Everyone likes Ghostbusters right? I don’t mind it, it has problems but it wasn’t til fairly recently that I was able to work out just what my issues were.
On the surface, this is a fun comedy/horror/action film with a good script and a few nice performances especially from Bill Murray but its also a highly political film. This never dawned on me til watching the film on TV again recently where that nagging doubt over the film found an answer.
Some context. Back in the early 80’s the post-war social consensus was that the public sector was best to manage things, and that private industry was helpful but sometimes risky, dangerous and expensive. It wasn’t that simple in real life but overall in the UK, and even the US, this worked. Then came the era of Thatcher and Reagan who both stripped the public sector apart as much as both of them could get away with at the time.
Ghostbusters stripped down is about a private company that is dangerous and reckless. Their health and safety is non-existant and this is played for laughs as it contrasts with the plight of William Atherton’s beleaguered city servant trying to dial back the Ghostbusters. It’s funny but it is also sending a serious message that the private sector might be risky and dangerous, so it makes it so Atherton’s civil servant is the real baddie. Now a wee bit of research shows many people picked this up over the years, but the question is how much of a part did Ghostbusters play in almost subliminally pushing a neo-liberal worldview not just in 1984, but in the decades since?
The answer to that is of course ‘I don’t know’ but I’m almost certain it’d have played a part in some people’s shaping of opinion, and of course the best type of propaganda is the type you don’t notice. Ghostbusters then becomes an entirely political film as opposed to the scattershot sequel, the confused 2016 reboot and the forthcoming 2020 version just looks like an exercise in nostalgia. The 1984 version helped sell a political ideology that changed the world, and that makes Ghostbusters an interesting, and from whatever political point of view you hold, a great work or something troubling.