The Ghostbusters Generation
"We are all children of 'Song of Myself'," wrote Tony Kushner.
"We are children of the eighth day," wrote Thornton Wilder.
"We're the children of the eighties, haven't we grown," wrote Joan Baez.
For Kushner, the conclusion was bittersweet. The wild and untamed individualism of the American heart, the boisterous boldness of original energy, came with costs. But the damage is done, and here we stand, individuals, the stars of our own narratives, believing that we forge our own destinies.
For Wilder, we were and are the precipitate of opportunity. His speaker, Dr. Gillies, speculates that the 20th century man will see the beginning of a new era, spiritually and morally, the Lord's week of creation behind him. Wilder further notes that Gillies is lying through his teeth, foreseeing only a coming crisis.
For Baez, the sentiment was half tinged with hope, half with sadness.
Somewhere between utopia and despair sits Ghostbusters, wherein a few New Yorkers, all too human, take on the panoply of the spiritual experience—and win.
I've been dreading this chapter since the day this project began. Any fool can toss off his thoughts on a favorite film. Indeed, some of us were seemingly put on this sinful Earth to overanalyze the motion pictures of our formative years with little or no provocation.
But a pile of observations without any conclusions is better suited to a Twitter feed than an essay, or a monograph, or a hypertextual critical analysis or whatever this absurd creation is, and in any case simply talking about a movie never gets you very far. These days, great art must be not merely art but Art; the formalists have lost. A piece expertly crafted on aesthetic terms is only entertainment, while a Great American Film must Change the World, or comment on The Way We Live Now, or document Our Society, or otherwise address something in capital letters.
I don't like to reduce a film to sociological understandings. The art deserves the focus. As Harold Bloom laments, "the procedure is to begin with a political stance all your own, far out and away from Shakespeare's plays, and then to locate some marginal bit of English Renaissance social history that seems to sustain your stance. Social fragment in hand, you move in from outside upon the poor play, and find some connection, however established, between your supposed social fact and Shakespeare's words… You can bring absolutely anything to Shakespeare and the plays will light it up, far more than what you bring will illuminate the plays."
Ray Carney goes for the jugular: "The artist subscribes to a 'philosophy', formulates a plan of action, and carries it out in a series of conscious, deliberate activities. The critic then comes along and reveals the previously hidden strategy. It is all cut and dried and eminently logical. Daring, inspiration, confusion, uncertainty, and mystery are no more part of the process than they are in the production of a Pepsi commercial… the actual work of art, in all of its expressive particularity, its fusing of form and meaning, drops out of the analysis. What takes its place is an interest in all sorts of things that fall outside of the frame, that preceded or followed the actual creative event: the social, political, personal events that 'caused' the work; the social, political, and personal events that 'resulted' from it…"
And the obfuscating games don't end when you turn your head back toward the screen, either. Then you risk brave new minefields of intellectual claptrap, armchair psychoanalysis and unadvised deconstructions and a little Althusser, semiotics this, neo-formalism that—anything to avoid dealing with the story, the characters, the images on the screen. I'm not sure I have the intellect for such abstractions. I know I don't have the time. It reminds me of what Oscar Wilde said about the cynic, who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Or what George Orwell said, that there are some ideas that are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them.
I'm quoting so much because I'm afraid to say anything of my own.
We are who we quote; we are the product of the influences that shape us, and in this media-addled age, a movie's as likely a suspect as any. It goes back to the Jesuit maxim I shoehorned in at the very beginning of this thing: if nurture wins out over nature, what are you nurtured by?
My story is not unusual. I pledged my heart, soul and career prospects to the movies when I saw Star Wars on the big screen for the first time. (For me it was 1997, not 1977, but…) You could throw a rock in Hollywood and hit six people who caught the same bug from the same damn movie. I crawled before walking, tackling Star Wars parody before attempting serious filmmaking, and what's more, I ended up returning to that well a couple of times. My career in the publishing industry began with a mash-up of Shakespeare and The Big Lebowski, a project I've never been able to justify the inspiration for, beyond—and yes, I use the Stantz quote—"It just popped in there." And my interest in attempting this project stemmed from a series of essays I dashed off on overlooked films, stuff I wrote entirely to amuse myself and my online friends. They liked that series, they told me to try and get it published. I demurred; I didn't do it for any kind of gain, I just really wanted to spew some serious ink in serious praise of those movies.
That's pretty much the attitude I took with this project. I've had my fun; I've done everything I wanted to do. Why continue? Why ask for a tidy little sum-up? Go read the 'Music' chapter again, that was a good one. Isn't it enough to prove Ghostbusters' importance, to say that, hey, someone wrote this?
Unfortunately, some moron couldn't resist calling this chapter The Ghostbusters Generation, so I'm stuck.
"But the Kids Love Us!"
What would a Ghostbusters generation look like?
I suppose they'd be like Ghostbusters themselves. They'd be self-starters, that's certain. Unwilling to be tied down. Collaborative, communicative, big-mouthed to a fault. Entrepreneurial; suspiciously egalitarian. Freelancers and job-hoppers and shapeshifters, playing it casual, ducking the three-piece cage. Finding their own markets through new technologies that they improvise as they go along. In search of work that provides meaning, that changes the world in some way.
