Site icon

Ghostbusters and Kpop, Men and Women

If you’re hoping for something about Peter Venkman hitting on a Kpop star, or who’s the sexiest female ghostbuster according to Koreans, or some Korean pop Ghostbusters mashup video? Sorry, this isn’t the post for you. (It’s not really an addition to the middle-aged man kvetch-fest of last summer, either.)

I just saw the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters for the second time (in just over a year: we saw it in the cinema in Canada last year, but I wanted to see the extended cut). Watching it, all the little callouts in the film to online furor and criticism and outcry reminded me of the insane furore in real life, spewed onto the net by frail manchildren were all hurt because their childhoods had been “destroyed” or some bullshit like that.

(Well, also, the insanely racist backlash against Leslie Jones. Seriously, does being the black Ghostbuster have to be such a rough gig every damned time?)  

I assume those who raged against the reboot have realized the films they love are still available, as are ten or eleven season’ worth of various animations, plus a bunch of comic books, all of which explore the further adventures of their beloved characters and the generation to follow in the original Ghostbusters universe (and other universes, apparently).

If you wish there had been a Ghostbusters III and want to blame someone for preventing it from happening, I suspect there are far better targets for your ire: you could blame Bill Murray for refusing to do the gig until after Harold Ramis passed away, or blame whoever you want for the way Ghostbusters II flopped—that, surely, was what stifled the return to the franchise, after all:

Me, I have no problem with a reboot featuring all-female Ghostbusters. 

In principle, anyway. Personally, I still liked the original better, but I’m self-aware enough to know that’s subjective and that nostalgia probably has a lot to do with it: the original was a touchstone for me as a kid—in fact, some of the first fiction I wrote was a reworking of the concept with my friends and me as ghostbusters, clearing out a local haunted house. So while I wasn’t really disappointed by the reboot—it was a fun couple of hours—neither did I fall in love with it. It was, to be honest, the first film I got to see with my wife in over a year, so even if it’d been bad, I’d have had fun. Still, even being lukewarm about the film, I wasn’t surprised when one of my nephews said he maybe liked it better than the original. He’s not a traitor to his sex or the franchise: the films are probably about equally cheesy, all things being equal. 

Anyway, what I want to talk about is the odd idea that an all-female Ghostbusters team is a feminist win. Last summer, I heard a lot of geek women—and some geek men, too—saying that, and my reaction was always, “Really?”

To me, that seems a lot like setting one’s sights unfortunately low. I feel like maybe if you’re looking for for a progressive coup in Hollywood, you may not understand Hollywood. Hollywood is going to continue to whitewash movies. They’re going to continue to make female characters who suck. All the fan outrage in the world isn’t going to change that, because Hollywood isn’t about fan love: it’s about selling as many tickets (and DVDs, and tie-in merch) as possible , and the best way to do that is to pander to the backwards sensibilities of most average schlubs out there in ways that feel very safe and familiar to the people putting the money into projects.  

Don’t get me wrong: I can understand that it was heartening to finally have a female Ghostbusters team. I can imagine being a geeky girl in the 80s and consuming show after show—all the great touchstones of geek culture—and seeing how the female characters were consistently love interests, sidekicks, plot coupons, and supportive (or annoying) moms. I can understand sitting down to watch an all-woman Ghostbusters film being a feelgood moment: women who bust ghosts! Women who aren’t just secretaries or eye candy or boob-joke fodder or someone for Venkman to hit on! Yeah, I can understand that.

Still, it makes me think about something my wife mentioned about Korean pop groups in the 90s, versus today. Here’s two major Korean pop groups currently active, respectively called Girls’ Generation and Big Bang.

No, I’m not posting a video, because I despise both. You can thank me in the comments for sparing you the horror.

Now, here’s a few Korean pop (okay, and hip-hop) groups from the 90s… respectively Roora, Cool, Uptown, and Koyote:

Sorta jumps out at you, huh? 


I’ve seen it mentioned a few places (and my wife has mentioned it too) that gender segregation was far less de rigeur in Korean popular music groups in the 1990s, and that one frequently saw groups including both female and male performers. By the time I arrived in Korea at the end of 2001, that had changed: every group was all-male or all-female, or so it seemed. Certainly the most famous ones all were gender segregationist. I’m guessing changes in the role of played by music companies here (who’ve basically have set up a whole industry filled with corporate, company-created pop bands) has something to do with it, but that’s probably not the whole story: there’s a lot of evidence that socially the Asian Financial Crisis resulted in serious backsliding when it comes to gender. 

