with Kalie Zamierowski! Yay!!
I’ve never done a co-authored piece on my blog before but today is the day! Given this is my 99th post annnnd I’m honoring a comic book I love (and write about a lot) – Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening’s brilliant Ghostbusters – I wanted to do something extra special. Kalie and I were having a discussion about ghostbusting the other day and she started analyzing the guys in grey in a light I’d never considered. So I pitched the team-up idea to her and she happily agreed. Are you ready to see the Ghostbusters as you’ve never seen them before? Here we go…
Kalie looked at the whole idea of ghostbusting through a lens I’d never thought of and that is one of the most exceptional things about Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening. Month after month, series after series, they continue to take the characters I love and present them to me in ways I’d never thought of before. The recently concluded Ghostbusters International sent the guys abroad. The upcoming Ghostbusters 101 will allow the brilliant 2016 incarnation of the team to meet and work with the originals. Will you excuse me for a short, excited aside? (THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!! Are you kidding me?!? This is SOOOOO amazing!!! Aaahh!! I’ve been dreaming about this comic since I left the theatre after my very first viewing! IDW I love you so much!! How do you continue to top yourselves?? I love both of these teams and I already can’t wait to read this. I’m not one to wish my life away but BRING ON MARCH.) Uh, okay. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…
Through these incredible series, the Ghostbusters have met the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, their cartoon selves, and have faced all manner of ghost, demons, and monsters born from the minds of Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening or pulled from our collective folk history. The Ghostbusters have even travelled to hell. We’ve also seen new dimensions to the characters. Ray has developed a romantic relationship – ooo la la! We learned of Winston’s military background. The team both works for the city of New York (and occasionally the federal government) as well has having franchised their operation out to other cities like Chicago. We’ve seen twists, turns, sacrifices, and a steady stream of hilarious one-liners. We’ve even seen (brace yourselves for this) a softer side of Walter Peck. I know! Don’t worry, he’s still annoying. We just learn he, like everyone, is a layered human being.
Each month I find myself thinking the same thing I think every time I watch Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, or am brave enough to weather the a-bit-too-scary-for-me Ghostbusters 2 – I WANT TO BE A GHOSTBUSTER. Listen, I think I’m ideally suited for this job. First, I’ve seen the first movie about a zillion times and am working on getting my tally for Ghostbusters 2 and Ghostbusters: Answer the Call up to a respectable number too. Second, I’m dating a horror enthusiast! I’ve learned all sorts of great stuff about ghosts, hauntings, and possessions since I started dating Kalie. Third, my brother and I used to pretend to be Ghostbusters all the time when we were kids. Fourth, I am a theology teacher who works in a school where the theology teachers are best friends with the science department. Um, hello? Ghostbusting is a perfect career to merge science and theology!
There you have it, my unique qualifications. I really think if you take all the experience David and I have from years of pretending to be Ghostbusters when we were little and the countless times we’ve watched the films, combine it with Kalie’s horror film knowledge/interest in the subject, and couple that with the interdisciplinary knowledge Matthew and Hannah (my fellow theology teachers) and Theresa, Sarah, and Ashley (the science end of our little group) would bring to the table we’d have one kick ass Ghostbusters team! I mean…we don’t know how to find, catch, or contain ghosts but that seems like a minor detail right? I’m sure we would all figure it out eventually.
Best of all, as I’ve written before, the Ghostbusters (save massive property damage as Briana wisely pointed out in a comment on an earlier post) are nonviolent superheroes!!! Their proton streams hold the ghosts until they pull them into their traps and then deposit them in their containment unit! They aren’t destroying the ghosts or even hurting the ghosts. It’s paranormal crowd control. And, they only contain the ghosts who are malevolent. As Ray and Peter study the PKE readings in Venice, Italy in Ghostbusters International #2, Ray tells Peter, “Most of these readings belong to benign spirits, Y’know…the quiet ones who never bother anybody.” The Ghostbusters don’t bother those ghosts; they have great respect for the spiritual entities they study. They aren’t just bustin’ ghosts. They are only handling the ones that are dangerous!
So, as Ghostbusters, we’d be saving the world without doing anything morally compromised! Nope, no punching bad guys in the face for us. It’s the perfect setup. It’s my dream job…annnnnd that’s where Kalie chimed in and blew my mind. Let’s turn things over to her now shall we?
While I’ve never had the burning desire to be a ghostbuster (I didn’t grow up loving the movie like Michael) I can certainly see the appeal of the aspiration for a super-fan. And though I understand the appeal of sucking up apparitions and trapping them in a little metal box, the whole process seems to me, well, unnecessarily vicious. What I’m about to say may sound a little “extreme.” And, indeed, leave it to me to use a discussion about ghostbusting to promulgate what some conservatives might call “liberal propaganda.” Read this with the understanding that, unlike many issues of equality and human rights that I espouse, I have no vehemently strong feelings on this issue because I don’t much believe in ghosts, and I really don’t believe in the kind of highly disruptive spirits featured in the Ghostbuster movies. But I’m going to propose, in this brief reflection, that ghostbusting might be a method of colonization, or at the very least, a human rights violation. Or should I say unhuman rights violation. But that sounds rather judgmental. Maybe ghostbusting is a post-human rights violation, or a posthumous human rights violation. Regardless, to me, the practice seems problematic.
