No, It Isn't Surprising That Ghostbusters Mocked the Government

Of all the reactions I've seen to Harold Ramis' death, this passage in Quartz must be the strangest:

Of course, liberals found ways to adapt the Ghostbusters iconography for their own purposes.Ghostbusters isn't about ghosts. (Well, it kind of is.) But it's also about the power of the US private sector and the magic of market discipline to transform anyone—even effete, over-educated academics—into heroes....

It's hard to believe Ghostbusters was intended to be a pro-business, anti-government polemic. Dan Aykroyd co-wrote the film with Ramis, whose previous flicks—such as Animal House, Stripes, Caddyshack—are filled with liberal digs at establishment authority figures.

But the Ivan Reitman masterpiece was made in a certain time and place. And the movie is worth reconsidering now—almost three decades after its release—if only because it so perfectly captured one of the rare moments when the supertanker of American public opinion clearly changes course.

Wormer, Wormer, Wormer of the EPA.The problem here isn't the idea that Ghostbusters mocks the government—it obviously does. The problem is the idea that there is some sort of gap between "anti-government polemic" and "digs at establishment authority figures." William Atherton's EPA agent fills the space in Ghostbusters that John Vernon's dean does in Animal House and Ted Knight's old-money country-club man does in Caddyshack. There is no great shift here. We're watching a clearly recognizable descendent of that '70s-style anti-authoritarianism.

There isn't even that big a shift in the targets. In the '70s, activists on the left as well as the right regularly took aim at the regulatory state. Carter presided over more deregulation than Reagan did (though not, admittedly, at the EPA), and Americans well to the president's left pushed for more. These liberals and radicals believed, for good reason, that many agencies had been captured by industry interests and used to squash competition from upstart operations like...well, like the Ghostbusters. There was a natural fit between that fear and the freewheeling disdain for authority in the counterculture's pop-culture products.

These observations are old hat, really, whether you're a libertarian pointing out those continuities to praise them or a Tom Frank type pointing them out to attack them. Ghostbusters is plainly a product of the mindset behind Ramis' other early movies. The big difference between it and the others isn't that it takes on the government; it's that it's much more tightly plotted.

Bonus link: My colleague Nick Gillespie writes about Ramis and baby-boom anti-authoritarianism. I agree with a lot of what Nick has to say—including his maybe-controversial comment that Animal House hasn't aged all that well—but I wonder if the reason Ramis' output grew less interesting after Groundhog Day has less to do with boomers losing their edge and more to do with the fact that he stopped working with Bill Murray.

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  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • SweatingGin||

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    When you are incapable of seeing any meaningful distinction between government and society, you just assume that the bad things in society exist independently of government.

    There's a reason why many movies have CEOs and corporations as the villain. Certainly a wealthy, selfish individual of company is portrayed as villainous much more often than a government bureaucrat or politician.

    And when a politician is a villain he is almost always a conservative opposing liberal policies.

  • Aloysious||

    ...more to do with the fact that he stopped working with Bill Murray.

    Creative chemistry is a strange thing. One little change (or not so little) can make or break the product; in this case, funny movies.

  • PD Scott||

    As much as I like Bill Murray, I get the sense that during and after the time period GB came out that he could be kind of a prima donna. Think of the scene on the roof/temple when Stay Puft explodes: everyone is completely covered in marshmallow goop - except for Bill. I always find it jarring and implausible.

    IIRC didn't Ramis say the only reason there wasn't another GB movie was Bill?

  • ||

    everyone is completely covered in marshmallow goop - except for Bill. I always find it jarring and implausible.

    Bill was also the one that got slimed earlier in the movie.

    I am guessing there was some kind of trade off going on.

  • Jesse Walker||

    IIRC didn't Ramis say the only reason there wasn't another GB movie was Bill?

    Given how bad Ghostbusters 2 was, I never understood the clamor for a Ghostbusters 3.

