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Busting Ghosts and Cutting Red Tape
The surprising political legacy of Ghostbusters.
What comes to mind when I tell you to think of a “conservative” film? If I had to guess, you are probably picturing a low-budget Christian movie starring Kirk Cameron or Kevin Sorbo—the type of flick with an overbearing moralistic message and subpar acting. However, this isn’t always the case. Today, I want to discuss perhaps the greatest right-wing film of the past half-century: the 1984 classic, Ghostbusters.
The 2016 election was defined by some of the most pressing political issues of our time: immigration, populism, economic growth, a shifting international order…and the female-led Ghostbusters reboot.
From the official Ghostbusters Twitter account appearing to endorse Hillary Clinton, to Donald Trump making it clear that he disapproved of the gender-swapped film, the political legacy of the (really bad) reboot is well-documented.
However, the political legacy of the Ghostbusters franchise did not start there.
Ivan Reitman, the original film’s director—a self-described “conservative-slash-libertarian”—once explained that the film “deals with going into business for yourself, and it's anti-EPA—too much government regulation.”
Upon further reflection, it’s not hard to see the right-wing undertones.
The film begins with three academics being laid off from their cushy research positions at Columbia University, after which Dan Akroyd’s character fearfully remarks that, as opposed to working in academia, “they expect results” in the private sector.
Unable to continue their university careers, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Peter Venkman, and Dr. Raymond Stantz decided to start a private enterprise— Ghostbusters.
While business was slow initially, they eventually turned Ghostbusters into a successful venture—but they were too successful.
Uncle Sam took note, and the Environmental Protection Agency forcefully turned off the containment device for the ghosts, which led to chaos across the city. The moral of the story is quite simple: government overreach can lead to the gates of hell splitting open.
Moreover, if you were to take some of the subtext even further, the symbolism of New York City being overrun by ghouls is surprisingly on-point. The government let the ghosts loose on the streets and then decided to arrest the Ghostbusters, which mirrors big cities today that let criminals run free while simultaneously slashing the budgets of police departments.
Even the Mayor of New York is depicted as being morally corrupt—only agreeing to let the Ghostbusters free after being told that he could take credit for having “saved the lives of millions of registered voters.”
This conservative messaging is not limited to the first film, either. During the climax of Ghostbusters II, the Statue of Liberty is paraded down the streets of New York to boost the morale of the entire city. What could be more patriotic than that?
Ghostbusters represents so much of what we have lost in cinema—a clever narrative filled with subtle humor and a talented cast, rather than crude, obnoxious jokes and diversity hires. More than that, however, it represents what we have lost as a country.
Ghostbusters was a reflection of its time, much in the same way that its reboot was a reflection of its time. The original film was released at the height of the Reagan Era and thus was a story about the power of free enterprise and the unintended consequences of government regulation.
On the other hand, the 2016 film was bogged down by intersectional politics and poor storytelling, a fitting release for the depressing political moment that was 2016—a moment that still has yet to subside, I might add.
Ultimately, whether you view Ghostbusters as a timeless classic or a conservative masterpiece, it is clear that the film has left a significant mark on popular culture and remains one of the greatest comedies ever.
Benjamin Rothove is an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studies Economics. He is the Chairman of UW-Madison Students for DeSantis and Wisconsin Students for DeSantis. He is the Vice Chair of Young Leaders for Keep Nine. @BenjaminRothove