I have some academic arguments to propose, but let’s deal with the logistics of ghostbusting first. Have you seen the spirits in the Ghostbuster movies? These are rather large, fully functioning entities with distinct personalities. To that extent, while we don’t typically consider ghosts human, the ghost seems to possess all the qualities that make a human a human, including, presumably, a reflective, aware consciousness. As soon as we grant that the ghost has perception and awareness – even if it were only the perception and awareness of an animal – then we have to grant that ghostbusting is problematic. The Ghostbuster, so-called, deals with these large, highly active, mobile beings by shooting them with laser guns and confining them to miniscule boxes. I would argue that America treats its worst criminals better than that, and these ghosts aren’t really villainous, even when they appear malicious. They’re just ghosts being ghosts, like kids will be kids.
Just because the ghost’s material body decayed long ago and she floats about in spirit form doesn’t mean it’s okay to confine her spirit to a tiny box, a box more confining then the worst prison cell. And as many-a good feminist texts, like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” will insinuate, environment is everything, and a highly restrictive environment that stifles individual agency is the most pernicious. To that end, ghostbusting causes the spirit pain and agony, and could cause a loss of hope and a diminishing of sense of self to the ghost. We can try to pride ourselves on the fact that we’re not killing the spirit, but we’re relegating it, nonetheless, to a fate worse than death, worse than the worst imprisonment. Ghostbusting causes severe emotional pain to the ghost.
I would go so far as to argue that the act of ghostbusting could be construed as an act of colonization. Just as our forefathers thought our lives and comfort more important than those of Native Americans, brutalized them and took their land, just as Great Britain has, historically, taken over “third-world” countries that it deems inherently inferior to itself based on some haphazard presumptions about what “civilization” looks like, so the Ghostbuster assumes that it’s okay to “overtake” the ghost. Inherent in ghostbusting is the presumption that spirits have fewer rights than humans, even though many of the spirits in question are probably near-ancient and have been traipsing about the earth much longer than any living being currently inhabiting it. Just as colonizers take the land of the native, so we are assuming the land is inherently ours, and not the ghost’s, and assuming that not only do we have a right to legally rule the land, but that our right to the space in question is so profound, so inarguable, that we deem it completely ethical to shoot the ghost with lasers and, as I’ve explicated before, confine him or her to a miniscule box not fit for the imprisonment of a serial killer or terrorist.
This mindset is problematic with any ghost, but especially problematic if we start vaporizing peaceful ghosts. But what about the malevolent spirit, you may ask. Here, ethics are a bit unclear, but I would argue it’s still shaky policy to entrap malevolent spirits. Let’s say, for example, I buy a house. I live in this house happily for about a week or two when plates start flying around and an ominous voice moans “get out….get out!” I, the human, have just entered the house. The ghost, presumably, was the original possessor, and has lived there all along. The ghost is, then, by definition, the native. The ghost is only being malevolent because he doesn’t want to be bothered. If I entrap the ghost, I am, by definition, the colonizer.
By the laws of the living world, I’ve purchased the house – or am purchasing it slowly – and it’s rightfully mine. But as soon as we grant that there’s a world other than the living world, as soon as we have proof of a spiritual dimension, it’s incumbent upon us to co-exist peacefully with it, as if it were another group of people or a nation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy and sell property that may be haunted. What I am saying is that, if we shoot the native ghost with laser beams, confine him to a box, and take him away from his home territory, to a brutal sort of holding tank for ghosts, then we’re egregiously violating what I’ve come to call post-human rights, and we need to question our practice. Maybe at that point we just need to leave; maybe the property isn’t ours the way we think it is. At the very least, we should talk to the ghost.
After all, there is a branch of academic criticism called post-humanism. The branch posits that as soon as we label that which is human, we automatically feel justified in calling things inhuman and eradicating their rights for that reason. Ghostbusting is a prime example of this process. Post-humanism was made to defend those people or entities relegated to the less-than-human status.
In the end, then, while it may seem exciting, even glamorous, to be a Ghostbuster, one might argue that the only reason the process of ghostbusting has been normalized, even valorized, in our culture, is because we have a history of colonizing, oppressing, and brutalizing the so-called “other,” – the being that we deem unlike ourselves. That seems, to me, the very definition of ghostbusting. To that end, we must call this glaring violation of posthumous human rights into question.
[Michael’s (End) Note: Thank you Kalie for being part of my Countdown to 100 Celebration! Also, thank you for blowing my mind and making me rethink my dream job. I will be obsessing about your argument for a looooong time. So be ready to discuss this constantly :). If you don’t already, I’d encourage everyone to check out Kalie’s site Just Dread-Full. As you can tell from above, it’s gorgeously written and filled with brilliant insights. If you’d like to see my other Countdown to 100 Celebration pieces you can see what I thought about Ms. Marvel and IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here.]