Cannons on the Loose

by zunguzungu

Oh, Ghostbusters. Why can’t you let me revisit film memories from my childhood without making me note the weird Harold Ramis social conservatism running throughout you? Our protagonists are thrust out of academia at the start because Bill Murray is a salesman and a sham scientist, but as they privatize their knowledge for personal gain and parasitically feed off the illusions and delusions of the population, he doesn’t so much have a dramatic turnaround as the movie refuses to admit that there’s even a difference between cynical con man and public servant. Ghosts, it turns out, are real! You can save the day and get rich/get girl. Meanwhile, arrayed against our heroes (nicely ensconced in the wreckage of America’s socialized emergency response services) are big government interference and an old testament evil that manifests as female sexuality, which can be defeated, it turns out, by dick jokes and phallic emissions. Cross the streams indeed.

I also note how utterly superfluous the token black guy is (played by Ernie Hudson, when Eddie Murphy had anything better to do; note his absence on the left). It’s not a particularly tight script in a general sense; a good editor could have cut it substantially, which would have allowed space for a few more ghost scenes (of which we have surprisingly few). But the fact that he has the role of providing credibility (these ghosts are real, to the mayor), religious belief (the bizarre Revelations conversations with Aykroyd), and closure (“I love this town” at the end) without being provided with a personality kind of illustrates how necessary it is that he be not an individual character but, rather, a walking embodiment of culture. He is of structural importance to the movie‘s plot, but totally peripheral to its affective narrative. Because, in the end, doesn’t the movie boil down to a bunch of amoral Pinkertons getting hired by rich people to hunt down and imprison social otherness?[1] The movie might displace its own bad conscience onto ghosts and onto the evil genius who built Sigourney Weaver’s ziggeraut building, but the nativist ethos at the core of it makes the Klansman iconography of its main image sort of perfectly/accidentally appropriate. The clearest example is the scene where Harold Ramis reveals how, in the early years of the 20th century, this evil genius decided that “society was too sick to survive” and Ramis takes a moment to glare at the mostly black prisoners around him with obvious disgust and tacit approval for the sentiment. I think that’s why the movie had to have a black ghostbuster, in fact; without him, those black prisoners (and Ramis’ contempt) would be the only trace of non-whiteness in the entire movie, making the film a too-obvious sublation of the cop-movie ethos of privatized violence against otherness, while the entire opening would stand as nothing more than a variation on the gun and badge scene before our loose cannon heroes go out and save white women from urban offenders.

Also, there’s this. And this.


[1] On that note, the original storyboards show the Ghostbusters wearing gear that makes them look much more like riot cops or SWAT police.