Some movies, no matter how old they are, never age a day. Their situations and themes remain as relevant now as when they were first released. Watching them today, they reflect and comment on our present in ways they couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Every month we’re going to pick a movie from the past that does just that, and explore what it has to say about the here and now.
Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters – now celebrating its 30th anniversary — might seem an unlikely candidate to include in this column. After all, there’s not a (sane) person on earth who would watch this movie and say “Maaannnn, is this thing dated.” The filmmaking nor the humor has aged a day, and even the special effects make you appreciatively nostalgic more than critical.
Still, there are several elements of the story, characters and location that surprisingly evoke the specifics of our present more than one might think. Here are five ways Ghostbusters crosses the time stream from 1984 to 2014.
1. The (Entrepreneurial) Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
Make no mistake, we may think Bill Murray‘s Peter Venkman is cool, but even he calls himself a geek. However, neither he nor the rest of the Ghostbusters represent the stigmatized image of geekhood that was standard in the decade the film was made. You know, the socially stunted, high-waisted panted, basement dwelling, Dungeons & Dragons playing four-eyes. The Revenge of the Nerds Geek.
Instead, the Ghostbusters anticipate our current world where geeks aren’t so much ostracized as they are enjoying a surge of positive cultural currency. Especially because the Ghostbusters aren’t unlike the big-time, 21st century web entrepreneurs we’re very familiar with. They’re a financially successful company with a tech-based service which impacts people’s lives significantly and earns them rock star status.
These aren’t your typical 1980s stock market yuppie traders raking in the dough. They’re a bunch of nerdy scientists who – as Winston says – have the tools and the talent to succeed in a way that’s become commonplace today.
2. Media Coverage Hasn’t Changed At All
“Print is dead,” proclaims Egon (Harold Ramis) amusingly not long before a montage splashes the Ghostbusters’ overnight success all over print magazines and newspapers. What makes that montage even funnier is how it illustrates that media coverage of any given phenomenon hasn’t changed. At all.
The spectral bounty hunters find themselves the subject of:
- a Wired-like magazine covering the technology behind their proton packs;
- The Atlantic probing – in a quintessentially Atlantic way – the bigger social ramifications of the Ghostbusters’ work; and
- a trashy rag wondering about the men’s diet (which would probably only allow for Twinkies when using them as illustrative devices).
Media may have migrated online, but its nature (and taxonomy) has remained firmly rooted. The response to the Ghostbusters then is no different than what it would be now.
3. The Portability of Tech
In 1984, when computers were the size of mini fridges, the notion that they might one day be portable, let alone fit in our palm or lap, would have been hard to imagine. Yet in Ghostbusters, the men stand out now because they succeeded in compacting their highly sophisticated technology. They make it maneuverable and transportable in a way that’s instantly recognizable to us today.
Okay, yes, their proton packs, trap, and P.K.E. meter, are a far cry from a sleek, hand-sized iPhone. Still, their conceptualization (and the movie’s) that tech will need to be compact and easy to carry, anticipated how so much tech now has become successful and pervasive for that very reason. All that being said, we’re pretty glad that nuclear reactors haven’t become as portable as they are in the movie.
4. The Prevalence of Sarcastic Insincerity
There’s an infectious delight in watching Venman refuse to take anything seriously – being fired, being slimed, talking to the Mayor, seeing the object of his affection (Sigourney Weaver) possessed by a randy demon. The man can’t even agree to a suicide plan without being flippant and sarcastic. Every situation he faces he greets without a trace of sincerity. Which is what makes him hilarious.
It’s also what makes him seem a product of our own times where, for example, 95% of Twitter greets most news (with the exception of tragedies) as an opportunity to make jokes. The state of our (online) society is not one prone to sincerity. Peter Venkman would not only feel very at home in 2014, he’d be its Emperor. He might even make a decent living photobombing engagement pics or showing up randomly at karaoke bars.
5. New York Can Withstand Anything
“Nobody steps on a church in my town,” isn’t just a Bill Murray line, it’s a New Yorker line. It’s an instantly familiar representation of New York pride and protectiveness. Which makes sense, since Ghostbusters is in many ways an ode to The Big Apple and its people. Most of all, it speaks to how New Yorkers – in the form of the Ghostbusters – can withstand anything.
Sure, a looming supernatural apocalypse may not be the most realistic disaster Gotham has gone through, but it’s had its share since the release of Ghostbusters in 1984. Every time its proven itself a survivor.
The resilient spirit of Venkman, Stantz and Spengler is not just their own, but the quintessential spirit of all New Yorkers.