I hate to be the one to write this, because I hate to be the one bashing mainstream white feminism, and yet the reality of just having spent 6 months working for both the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign while also bearing witness the abomination that was the newest Ghostbusters franchise starter has left me no choice but to reminisce and analyze what took up so much of heart and mind. Trickle down corporate-led feminism isn’t the path for progress in America’s left and right battle for social justice. And that breaks my heart a little bit, as well as push me off the traditional 2-dimensional political spectrum and into the dreaded libertarian camp. Both were in my estimation faux feminism, at least as far as I am concerned with that movement. And I consider myself a somewhat affluent intersectional feminist, or rather a feminist ally depending on what circles you keep up with.
Case in point, both the movie and the reality were losers, one a box office dud and the other a literal loser. As harsh as that assessment is, I think there is no other honest course of analysis of these two phenomena other than to point out a turkey when I see one. And in this case, I saw two.
But before going any further, one might ask why the need for such harsh language and judgment? I’m not one to advocate careless discernment when it comes to matters that at least have their heart in the right place, and yet in these instances, what has become ever more evident, at least to my own eyes and brain, is that I have been seeing feminism fed to the masses in the form of entertainment and politics for the elite white woman, and not much else. Good luck trying to make an argument for how either has helped men out, other than forcing many of my own genders to dig their trenches further in the sand in their stance against what should an egalitarian endeavor. Feminism has always stood for the creating equality for both genders thru the process of empowering and liberating women, which now unfortunately has to be qualified as all women of all gender spectrum and color, as well as intelligence, education, and class. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not a student of Gloria Steinem, my own feminist hero and mentor, albeit thru an indirect means. Read her books!
And so here I am, now tearing down what were two embodiments of what feminism looks like in 2016: white influence class appropriate feminism backed by corporate influence and dollars, as if they were following in the mode of pop-brand feminism ala the Spice Girls. This is easier to point out with the film Ghostbusters, and I would argue similarly with Hillary Clinton, tho I recognize many will disagree. I’m okay with that, as long as you read and recognize my own reasoning.
And so here we are, now looking back at just what the fuck happened this year as if we should all be clueless liberals, dumbfounded that a white male billionaire just won the highest office in the land off frankly mean-spirited rhetoric. Don’t be shocked.
And that is where I must begin, giving apologies and explanation for my own frustrated observations of how such a simple concept of equality for all genders gets dumbed down and perverted into faux empowerment, especially for anyone who doesn’t have a college degree or pale pigmented skin. 2016 was a charade for feminism when the true narrative was selling out to the masses in hope of winning their dollars and votes. That two such fine people and leaders could be pawns in this movement, them being Ghostbusters director Paul Feig and influential politician and lawyer Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a tragedy in how even good-hearted humane people can get dragged up their own butts and come out looking like fools and dreaded “libtards”, an insult that sends a dagger thru my heart just to write. And yet I now find myself saying it. These aren’t dumb people, and yet I now wonder how they found themselves in such a messy predicament of getting engaged in useless social justice wars when they should have just said “Enough, my work speaks for itself.”
So the question then becomes, why focus on these two culture phenomenon of this year when so much more has gone on? Surely pop culture has more to comment on the state of feminism in the new century, whether it be Megyn Kelly’s sudden emergence as a feminist icon or Alicia Keys making the bold choice of not wearing makeup on her face. While those other instances might be just as worthy as commenting on, I can only attest as a white male in his 30s that this is how I see feminism lately, as a dude who can at least empathize with other men who say feminism is nothing but women hating men. And that honestly puts me in a weird position, because now I have to tread the waters carefully and make sure I don’t end up my own ass and not on the end of the social justice warrior spear. Nor on the alt-right spigot. And so I must qualify, this post speaks for no one’s opinion but my own. This is just how I see things, and whether you agree or not is your liberty. At least I warned you.
This observation all started with the release of a somewhat generic and to me unfunny film trailer for the hotly anticipated and as much dreaded Ghostbusters reboot, set to star four very funny women and one generic but lovable action star. When that first trailer for the film debuted on YouTube the shit storm had been let loose, with the down votes pouring in, making the trailer the most disliked trailer ever seen on YouTube.
To me this was all nonsense, most likely butt hurt white dudes venting out their frustrations that a beloved mainstream nerd property was be appropriated in the name of corporate sponsored feminism, coupled with just a general apathy towards reboots and sequels in Hollywood filmmaking that has been brewing for at least a decade at this point. I simply shrugged at the whole affair, although now thru hindsight it’s all too obvious just how reflective the moment was.
