We Live In Nostalgia Culture
You can’t throw a stone without someone fondly reminiscing about a ’90s TV show, or positing a new Disney Princess fan theory (did you know the first half of “Aladdin” may connect to the second half of “Aladdin”???). Take a look at anything from the success of “Fuller House” — despite the noxious critical reaction — to DC Comics’ reboot of the Hanna-Barbera line, to see how we’re in an age of looking towards the past. That’s why movie studios are constantly rebooting everything, to capture a bit of the brand recognition and built in audience that nostalgia brings. But that’s also why fans rebel against them, because the idea of that thing — TV show, movie, comic, whatever — they have in their heads is held on a pedestal. Even the imagined idea of that thing is greater than the thing ever was.
But most of those things that we put on pedestals? They’re terrible. “Full House?” Terrible. Most of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons? Terrible. Original “Ghostbusters?” Actually good, but we’ll come back to that.
That said, just because they were bad (sorry, they were) doesn’t mean they were bad for you at the time. They meant something to you when you were younger, whether that was the comfort of watching “Full House” every day when you came home from school, or the predictability of knowing that the old man who let Scooby-Doo and friends into the spooky haunted house would have his mask ripped off by the end of the episode.
Nostalgia has a place, because it made you happy. But your childhood? It’s done. It’s over. It’s moved on. You still have, and will always have those feelings nostalgia brings you… But someone else has a childhood now, and they will be creating a sense of nostalgia for new, equally terrible things.
I’ll never forget being in a movie theater the spring before “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” was released, and seeing three kids excitedly looking at a poster of Hayden Christensen’s stupid, handsome face. They couldn’t wait to see the movie, because they had loved “Phantom Menace.”
“Hey, did you know there are three more ‘Star Wars’ movies?” one of them said, with the other two, shocked, asking what they were about. And I was gobsmacked, because how could they not know. But for them, “Phantom Menace” was their childhood. For me, it was watching Han shoot first. To each his or her own nostalgia, and no judgment either way.
We Live In Fan Culture
Or more precisely, we live in Team Culture. From sports, to politics, to definitely entertainment, we want to root for our team. Can comic book fans who like DC and Marvel Comics perhaps relate to this phenomenon? Over time, this has become less of a fun discussion about why the thing you root for is better, and more a yelling clamor, a jockeying for the spotlight.
Credit the incredibly crowded entertainment atmosphere. It isn’t just whether Batman or Superman could win in a fight anymore, it’s whether Batman and Superman can beat Captain America and Iron Man, and if anyone watching “House of Cards” will care because they’re too busy playing “Candy Crush: Jelly Saga” on their mobile phones. We want the things we like to succeed, but in order to profess your love it’s not just enough to do so in your insular fan community — you need to shout to be heard over the din.
The bigger the thing you’re a fan of, the louder you need to be — and there’s nothing bigger than movies. (Actually, video games are arguably bigger, but movies are globally more universal, so we’ll stick with those for the moment.) If you like a movie — or even more so, hate a movie — you’re going to need to scream to the high heavens to have your opinion heard. Notice that there’s not a lot of “the ‘Ghostbusters’ trailer looked fine!” on the Internet? It’s two polar opposites, each trying to outdo the other.
This is where we are now, from the political landscape to arguing about light-hearted supernatural comedies. The loudest opinion wins.
There Are Fewer Movies Than Other Things
This is the key to the remake controversy, particularly in the modern era: there are just fewer movies made, so each one that’s released becomes a special flower that we must preserve at all costs. It’s not even that the upcoming “Ghostbusters” remake is so bad on the surface to its detractors; it’s that this means the long promised “Ghostbusters 3” won’t happen because all the budget has been put into Paul Feig’s movie.
Whether they know it or not, that “loss” is fueling their anger. Instead of the nostalgic throwback with the team they love, we’re getting a new “Ghostbusters” for a new generation — one that represents where we’re going as a society, rather than looking backward. That imagined “Ghostbusters 3,” the one Dan Aykroyd mused for decades over a nice steaming cup of that crystal skull vodka he likes to sell, will never happen.
And that also means we definitely won’t ever get the “Ghostbusters” movie that has been building in those fans’ collective unconscious, the one where all the original cast is alive and involved and they fight a team-up between Gozer the Gozerian and Vigo the Carpathian and then there’s a rip in the universe and the animated Real Ghostbusters come through and ask “mind if we lend a hand?” and then the Transformers are there and G.I. Joes are riding on them and also vroom vroom I’m a truck.
