Like the handsome go-getter that I am, I dedicate a lot of time to reading film sites, forums and the like. It’s a good way to get the lay of the cinematic land and see what people are responding to and what they aren’t. One topic that keeps coming up is this year’s Ghostbusters film and how many people are straight-up willing it to fail. I’ve talked in depth about the Fembusters thing before in this piece- click – I wrote when it was first announced. You may read that piece and think- “Ben, you absolutely fucking nailed it last time, what more could you possibly add?” Well, this isn’t specifically about Ghostbusters, although it definitely includes it. I’m here to talk about the nostalgia business, fandoms and the weird vitriol that surrounds both things.
Nostalgia is money. It always has been, but I’d argue it’s been ramped up considerably in the last fifteen years or so when it comes to media. You can’t move for nostalgia nowadays. It seems every other week some supposedly iconic film is celebrating an arbitrary anniversary. There are people already nostalgic for the Harry Potter films, a series that ended a mere five years ago. That’s insane.
Our culture of pining for shit has led to the current box office climate. The Transformers films cashed in on ’80s kids who never quite grew up and became a huge franchise. The Force Awakens was marketed almost entirely on nostalgia. Jurassic World made a embarrassing amount of cash by leaning on fond memories of Jurassic Park. Superhero films are banking on nerdy ex-children to buy a ticket to see their favourite hero on the big screen. If you loved something in the current “golden era” of the 1980s/1990s, chances are it’ll make a comeback if it hasn’t already. Whilst there are missteps like the recent flop Jem and the Holograms movie, the reason behind it being made in the first place is clear. Nostalgia sells and everyone wants a piece.
The screenshotted comment above, taken from the official Ghostbusters Facebook page, is a sentiment I’ve seen repeated a lot. I first became aware of people claiming something had “ruined” or “raped” their childhood during the Star Wars prequel backlash. People seem to hold childhood memories of Saturday morning cartoons and the like incredibly close to their hearts. Not only that, they seem to want to defend and protect those things from the big bads out there. They internalise it and take it personally when said thing is criticised. I even have the same urge occasionally. If someone was to say to me that Bucky O’Hare was a pile of wank, my first reaction would be one of righteous indignation, because I remember watching it as a kid and playing with the toys. I’ve not watched it since and I’m sure it’s not aged well, or was even any good in the first place. However, because I have good memories associated with that cartoon, I feel I should not only remember it, but rejoice in that fact.
So, why is this? As far as I can see, it’s a combination of things. It’s partly down to the general infantilization of society. We’re encouraged not to grow up. I suspect marketing has had a huge hand in this. As an example, look at the insurance ads we have in the UK (and I suspect worldwide). They tend to consist of CGI characters dicking about and the promise of a toy of said character if you sign up with them. They’ve turned one of the more responsible and adult things you can do into fucking Happy Meal sort of deal. Still though, isn’t that one loan company advert with the singing satsuma funny? Yeah, probably won’t be as amusing when you can’t keep up the payments, face crippling debt and bailiffs come to take all of your shit, you goop-brained twat.
Then there’s the goddamn internet itself. Apart from providing more devious ways for the slimy claws of marketing to rake across our brains, there’s also the polarising nature of it all. You have to love or hate something as the hyperbolic voices are the ones that get heard the most. It’s why Buzzfeed has headlines like “33 Beyonce Gifs To Complete Your Life” or “20 times John Virgo Was Literally Perfect”. On sites like Tumblr and on social media, it’s almost the law to pick a fandom/several fandoms and then defend it/them to the hilt. Marvel or DC? Supernatural or Teen Wolf? Hunger Games or Divergent? One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer? Lines in the sand must be drawn, motherfucker! Define yourself with your fandom! What you like is literally a part of you and you’re not a true fan unless you make a monochrome gif of that one moment when you couldn’t even.
I used to post on the now-defunct Empire magazine forums and I would often get hostile responses to my plainly stated viewpoints. I’ve had my fair share of poison here too. I rarely get TPB comments but when I do, about 70% of them have been angry diatribes as to how I’ve misunderstood my own opinion. The linked Ghostbusters article I did was a toxic wasteland. To date, it’s my most commented-on article and I couldn’t show any of them to my mum. I put the most memorable one below. You know what the search term was that led at least one of them to this very site?: “I hate female Ghostbusters”. That just says it all, doesn’t it? Once you’ve picked your side, the Internet is there to nurture and cultivate that opinion, connecting you with other people who share your views. At that point, it becomes a hugbox and it’s easy to switch from being a two-way receiver to broadcast only.
This thirst for the good old days is affecting how films themselves are constructed. When done right, a sense of nostalgia can be really effective. Look at Back to the Future‘s intentionally idealistic portrayal of the 1950s. More recently, you’ve got Super 8‘s attempt to evoke early ’80s Spielbergian magic. On the other end of the scale, we have Jurassic World, which constantly felt the need to nod its head towards the original film and which only ended up reminding me of all the ways that it wasn’t as good as Jurassic Park. Terminator: Genisys was even worse- cutting up the iconic moments of the only two good films and pasting them together haphazardly using jizz and a Pritt Stick. The Force Awakens was playing the same dangerous game, but there was enough narrative and character meat in there to just about get away with it. Neat little homages and references are one thing, but building an entire film around fan service is an ultimately hollow experience.
Back to the “ruining your childhood” thing (which, as we’ve established, is a notion created by both marketing and internet culture – keep up). How does a new, subpar film do that exactly? I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan and if the new film is awful, I’ll be disappointed. However, it doesn’t mean its lack of quality erases the original from existence. The negatives aren’t going to burst into flames. I can still pop the Blu-ray in and watch it to my heart’s content. Nothing changes. I’ve been a James Bond fan for almost as long as I can remember and the franchise is littered with duds. It’s not like you’ve grown up and found out that your comfort blanket movie has been arrested for touching kids. Fuck- even if that was possible it’d be a case of separating the art from the artist.
In fact, nostalgia almost separates the art entirely. Most things we watch as kids are shite, let’s be honest. Very few of my childhood favourites have held up to adult eyes. However, because I remember watching several crappy kids’ films on VHS with my grandmother, they’ll always have warm feelings attached. The thing is, “I watched it with my nan a few times” isn’t a conversation about the art. It’s not a review. Nostalgia shuts down that avenue of analysis and it becomes more a part of someone’s personal history. This is probably why people seem so personally offended when I say Tim Burton’s Batman isn’t very good. Which it fucking isn’t.
It’s due to society getting nostalgic about everything that the whole thing will be devalued somewhat. Nostalgia can be awesome in small doses. I love it when it reminds you of something you just don’t have the think space for any more. I saw a Boglin the other day. I hadn’t thought about Boglins in the longest time and it was like someone had blown the dust off a part of my brain and plugged it back in.
So, try not to get too upset when Thing You Like gets resurrected and shoved into cinemas. If it’s good, you’ll get a sweet hit of nostalgia and if it sucks, you can ignore it, safe in the knowledge it doesn’t change a damn thing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get into my superhero pyjamas, curl up on my beanbag and eat a bowl of Frosties whilst watching The Rocketeer. Standard Thursday, really.