Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture

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News Media Commentary
Title: Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture
Commentator: Angel
Date(s): May 25, 2016
Venue: online
External Links: Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture · For Our Consideration · The A.V. Club, Archived version
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Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture is an article by Jesse Hassenger.

Some Topics Discussed


It’s probably safe to say that James Rolfe does not consider himself a sexist. Rolfe, apparently better known as the “Angry Video Game Nerd,” has bravely crossed over from the world of video game crit into a broader discussion about movies via his internet-famous video wherein he announces his intentions to not see or, as such, review the upcoming remake of the 1984 film Ghostbusters. For many people, the decision not to see a particular film does not require a lengthy video announcing that intention (if it did, just imagine how many minutes of internet video would have been dedicated to Norm Of The North). But the 2016 version of Ghostbusters is different.

What makes it different may vary from viewer to viewer. For a lot of observers, it looks like a vocal group of male fans throwing fits because this Ghostbusters will star four funny women instead of four funny men. For Rolfe and others, it’s the “fan” part of that equation, rather than the “male” part, that inspires such passionate outrage. As Rolfe explains in his video, he is a huge fan of the original Ghostbusters movie. The idea that it would be remade and/or rebooted, especially without heavy involvement from the original cast and filmmakers, bothers him as a fan—not, it’s implied, as a man.

This kind of fannish delusion runs deep, and when paid any mind (as I admit I’m doing here), it threatens to turn creative endeavors into clunky Choose Your Own Adventures. Yet because of fan-friendly successes like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fan service has gotten almost too good of a rap as it has worked its way into mainstream film, often with considerable skill. In this context, it’s understandable that some fans of another Disney franchise-in-waiting, the wonderful animated movie Frozen, took to the internet to request that unattached princess character Elsa (whose journey in the film has ample coming-out subtext) be given a girlfriend in the forthcoming sequel. More broadly, though, the idea that hashtags, even progressive and non-sexist ones, might determine plot points of movies is a little chilling. (If we’re really taking votes on how Frozen 2 goes, I’d be happy to cast my vote for “leave Frozen alone and don’t make a sequel.” Just don’t look for my seven-minute video explaining how I’ll be ignoring Frozen 2 by talking about how stupid it is sight unseen.)

And to be sure, there is a fine line between giving into ridiculous fan demands and listening to your audience, especially regarding representation. If an all-female team of Ghostbusters is the result of filmmakers finally and belatedly catching up with the reality that it’s okay, even preferable, to have more than one major female character per movie, all the better. Even more direct campaigns can still have positive effects; perhaps the support for #GiveElsaAGirlfriend might convince Disney that even if they don’t take that specific suggestion for Elsa, broad enough support exists for them to include gay characters in future films. But there’s still something unnervingly prescriptive about the notion that the storyline of Frozen 2 and the sexuality of one of its main characters should be, in effect, crowdsourced into large-scale fan-fiction. While the intentions come from a better, more inclusive place, insisting that Elsa should be given a girlfriend by popular demand is not so different than insisting that ghostbusting ought to be a male profession, to better conform to childhood memories (which often include, it should be noted, Ghostbusters-related ephemera that is mostly crap).

Fans don’t need to get what they want, and much of the time, they probably shouldn’t. Sometimes, they will; it’s unrealistic to expect that every piece of art or pop culture with any kind of dedicated following can find a way to satisfyingly sidestep or subvert the expectations of every person in that following. But the more often that can happen—the more often movies can assert themselves as creative works made by directors and writers and editors and actors and cinematographers, not in service of fans—the better. When opinions start focusing so intently on the very idea of a new Ghostbusters or Elsa’s sexuality or Harry Potter scenes that don’t appear in the books, fan culture becomes dangerously anti-art, promoting a form of conservative stasis rather than active engagement. It’s not always easy to put our trust into filmmakers, or novelists, or TV showrunners. Trailers and news bites and internet punditry make it easier than ever to abandon that trust at the merest provocation, be it tweaked superhero costumes, rumors of characters engaging in the “wrong” romantic relationship, or a lifelong fear of women coming to a boil. Fandom offers the comfort of familiarity, and, for some fans, absolute certainty. But isn’t it more exciting when art, or even just pop culture, doesn’t settle for asking you how you feel?

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