Maybe Ghostbusters (2016) Just Wasn’t That Good
Wait, if the Ghostbusters backlash was because America/the World doesn’t want female leads, then why is Wonder Woman 3/5ths of the way to a billion dollars? (And what’s up with Force Awakens and Rogue One?) The sexism narrative doesn’t fit the facts.
What’s a better narrative, then? Here’s a try: Maybe Ghostbusters (2016) was just a semi-funny, artistically safe, politically touchy, slightly subversive reboot of a beloved classic when the fanbase was actually craving long awaited third installment.
Of course, there are other hypotheses that fit the facts. The previous paragraph makes the most sense to me, but for the sake of being thorough, I’ll mention a few others reasons why Rogue One/WW/Episode VII might be succeeding at the box office where GB didn’t:
- It might be that the actresses in Wonder Woman and the recent Star Wars movies are attractive in traditionally feminine ways, where the Ghostbusters cast included female comedians who are intentionally large, loud, or silly for humorous reasons. (Kristin Wiig is the exception; and Kate McKinnon is very attractive but does not play traditionally feminine roles.)
- It also might be that the storylines of WW and Rogue One etc. feature women who – despite being Strong Female Characters™ – do not really bend gender stereotypes, where GB intentionally subverted feminine archetypes. (The human race, literature, and religion has always known strong female characters, so nothing novel or modern or liberated there. ) The female GB were not just female leads, they were funny, crude, kick ass, lewd female leads who were into fighting bad guys.
- It also might be that Rogue One, WW, etc., were drama/action films and that comedy is harder to do well in general, and harder to do well with female leads. There’s a reason the guy who directed GB is famous for doing “Bridesmaids”, a successful comedy featuring an all-female cast.
I can imagine a feminist critique of Wonder Woman, Ep. VII, and Rogue One (and praise of Ghostbusters) using all three lines of contrast. But I can also imagine a non-feminist praise of those three and critique of Ghostbusters using the same three lines of contrast.
In general, it seems to me anti-feminists are pro-femininity; they want (most) women to be (mostly) feminine. Feminists are anti-femininity; they want (most) women to be free to be (mostly) non-feminine, be that masculine, androgynous, or genderqueer.
So I suppose the moral I derive from that is that the real question our culture needs to be asking is whether we are OK with the majority of females (with exceptions of course) conforming to traditionally feminine archetypes.
Is the feminine archetype itself bad, good, indifferent? And are women who conform to it bad, good, indifferent?
You can’t say the Strong Female Character™ by her strength is subversive and anti-traditional because strength is in fact included in the traditional feminine archetype: think Eve, Ruth, Delilah, Graendal, Helen, Mary, St. Katherine, Beatrice, Joan of Arc, Lady MacBath, Queen Elizabeth, etc. etc.
So what about the rest of the feminine stereotypes: that women love their families (Rey), love their fathers (Jyn Erso) love having children and being mothers (Wonder Woman), love strong manly men, love their homes, love beauty, and so on?
Given that it is of course acceptable to be a non-feminine female, but are we OK that the majority of our most popular and beloved females are very feminine, including our heros, queens, rebels, Jedi knights, and superheros?