It’s now obvious that the mob of people who spit at the film were most likely the people who helped elect the conman and cronie Donald J Trump, tho that is a little harsh. Hillary didn’t lose because she was a woman, Hillary lost because she was selling the same gag-inducing white brand of feminism that Ghostbusters was selling. And that’s what makes this so important, at least from the angle of trying to understand how we got to this point as a nation.
Devin Faraci, infamous and now exiled film crit, has often argued that fandom is broken, and to a large extent, matters in regards to the mainstream society. Some people often scoff at this suggestion, and yet this observation is clear proof that there is some merit to that argument. People on the internet live in the real world, and as much as I or anyone else might want to roll our eyes and simply ignore them, the truth is their voices matter and will be heard.
Why do they feel this way, and why are filmmakers and politicians to partially blame? So take a breather for a minute, because I’m about to drag this post through a rabbit hole of arm chair political analysis and psychology, interpreted through the lens of a former college English major. I think I have the skill to do it in an honest and empathetic manner because I truly don’t want to offend or anger anyone. I have no stakes in this examination, nor motivation. I’m just fed up with the bullshit, and this is how my, unfortunately, the self-described woke brain has interpreted this tragedy of the commons.
So what do I mean then, that these agents of creation and policy are the ones cutting their own throats? Directors and screenwriters such as Paul Feig and a politician like Hillary Rodham Clinton are just as complicit as spreading bias and self-harm as someone who claims to be anti-feminist. They are willing to sacrifice their own beliefs and message to pander to the dollar, albeit in indirect means. I don’t have evidence, but can only reason out that there were decisions made about both that film and Clinton’s campaign that were influenced by less on principle and more in the form of pandering and compromised vision. To say both endeavors were failures would be malicious, but to say they were squandered opportunities by outside forces in my mind is a worthy endeavor. I’m not here to critique in the popular sense of that word, meaning I’m not going to judge the quality of both this film and that campaign. I’m not interested in pursuing that route, but I am willing to use the language of traditional film criticism to help express what I find faults in both phenomena. I recognize there is a detached irony in pursuing this, and yet, feel like there is no other way to vent my own frustrations from what I witnessed. Measure that with your own judgement as you will.
Something I am more interested in tho is how political divisions were made in both instances, however, that led to mainly white men, tho there were other demographics, to essentially “boo” these endeavors out of existence. And that isn’t to say Paul Feig’s attempt or Clinton’s campaign was not of merit or meaning.
There is something beautiful and noble about a man attempting to create a work of art by replacing 3 white male comedians, one being the ever great and respected Bill Murray, along with one black male actor who was marginalized, with 3 white female comedians who are very popular along with 1 very funny and popular black comedian. You might cringe that I describe these actors by using their color of their skin, and yet I feel like ignoring those distinctions would erase some of my own problems with the film. Mainly being, for such a progressive film, it certainly adhered to a strict and frankly racially dividing formula of casting actors based on the color of their skin to conform to the original cast. I can’t ignore those distinction because whoever decided to cast the film that way must have at the very least been cognizant that they were following a formula precedented by the original film in order to induce nostalgia and familiarity for the original cast, which for my post, I will consider pandering to an established demographic. Perhaps there is no harm in that, and I am willing to concede to that argument, but in my mind there is no way a board of investors didn’t lose sight of this reality. If Hollywood is truly a business, which most would say it is, one that is ever aware and conscious of its goal of making a profit, then someone must have at one point said this is gold, or at least believed it was justified. Which is fine in and of itself. If casting a black actress will help a film make money, I think we’re in a better place as a country, especially when that film is promoting diversity. But at some point one has to ask why making her character a supporting role and frankly unequal contributor to the murky theme that Paul Feig is going for has to be seen as window dressing for a larger issue, that being the film is muddled when it comes to a thru line for it’s theme. There will be more on this later where I discuss this issue.
And to say that Clinton’s campaign was a complete loss would also be a sin in my eye. Having worked for her campaign here in Toledo, Ohio as an intern, I saw many wonderful people get folded into the ugly mix that is politics, many of whom were people of color, religion, sexuality, and gender. They all had a voice this election, at least from my own office and team, and played a vital role. Their voices weren’t in vain, nor is the fact that the Democratic Party as a whole is willing to hire diverse people lost on me. To simply sum it up, Clinton brought women and minorities into the conversation, and that is a noble cause. I refuse to spit on their efforts.