  • ||

    Shush. Everyone knows there were no Ghostbusters sequels, just as there were no Matrix sequels.

  • waffles||

    There was a Ghostbusters 3 more or less. It was an Xbox360 or PS3 game and by some accounts, quite good for that busting fix.

  • SweatingGin||

    I figured it was because he ran and hid right away.

  • JeremyR||

    Don't forget he got Lorenzo Music fired from voicing his character on the Ghostbusters cartoon.

    He complained he sounded too much like Garfield (Lorenzo Music also voiced him).

    Then Bill Murray a few years later, actually does the voice of Garfield himself for the movies.

    Prima donna? No. Dick? Yes.

  • ||

    Lemming of the BD, Lemming of the BD, BD-BD-Aaaaa!

  • ||

    It's hard to believe Ghostbusters was intended to be a pro-business, anti-government polemic. Dan Aykroyd co-wrote the film with Ramis, whose previous flicks...are filled with liberal digs at establishment authority figures."

    Good lord, how can anybody be that stupid?

  • ||

    These liberals and radicals believed, for good reason, that many agencies had been captured by industry interests and used to squash competition from upstart operations like...well, like the Ghostbusters.

    Gosh you mean to tell me shrike's using the carter years to praise the cronyism of Obama is completely misplaced and false?

    Color me shocked...shocked I tell you.

    Who would have thought Carter's deregulating the air travel industry was the exact opposite, and having the exact opposite effect on the economy, of Obama's green jobs stimulus.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    Reed, Mandela, Ramis. The triumvirate is complete.

  • ||

    Wouldn't Ramis have had to have an Egyptian King behead Reed and then gotten stabbed to death by his peers for it to be the triumvirate?

  • Pelosi's Rabbit||

    Oh, how the mighty Philip Seymour Hoffman has fallen.

  • ||

    When you buy a hat like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup!

  • Warren||

    But it looks good on you though @@

  • Warren||

    My colleague Nick Gillespie writes about Ramis and baby-boom anti-authoritarianism. I agree with a lot of what Nick has to say—including his maybe-controversial comment that Animal House hasn't aged all that well—but I wonder if the reason Ramis' output grew less interesting after Groundhog Day has less to do with boomers losing their edge and more to do with the fact that he stopped working with Bill Murray.

    Then again, Bill Murray lost a considerable amount of edge after GD as well. The geezer hypothesis is looking better. The reason Nick's theory doesn't hold water, is he cites Baby Boom as an example of how Ramis went downhill after GD. A film that came out six years prior to the supposed turning point.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Edgy or not, I'd say a filmography that includes Ed Wood, Rushmore, Lost in Translation, and Life Aquatic—plus some good performances in bad movies, like Cradle Will Rock—shouldn't be lightly dismissed.

  • flye||

    Huh... I'm no fan of its political themes, but I thought Cradle Will Rock was a fantastic movie.

  • Winston||

    So what did happen to turn the leftists all pro-regulation? Reagan? Insider Trading? The 1987 Crash?

    Amusingly Chomsky attacked Ghostbusters because of this and called it Reaganite propaganda. And Rothbard quoted this for some reason despite admitting that he had not seen Ghostbusters and was unable to comment on it.

  • ChrisO||

    The New Left got older and got their hands on the levers of power, is what happened.

  • Winston||

    I am rather amused that Ghostbusters and the Simpsons movie went against the EPA. I know that Nixon created it but isn't Hollywood all environmentalist and rather pro-EPA? Or since Republicans where in power when those two movies were made was it just a case of Wrong TOP. MEN. where in charge?

  • NL_||

    Is the implication that, in the 1960s for example, LBJ, McGeorge Bundy, Nixon, Kissinger, and Hoover were not establishment figures? Of course the government is the establishment. It doesn't get more establishment than the people who can legally shoot you or incarcerate you.

  • Michael P. Shipley||

    Seeing Murray doing an FDR movie tells you who the libertarian was and it wasn't Murray.

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