Not gonna happen, because there are just fewer movies made — and as fans like to point out, those are the stories that are “real.” (If we get into that, whether only the movies — and not the books, comic books, video games, fan-fiction, art, etc. — are real, we’d be here all day.) Suffice to say that those are where most of the canon comes from, and due to even Marvel only releasing two, three movies a year, max… You’re never going to see every single story you want to see on screen. It’s just not possible.
That frustration amplifies the yelling mentioned above, which leads to anger, fear, hate, suffering, etc.
I’ve felt it too, frankly. Everyone has their limit, and mine was/is “Labyrinth.” When they recently announced there would be a remake (followed by a swift retread/note that the movie has been in development for years, and if anything would be a sequel a la “Jurassic World”), I flipped out. For me, “Labyrinth” is that sacred, perfect movie that never needs to be remade. Same with “The Princess Bride.” In my humble opinion, there’s a shortage of perfect movies like Rob Reiner’s classic in the world… It would be a pity to damage that one.
But it’s inevitable, right? At some point, someone will remake “Labyrinth” and “The Princess Bride” just like they remade “Ghostbusters.” And I’ll be screaming mad about it the entire way to the movie theater, because some kid will see that remake and it will become their definitive take on the movie — when everyone knows my “Labyrinth” is the definitive take, right?
With that in mind, though, what can we do? If you accept that you will get angry about a remake of a beloved property no matter what, how do we get past this? Because King Lear-ing it (that would be doing something useless like yelling at a storm) isn’t a fun place for anyone to be.
The first thing you need to do is accept that just because someone is remaking a movie, doesn’t inherently make that remake bad. Sure, they can often be cash-grabs for that nostalgia factor. But there have been a lot of great remakes. “Casino Royale” is one example, and it led to the extremely solid, rebooted Bond series. Every generation has had a “Body Snatchers” movie — some good, some bad, but about every 10 years or so we get a new one, with a new take on the metaphor of having people replaced by aliens. Everyone loves David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” but that was a remake coming 28 years after the original. The new “Ghostbusters” is 32 years later, an even wider berth.
What about “Twelve Monkeys?” Or John Carpenter’s “The Thing?” “Cape Fear?” Or even perennial dorm room poster favorite, “Scarface?” All of them are critically acclaimed, and all are remakes.
Yes, some remakes are bad. But also, at least 10-15 percent of everything is bad. 75-80 percent of everything is just fine. And only the other 10-15 percent, if we’re being generous, is really good. So you have just as much chance of a remake being good (or bad) as everything else. Being based on prior material doesn’t guarantee any sort of quality. In fact if anything, go with the Broadway rule: the reason a new production gets mounted is because the source material is good.
It’s a different duck with movies, because you can see the old source material at any time, where Broadway shows can (usually) only be seen when you head to an archive to watch the video tape. But same rule still applies: good source material means you have a better chance of getting something good, not a worse one.
The second thing you need to realize is that your childhood has been ceded to someone else’s childhood. Your “Ghostbusters” VHS tape will still be there to comfort you when you get back from seeing Feig’s adaptation. But some young kid will go see Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy in the 2016 version and fall in love with it, regardless of the actual quality of the movie.
That’s the crux, right? The original “Ghostbusters” was great, but there’s plenty of things we’re nostalgic about that are decidedly not great. And it does. Not. Matter.
People, end of the day, love what they love, and are inspired by what they are inspired by. I sincerely do hope the new “Ghostbusters” is good, because to me, it looks great.
But if it’s terrible, there’s still going to be a generation of kids out there who see the movie, fall in love with it… And 30 years from now, decide to remake the movie with an all-new cast. The other kids they saw the movie with will be pissed, because, “How can they remake a classic like Paul Feig’s ‘Ghostbusters!’ they’re destroying my childhood!” They’ll jump into their holo-tubes, log on to the brain-wave amplifier, and broadcast their angered thoughts directly to President Trump Jr.’s Petition-atorium.
And then that movie will come out, some kids will love it, and the cycle will continue.
At the end of the day though, it’s all gonna be okay. The misogynists who hate the new “Ghostbusters” because they cannot comprehend having strong women in these roles, and the people who just don’t think it looks funny will still have good old 1984 “Ghostbusters.” It’s not going anywhere.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will sip our Ecto-Coolers, buy a wig and a hat, and punch a ghost in the face while screaming “Let’s go!” one after the other (but not at the same time) while a new history is created. Because we ain’t afraid of no remakes… And busting your chops makes us feel good.