters, that it’s still kind of seen as a big deal if two women characters in a feature film have even a single scene in which they actually talk to one another about anything other than a man. And lots of movies fail that seemingly rudimentary test.
And so, if you can’t stand Chris Hemsworth taking a comedic turn as an inept administrative assistant, if the very thought of it makes you mad or sad, it’s possible that your head is so far up your own ass that, well, I mean, that can’t be very enjoyable, your head up in there. It’s sort of disgusting to think about, really.
Anyway, angry Ghostbusters-hating dudes, if you’re concerned about people thinking men are a bunch of ridiculous idiots, one excellent way to fight this perception is to STOP ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF RIDICULOUS IDIOTS.
There’s probably an argument in there, if you turn it sideways and do the standard philosophical charity thing where you build in the arguments that you’re sure they were trying to make/would have made. Of course, even interpreting this charitably, the arguments are all really, really bad:
1) He can be arguing that, hey, Hemsworth looks like an idiot, but, hey, that’s comedy, right? Well, except that if we go back to the original Ghostbusters, the comedy did indeed come from them acting like idiots — or at least stupid and/or odd — and yet none of them were completely incompetent. Peter, for someone with a PhD, knew very little about the field that he supposedly was an expert in. Ray was seen, especially in the cartoon, as being overly enthusiastic about this. Egon was the typical “head for science, and not for anything else” scientist character. Looking like an idiot does not, in fact, require you to be an idiot. It especially doesn’t require you to be an idiot with the clear implication that the only reason you still have a job is because you’re hot. You’d think Futrelle would, you know, want to discourage that sort of presentation more.
2) He could be arguing that men are presented in so many different roles that having one idiot isn’t going to hurt them. Which is true, but also rather odd since, well, idiot male characters have existed for a long, long time now and will continue to exist. The protest is not about having an idiot male character. The protest is that the character is a male version of one of the stereotypes that feminists most hate. Just because it happens to be a man this time doesn’t mean that presenting someone hired for their looks is a good thing. And it also removes a stronger female character from the roster. Why would he think that good?
And the supreme irony is that he finishes thusly:
The only thing about the Ghostbusters clip that really bugs me is that Sony decided to release it on Administrative Professionals Day. And that’s really kind of patronizing as hell. If most film heroes were Administrative Professionals that would be one thing, but this, not so cool.
Now, we have lots and lots of representations of Administrative Professionals who are competent that their job, so there is indeed plenty of representation of competent APs, so that can’t be the objection here. No, the objection must be about presenting the worst possible stereotype, of the AP hired for their looks and who is utterly incompetent at the job. Which, yes, is something that might annoy APs on the day dedicated to them. But that’s the stereotype that Futrelle is asking people to lighten up about. Hmmmmm.