I Ain’t Afraid of No Trolls: 2016’s Ghostbusters and the Online Response

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Ghostbusters (2016, Sony)

My ties to the newest installment in the Ghostbusters franchise run deeper than an affinity for the paranormal or the fact that Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is on my running playlist. In fact, I worked as both an on-set production assistant on and an actor in the 2016 reboot. Before that experience, I grew up admiring the original films. But when it comes to fan-favorite franchises, everyone has a personal narrative of experience.

Living in an age of social media, filmmakers know that Internet comments sections can be dangerous. However, the release of promotional material for 2016’s Ghostbusters has prompted an unforeseen outburst of opposition. In addition to the first trailer breaking records for most-disliked trailer on YouTube, platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have become breeding grounds for hateful remarks under the protection of online anonymity.

It’s not uncommon for less-than-perfect advertising to accompany a major film. With Ghostbusters, however, the audience feedback has become too personal and too aggressive to not have a disheartening impact on the industry as a whole. At what point must creative freedom succumb to the wishes of an audience that, when it comes to adored franchises, may never be satisfied?

Director Paul Feig has had to defend against the “haters” on multiple occasions. In addition to Feig, the opposition has also targeted the studio (Sony) and the stars (most notably Leslie Jones), with little material to justify such vicious complaints.

A continuation of the franchise had been clouded in negativity since even before Feig’s reboot was announced. In fact, a third film sat for years in development hell, ending with the 2014 death of original co-writer and actor Harold Ramis. This created a sense of inevitability to the firestorm, due to years of die-hard fans’ expectations. Perhaps the issue lies in the platform of release: following the disastrous response to the YouTube trailer, the second trailer debuted exclusively on Facebook and Twitter. With so many online platforms now available to promote films, the question of audience specificity is even more intricate and layered. The YouTube fiasco will likely set a new standard for studios in terms of deciding exactly who in the online audience gets the first look at pre-release promotional material.

Some fans worry that the new Ghostbusters doesn’t adhere to the franchise’s continuity, in the style of recent “legacyquels” such as Jurassic World, Creed, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The most unfortunate of the critiques, though, has stemmed from a group of sexist fans frustrated over a female cast replacing the male leads of the original films. Some have criticized Feig under the guise that the reboot will simply be Ghostbusters-meets-Bridesmaids (one Twitter user even asserted that he would create an all-male Bridesmaids, to which Feig responded positively). This critique is especially noteworthy because, by comparison, male-dominated tentpole reboots like Batman Begins  and Casino Royale were generally accepted by fans. It’s hard to believe that if everything else remained the same but the film substituted supporting actor Chris Hemsworth and his Avengers co-stars in for the leads that there would be a similarly harsh response.

Whether one takes issue with narrative and stylistic components represented in the marketing materials or simply wishes to spit vitriol at Feig (because, as the film’s director and co-writer, he is an obvious target) it’s important to remember that this is a comedy franchise, and, as Indiewire’s Vikram Murthl puts it, not “a religious text.” In fact, this film was made with an acute awareness of the legacy it follows. Despite the trailers confusingly suggesting both a departure from the previous films’ narrative universe as well as a degree of ambiguous connection, this does not mean that the film does not pull from the prior narratives. The fact that several original cast members (including Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd) are involved, with Aykroyd publicly praising the female leads, should attest to the filmmakers’ desire to keep the films in the same cultural universe.

It may not be the long-desired sequel that fans had been hoping for, but the filmmakers did work to create something that added to – not detracted from – the Ghostbusters legacy. Let the films coexist in their separate worlds, despite an almost staggering array of expectations, vexations, and predilections that attempt to cloud the beloved franchise. We had fun making this installment, and our only hope is that everyone has fun watching it.

 

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