I want to tell you what Ghostbusters means to me.
The movie comes out in 1984. I am ten. I see it in the theater with my dad, a rare thing in a house with no television, and we love it. My dad, who is a scientist, especially loves that famous line: “Back off, man! I’m a scientist!” We say it a lot, around the house, about what to have for dinner and other tiny conflicts, and we laugh and laugh. I think I might be a scientist when I grow up and I’m so delighted that a famous movie has a scientist hero.
Fast forward a few decades. The internet, I suddenly realize, makes it possible to see the whole glorious scene in which the scientist declares his mastery. A bare minute on Google, and I watch a brief video clip containing this dialogue:
Venkman: Alice, I’m going to ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any of your family been diagnosed schizophrenic? Mentally incompetent?
Alice: My uncle thought he was Saint Jerome.
Venkman: I’d call that a big yes. Uh, are you habitually using drugs? Stimulants? Alcohol?
Venkman: No, no. Just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?
Library administrator: What has that got to do with it?
Venkman: Back off, man. I’m a scientist.
I feel, literally, like I’ve been hit. I feel it in my gut, my own memory twisting, the realization that something I loved was in fact a pure expression of disgust and scorn for me. I understand that I’ve spent most of my life believing that we were in on the joke together, Venkman and me, the Ghostbusters and me, the 2 million Google hits for “back off man i’m a scientist” and me. I learn, belatedly, that we were never together. I was never in on the joke. The joke was always on me.
I know in this moment that I will never watch this movie again. I can’t bear to see how much it hates me, and I can’t decide which would be worse: option A, knowing this, I can’t love it any more; or option B, knowing this, I still do.
In 2014, when we first hear the preposterous claim “an all-female Ghostbusters is destroying my childhood, feminism is destroying my childhood,” I remember that gut-punch, the poison seeping into my happy memories, and I think: That’s right, you fuckers, feminism destroys your childhood, that idyllic time when casual misogyny masqueraded as love, and you didn’t even know what it was like to be in the story as anything other than a punchline.
Here is what the new Ghostbusters gives me, as I sit in the theater with a group of friends and a good audience: a compassion and respect that allows an unexpected generosity of spirit. Every time the theme swells I bounce in my seat. Every time an original cast member makes a cameo there’s an “ahh!” and a pattering of applause throughout the theater. For the first time in several years, I’m remembering what I loved, not what didn’t love me back.
Plus, I mean, Holtzmann.