And yet there is something so disheartening and frankly upsetting about how Clinton treated certain demographics of people, mainly women, the black community, and the Latino community, as a monolithic voting block that would unanimously support her against the supposedly evil racist misogynist fascist Trump. If Trump proved anything, it was that white woman would vote for him, along with minorities. And to tell those groups of people their vote was wrong or misguided is an insult to their own agency and intelligence. And yet there was President Obama was on the campaign trail scolding black people for not voting, often using the “empowering” phrase “Don’t boo, vote.” To me, that is disgusting and pandering to people whose lives have been uphill battles for a century.
So there you have it, that is my heart on the matter. I have seen both visions compromised by corporate influence and pandering to demographics that deserve better, and I’m not going to blame Paul Feig and Hillary Clinton solely for this.
Feig has proven time and again he can make a film starring women that aren’t politically divisive or insulting, just as Clinton has shown in her own career that she can be a powerful and influential fighter for women’s rights. Remember, Feig has built a career of promoting the work of the very funny and talented comedian Melissa McCarthy, and made films starring more than, gasp, 1 woman. Just as Clinton has pushed for inclusiveness and fought for human rights on her own, perhaps greatly evidenced by her now famous quote to the UN, “Women’s rights are human rights.”
So no, I can’t just swallow my logic and reasoning and deem they all of the sudden chose to either create an inferior and demeaning product or run a “progressive’ presidential campaign because I have seen too much from them to make that claim. So my only logical conclusion then is that both must have at the very least measured their approaches and deemed them worthwhile regardless of how misguided they may have been in the belief that the where would be good to come out of it. And my god has there been some good to come out of it!
Paul Feig has demonstrated thru his own Twitter account that young girls and women have found inspiration and joy from his film. Around Halloween, I saw him retweet numerous photos of girls dressed up as ghostbusters, who no doubt clearly enjoyed his film. And it would take a hardened cynic to deny that isn’t valuable. Little girls need role models in Hollywood, especially ones that represent their own genders and personalities. Seeing woman lead a Hollywood franchise is amazing, especially when knowing it would be controversial wasn’t a deterrent for it getting made.
And Clinton has shown that she is as well an equal role model for women and minorities. She has spent her life playing in a man’s playbox, getting a law degree when the very act of going to college could be seen as a political act for a woman or refusing to let her own husband’s marital infidelities ruin her own career. I met a guy on the campaign, a man in his 60s, who followed the Clinton campaign across the country in his own RV and talked to the people about how Clinton helped him get custody of his child in the 70s! A woman fighting for a man’s parental rights in a time noted for feminism activism is not lost on me. She is a fighter and has character, and that is redeemable.
And yet here I sit pondering how they could have compromised their own values and message to promote ideals that pander and insult the intelligence of the very people they are trying to help. At what point do we, and by we I mean feminist or allies, have to ask ourselves: Wouldn’t it be better to try to bring men into the mix of our causes, instead of vilifying and furthering their own hatred of us? Shouldn’t their voices and concerns at least be recognized and heard, even if we vehemently disagree with them? But I digress.
Maybe I’m the naive one, or rather the idealist. Maybe this war for social justice should just continue. As one close friend told me after I criticized liberals for being hypocrites, “You need to pick one side, Mike. You don’t get to play neutral in this battle.”
Yes, a white man wrote that to me, insulting my own public and personal battles with misogyny and racism. Unlike him, I’m the one at the very least willing to call myself a feminist, which to many white men I know is astounding and flabbergasting. I might as well be cutting my own penis off. I’ve picked my side, and now I’m being told I can’t at least display introspection and discern for my own team. Because using his reasoning, I should just dig my own trench and continue a meaningless war that only alienates and divides us a nation and culture, because dammit, women deserved to be placed on a pedestal and protected from criticism or discussion.
How dare I not join in the chorus that Ghostbusters and the Clinton campaign are paradigms for progressivism when both were rejected by our society? At least with Ghostbusters, I can argue on a very fundamental and frankly subjective thruline that I didn’t think the film completely worked. Just as I can now look back and argue that Clinton ran a terrible campaign and displayed her own faults as a politician that likely contributed to her loss in this historic election. And the fact that both share a demographic of “haters” is not lost on my perspective of how internet culture and everyday Americans intersect.
I always joke that the folly of the internet isn’t that everyone has an opinion, but that a wisened 30-year-old can very well be engaging in a foolish debate with a 14-year-old and not even know it because of the beauty of anonymity. And yet that is insulting to people who are young or don’t like the things that I do. And damn if their voice shouldn’t at the very least be heard. I know one thing, even if I think they’re morons, their wallets and votes still count. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had to write this damn essay.