I don’t care for Kpop (at all), and pretty much agree with my wife, who once called it “the shame of the nation,” but I do find it amusing when people go out dowsing for proto-feminism in Kpop lyrics, dance moves, or the tropes in the narratives of the music videos. To me, that whole a paradigm of all-girl or all-boy bands is in itself anti-feminist and anti-egalitarian, and says a lot more about the status of women in Korean society. 

Come back and talk to me when it becomes possible to have a mixed-gender group, in which women can be viewed as equals within the group. I think that would be proto-feminism in a pop music context. Having gender exclusive groups is in and of itself the opposite of a feminist triumph, because the real hidden message is that women can only matter when there’s no man around, because as we all know (ahem) if there is one, he’s going to automatically matter more. 

Going back to the Ghostbusters, I’d argue that the Extreme Ghostbusters—the last cartoon series from the 90s, which featured a female team member, Kylie Griffin, working with male teammates but holding her own and saving the day from time to time—was way more of a “feminist” win than an all-female team of ghostbusters: 

Maybe not a total win. I mean, is a she a token female? I don’t know the series well enough to say, but I’d argue she might not be: she’s a genius, she fights hard, and she’s the team’s expert on the occult, from what little I do know. Then again, even in the earlier The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, Jeanine (the secretary) saved the day a few times, and Kylie’s the only Ghostbuster not to wear the usual jumpsuit—she has some kind of skintight goth outfit with body armor instead, for, um, whatever reason. (It’s because she’s a girl, right? Maybe… or maybe because she’s a goth? Maybe it’s even addressed in the show, I don’t know.)

The show, though, was clearly making an effort at inclusivity. Here’s a snippet from Wikipedia, describing the team members:

Kylie Griffin, a goth girl genius and expert on the occult; Eduardo Rivera, a cynical Latino slacker; Garrett Miller, a young white paraplegic athlete who uses a wheelchair; and Roland Jackson, a studious African-American machinery whiz.

So… yeah, I dunno… I think this mixed-gender, racially diverse, disability-inclusive team of ghostbusters is still much more progressive in absolute terms than a team that’s just, you know, all-female and mostly white. It envisions a world where women and men (and white, black, and Latino people, and disabled and non-disabled people alike), can all cooperate and work together as equals while being heroes and saving the damned world.

Doubtless, some (mostly middle-aged white guys) are going to complain that the showrunners were “trying too hard” or “being all P.C.” Funny how, when you call it “trying to be inclusive” or “showing some basic respect for your fellow human beings” it suddenly sounds like not such a bad thing… but someone slapping that pejorative “being P.C.” onto something, it’s supposed to sound like you’re being awful and horrible, huh?

Ultimately, like I said: all-female Ghostbusters are fine, but it feels to me like the underlying assumption behind it is that it’s not possible to write a Ghostbusters script where there a couple of women and a couple of men who are colleagues, who work together and don’t need to be romantically involved, and where they’re all relatively authentic characters who contribute crucially to the team. Would writing that really be so hard? (I don’t think so, and I hear IGN’s been making a comic series where the new and the original Ghostbusters team up together, across different dimensions.) Would filming it be somehow more difficult? (Why would it be?) Or it is just that no matter how well it was achieved, the audience wouldn’t perceive it that way? (Again, I think it could, if the director was on top of the issue.)

That is, if the studios let it happen. That’s probably the biggest barrier: men and women working together? As equals? Why is it I can easily imagine studio people balking at the very idea if sinking millions of dollars into a film that hinges on that idea?

Maybe all of this is obvious, but I haven’t seen anyone else say it. So now I have. 

Oh, here’s two a bonuses:

First, Ivan Reitman has actually mentioned the idea of expanding the Ghostbusters franchise in Northeast Asia: a Ghostbusters film set in China or, yes, Korea was something he mentioned in an interview just last month.  

And second, though I haven’t seen a Ghostbusters/Kpop remix, I just noticed (via Slashfilm) that there was a J-pop remake of the theme song released by Sony before the reboot came out last year. It’s a big ol’ slab of fromage, but pretty faithful to the cheesiness of the original, featuring an all-female group of Japanese pop singers: 

Exit mobile version