If that sounds like anyone you know—"Well, then maybe my theory is correct!" But don't take my word for it. There's a whole cottage industry trying to figure out what these folk want out of life, particularly at work. "Eleven Tips for Managing Millennials" runs the title of one helpful summary. A business book entitled The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace offers helpful chapters such as "Where does Entitlement Come From?", "Millennials Want to Be Innovators" and "Work as a Team Sport". Any outside observer would think we were zoo animals with résumés, unpredictable creatures that needed to be tagged and tamed before dragging us in from the wild.
But maybe we're not so scary after all. An article plucked at random from the endless procession of trend pieces seeks the input of one Cathie Looney, a "generational expert" and "certified reality therapist" who gushes, "I love this generation. They're high achievers. They're confident. These kids are go, go, go." Inc. magazine runs a blog called "The Entrepreneurial Generation", led by Scott Gerber and Donna Fenn, presumably inspired by a 2007 article of Fenn's entitled "The Making of an Entrepreneurial Generation". When Gerber interviewed Fenn for Entrepreneur magazine, she stated, "I was tired of hearing Gen Y stereotyped as spoiled, entitled, and even narcissistic… they're incredibly hard-working, innovative, agile, socially conscious and team-oriented. Leadership guru Warren Bennis calls them the next 'Greatest Generation'. I'm betting he's spot on."
It's nice to have fans. As a Generation Y-er myself, I'm not entitled to weigh in on the tiring debate. I can neither impugn nor defend. I can only say what is. Well, whatever is, it's big.
Consider Facebook. A business created by and used by (perhaps relied upon by) Millennials, and unquestionably a contender for the most Millennial of all institutions. It was born in a Harvard dorm room. A few guys found a need and filled it. It is now no less crucial to the social and business worlds than the telephone. The indispensible communications science of the next decade…
I've spotlighted the business world as my example here because that's the sort of person fussing over decoding Generation Y. Politics works too; we've covered that. Perhaps these fields are good breeding grounds for very earnest books and alarmist think pieces. But business isn't my expertise. Neither is politics. I'm an artist, I guess.
And Millennials have their own spin on arts and culture, of course. We're of the opinion that it belongs to us as much as it does the creators; we rip, we remix, we spin. I'll never forget the day I saw the "It's a Trap!" t-shirt, featuring artist Jerry Bennett's rendition of Return of the Jedi's Admiral Ackbar, stuffed into a jumpsuit and hoisting a ghost trap high—or Glenn Jones' vision, also in t-shirt form, of Ecto-1 chasing the Pac-Man ghosts. On the musical front, I've heard "Ghostbusters" mashed-up with Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love", OutKast's "Ms. Jackson" and (my favorite) Lady Gaga's "Love Game". Older generation loved pop culture. We are pop culture.
And we're moving, and we're changing, and we're mashing and remixing, and defying all expectations. That's the trouble with writing the history of the present. I officially began writing this thing on February 14, 2010. (Valentine's Day. Bummer.) You wouldn't believe the trouble I've had keeping up with the times as I've shuffled along.
"We got mail from teachers who said they loved that kids were playing Ghostbusters at recess," Ramis tells journalist Gordon Holmes, "because it was a non-violent game that didn't divide the kids into good guys and bad guys and the games were very cooperative. It's really had some power."
We're not just changing. We're changing the world.
"You've Already Got at Least Two People in There Already"
I'd like to go back to Roger Ebert and Alan Moore, whose words kicked off this project in the intro. There's a little bit more they can add to this thing.
Ebert's Law has this to say about movies:
"A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it."
I hope I have helped people see Ghostbusters as I do, or at least, how I should have seen it all along. I hope.
As for Moore, I turn to Watchmen. When Dr. Manhattan reflects on the universe, on the forces that have shaped his life, on the changes he has made in the lives of others. And he asks himself:
"Who makes the world?"
And I've tried to answer that and I'm not sure I've succeeded.
Well, I don't know what to tell you. I don't know if we have Ghostbusters to thank or to blame for the way we think, the way we are. I don't know if pop culture has half the influence on our sad little souls that I like to think it does. I don't claim to have the answers—and I don't just mean all the answers, I mean any.
All I know is that I still love this movie.
It's 2012. It's the year that the world is supposed to end. I am distressingly shedding my twenties and still gleefully obsessing over a movie I loved at the age of seven.
I am not the only one.
She ain't wrong.
We're a strange bunch, us '80s kids, and we really have grown up. Some of us have children of our own, now. And we're showing the next generation the movies we loved, and the true classics do hold up, they really do. As long as we keep the spirit alive.
"I Wanna Go With Them, In the Car"
I think I'm done here. For the moment. I imagine I'll want to go back here and there and fix bits and pieces. Maybe add to what I've learned as the observations rumble on. No rush to declare anything static. After all, I've been working on this thing since I was seven.
But I got it out. I did what I needed to.
And, what's more, enough people believed I've proven Ghostbusters "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", as per the requirements of the National Film Registry, to join my successful campaign to nominate the film for eternal preservation.
So I think we're good.
So this is where I take my bows, and drive off toward the next adventure, exhausted but ecstatic, and lost in the noise and the cheers…
… 'cause we're saving the world, we can do it, I believe it…
… and I think we can hear it now, Don't get caught alone, oh no…
If you are interested in Adam Bertocci's other writing and filmmaking adventures,
BIBLIOGRAPHY (will open in separate window)
Overthinking Ghostbusters © 2012 Adam Bertocci.
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