Ghostbusters, Jason Reitman and Who Gets to Be Mad Online

The director of the franchise's latest sequel unleashes an uproar over who can dictate fandom

Courtesy: Sony Pictures

About 33 minutes into comedian Bill Burr’s podcast episode with Jason Reitman, the director makes an outlandish statement. Some might even call it hyperbolic, maybe even a bit melodramatic. “We are living, right now, in a time where everyone is judged by one moment. They’re judged by one millisecond and, you know, you say one wrong thing, and the rest of your life is kinda thrown down the drain, and we lose qualified people because of that.”

The first part of that isn’t what’s wrong—we are constantly judging and being judged, thanks to social media—but the last part is false, and unequivocally so. Which people are suffering consequences for their bad actions in the year 2019? I must’ve missed it in the flurry of comeback announcements made by other men. Name one person who isn’t Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who has done or said something wrong in the last two years who hasn’t attempted making at least a semi-successful comeback. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
On Wednesday, Reitman found himself in exactly the situation he brought up, thanks to one of Twitter’s favorite topics: Ghostbusters and what he posited as returning the film to the fans, as if it had been taken. By his account, he’s the No. 1 Ghostbusters fan, given that his dad, Ivan, directed it. Many, myself included, were upset, getting a bit emotional (hyperbolic?) about it. Mostly because, for all intents and purposes, Reitman makes great work about women that many—this writer included—love very deeply. His words entangled him in an ostensible validation of a lot of very angry, mostly male, Ghostbusters fans’ rage.

Following the announcement of an all-female reboot in 2014, the internet went into a frenzy, where anger and frothing debasement ensued. Accusations, harassment, sexism, misogyny and rage-fueled conversations were everywhere on social media. So much so that Sony announced another, all-male reboot in 2015 in the wake of the outrage. Don’t think it was a direct response? Look at the sub-headline for that Deadline announcement: "Guy 'Ghostbusters' in Works With Russo Brothers, Channing Tatum & Drew Pearce." 
Forbes’ headline at that time on the matter made it even plainer: "Boy-Powered 'Ghostbusters' Planned Because Girls Can't Even Have One Series for Themselves." Are these the fans of which you speak, Reitman?

Because this is the world in which the Ghostbusters conversation exists, and it would be willfully ignorant to pretend otherwise. Surely, both Reitmans know this; Paul Feig—the director of the 2016, all-female reboot—knows this; the stars of that film know this; several original-film stars know this; and the fans on all sides know this, too. A contingency of fans who believe themselves to be the pure loyalists, the ones to whom Ghostbusters belongs, turned a piece of existing cinema into a toxic and fraught situation for everyone—especially for people who made it, were genuinely excited about it or had to cover it in the press. Comments, think pieces and tweets flurried about. Indeed, the discourse around Ghostbusters has been this heated and divided since 2014. So that’s why it sucks to hear Reitman talk about feeling as though he has to return the franchise to someone.

“We are, in every way, trying to go back to the original technique and hand the movie back to the fans,” Jason Reitman said at the end of his chat with Burr. Before that, he’d also stated, “I love this franchise. I grew up watching it; I consider myself the first Ghostbusters fan. I was like 7 years old when that movie came out, and I love it. I want to make a movie for my fellow Ghostbusters fans. So it is 100 percent a love letter.”
It’s about implying that there’s a 'right' and a 'wrong' to be a fan, or way to tell a story. It’s about gatekeeping. It’s about what we condone by how we talk about things.
Now here’s where many people—women especially—start getting a little punchy: Was the film ever taken away? Was Feig’s not also a love letter to the bustin’ of ghosts, what with all the cameos and nods to the originals? Because by saying Ghostbusters has to be returned to some “original” form, you’re implying that, for a time, it was gone and changed (and not necessarily for the better, as many cheering your original so claim—to put it mildly). Which, it was changed: There were women playing Ghostbusters, and people were very upset about that fact specifically, for two rage-filled years before it even came out. So who was it, Reitman: Sony? Feig? The female stars? The Ghostbusters fans who thought, “Hey, that’s cool! I am fine with this existing”? The women who double down on championing the movie because the criticism and hatred that was lobbed at it before it even went into production was just so overtly sexist and exhaustingly pedantic in nature? Those who loudly proclaimed that, if every other remake and/or mediocre movie starring a man gets to exist, this one could also totally exist, too? From whom are you taking Ghostbusters in order to give it back?

That’s the subtext of what is being said when contextualized by the world in which Ghostbusters has existed the last few years, and that’s why people are upset. Because “handing it back” is just another way of being a gatekeeper to fandom.

Let’s get one thing straight: This discussion is not about the quality of the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, whether you liked it, or even the idea of reboots in general (a practice that has existed since the dawn of Hollywood). It’s not about the content of the film, or whether or not you felt it was necessary; it’s, honestly, barely even about Ghostbusters at all. It’s about implying that there’s a “right” and a “wrong” to be a fan, or way to tell a story. It’s about gatekeeping. It’s about what we condone by how we talk about things, and what people so often don’t consider: how male rage turns into harassment and violence on- and offline that so often goes ignored.

And it’s about what happens when we allow that rage to dictate culture and the conversation, particularly when it comes at the cost of ignoring the very real harassment and threats of violence and rape that women—be them fans, actors, writers, producers, reporters, social media managers, the list goes on and on—faced simply for being fine with a new version of a movie existing. It’s about the fact that that harassment comes, regardless of the reason. It’s also a tiny bit about who gets harassed for being slightly hyperbolic and speaking emotional truth to their feelings, and who gets high-fived. It’s about resisting the idea of ownership about what made-up stories are and should be when stories change all. the. time, and have for all of history.

By inadvertently or otherwise standing up for those fans—those purists bleating raging vitriol at women online because of a lack of sanctity regarding the gender of those who can busts ghosts or whatever—Reitman validates their anger, rage and harassment. Reitman has recently backpedaled, which we appreciate, and while we don't intend for him to be the sole target of a frustration that is about much more than just his words, I don’t apologize for the sentiment or emotion of my tweets. Call it an outlandish, melodramatic statement if you must, but this is how it feels all the time. We’re tired of being haunted by these fucking ghouls.

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