Ghostbusters 2.0
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Ghostbusters 2.0

In my book Fictions Inc.: The Corporation in Postmodern Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture (2014), I present a case for the original Ghostbusters (1984) as an allegory of the neoliberal transformation of New York City (and by extension America) in which the Ghostbusters themselves function as a kind of corporate savior. In the film, of course, the group is basically a small business on par with pest control exterminators, as one of the group's television commercials suggests. However, the Ghostbusters's business booms after the city finds itself unable to cope with the growing problem of paranormal activity—the ghosts that commit petty crimes, loitering/haunting, and comprise a troubling "otherness" that can be seen as representative of poor and minority residents of certain NY City neighborhoods that were seen as acting as a drain on the city's already tenuous resources. The Ghostbuster's "clean up the city" by removing undesirable "residents" and "containing" them in their Containment Unit in a process analogous to the "urban renewal" projects meant to cure the city of its blighted areas after the 1970s fiscal crisis through the implementation of public-private partnerships that greatly favored businesses and corporations with massive tax cuts and other concessions.

Ghostbusters, then, can clearly be seen as a movie heralding the increasing corporate power and profits during the early stages of a neoliberal America that Ronald Reagan would continue to usher in via a healthy dose of corporate tax cuts, deregulation, union busting, and by slashing a variety of social services. Not only are the Ghostbusters freed from any oversight or regulation when the mayor grants them the authority to save the city (the EPA is the true villain of the film because it shuts down the nuclear powered containment unit the Ghostbusters are running, which leads to the actual crisis), but they are seen as the only option in the face of a failing government that is unequipped to handle the crisis in addition to adequately policing or running the city. Despite the film's overarching if obscured political/economic logic, we nevertheless find ourselves rooting for the Ghostbusters, the small start-up that eventually makes it big, to save the day. In short, we root for corporate power and influence under the guise of a kind of superhero group.

In the new Ghostbusters (2016), we once again find ourselves cheering for a small business—another tech-start up, paranormal exterminating business—that becomes enormously successful after the city government finds itself unable to handle an overwhelming threat. Yet if the first Ghostbusters can be said to play out a fantasy of the corporation as savior that helps to "clean up" and "revitalize" the city, what is left to do for the latest crew of Ghostbusters? The city of the new Ghostbusters, for instance, is a post-, not pre-, gentrified New York. The downtown that Egon Spengler once likened to a "war zone" that nevertheless offers the group cheap real estate in the form of an abandoned firehouse (another instance of the city's failings), has been transformed, in the new film, into an up-an-coming neighborhood whose converted firehouse is a too-expensive, trendy "loft-space" that forces the new Ghostbusters to move further downtown (to a small space above a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, as if even this would be affordable). Consequently, the ghosts of the past in this gentrified and post-9/11 Ghostbusters do not hold the same symbolic meaning that they once did. The ghosts of the first film are depicted as pests or nuisances, and they are "present" in a sense—indicative of NYC's present "problems"—but the new film can only offer cartoon or flattened "historical" ghosts—a soldier from the revolutionary war, some circus-like, Tim Burtonesque figures, Slimer from the first film, etc. (one wonders where the ghosts of Native Americans or even the slaves who built Wall Street might be). And whereas the EPA is the true villain in the earlier film—the Feds' regulation creates the fin(anci)al crisis—the new film shifts this threat onto an individual man whose resentment fuels his capture and...


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