Essay
7:50 pm
Tue September 2, 2014

On ‘Ghostbusters’, Labor & Turning 30

Credit Ghostbusters / via Facebook

This Labor Day weekend Ghostbusters was re-released in theaters to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary. This occurrence seems monumental for me, personally, for a few reasons.

Let me explain.

Ghostbusters was originally released to American audiences on June 8, 1984. My twin brother Dan and I were born on October 24, 1984.

I’m not good at math or reading a calendar on some days, but this fact means Dan and I were still occupying our mother’s womb when the film was released. That also means Dan and I turn 30 in less than two months.

What’s important, though, is the way we came to fall in love with the film. Our dad quoted it religiously to varying degrees of appropriateness. It became engrained probably before we had any idea what he was referencing.

Whenever we’d see a large bug: “It’ll bite your head off, man.”

Whenever we playfully questioned his fatherly authority: “Back off, man, I’m a scientist.”

He’d obviously seen it between its release and an age where Dan and I could’ve possibly comprehended anything about the film. But that didn’t really matter.

We were fully versed in the world of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddemore by the time of the sequel’s release in 1989--diving into the cartoon series that had spun off from the original.

I'm on the left and my brother Dan is on the right. Big props to Olan Mills studio in Parkersburg for capturing this moment.
I'm on the left and my brother Dan is on the right. Big props to Olan Mills studio in Parkersburg for capturing this moment.
Credit David M. Mistich

This may seem rather insignificant to some, but not when I tell you there were three things that informed Dan and my shared childhood the most: little league baseball, discovering our parents’ record collection, and Ghostbusters.

No, really.

The fact that all my athletic aspirations deteriorated by the age of 15 and rock music helped inform my early professional career, Ghostbusters stands today as the element that somehow enlightened my worldview without requiring any real responsibility.

Like most anything I care about, Ghostbusters toes the line between total goofballness and sincerity. Which, is a pretty good M.O. if you’re going to have one at all, I think.   

And it’s not uncommon that a film produced before a person’s time on this planet could have such an impact. Some artifacts of popular culture have a way of living on without regard to the generations from which they were born.

I contend that nearly all adolescent males born after the mid-‘50s that have discovered Led Zeppelin believe—for at least some period of time—that the band was the only thing that mattered. I could go on with examples but, it’s truly unnecessary. You get the idea.

And so, Ghostbusters remains one of those things for me.

When Harold Ramis died earlier this year, I professed my love of the film around the Charleston bureau of our newsroom. To prove it, I couldn’t help but ask my dad to send me a photo of Dan and I dressed as Ghostbusters. (For the record, I was Peter Venkman and Dan was Ray Stantz, although you can’t exactly tell in the photo above.)

My colleague, Ashton Marra, recently bought me a t-shirt with the Ghostbusters logo merged with the outline of the state of West Virginia. 

This photo isn't with my brother but with Associated Press reporter Jon Mattise, who obviously owns the same shirt and is also a big fan.
This photo isn't with my brother but with Associated Press reporter Jon Mattise, who obviously owns the same shirt and is also a big fan.
Credit Ashton Marra

So, when I heard the film was to be re-released in theaters, I couldn’t miss it. Despite having seen the film probably a hundred times over the course of my more than 29 years, I’d never watched it on the big screen.

Sure, holiday weekends provide prime opportunity to venture to the theaters for many (I’m more of a Netflix-in-my-underwear-type dude, myself), but I feel there’s some line to be drawn between the narrative in the film and its Labor Day weekend re-release.

Take for example the fact that three scientists--with varying levels of capability and know-how--go from working in the university research setting to slugging it out fighting ghosts in New York City.

The guys get beaten down and exhausted by their work. They operate out of a firehouse, for crying out loud. There’s also Winston, the Ghostbuster-come-lately who joins the fold because he just needs a job.

The point I’m trying to make is this: aside from the extraordinary, supernatural essence of their work, the Ghostbusters are the everyman. They put in the time and effort to keep society on track (and essentially save the planet).  

Now, I’m sure there’s some scholar of popular culture or a labor historian who could augment or completely destroy my argument by citing Marx, or Marcuse, or some philosopher of socio-economics or politics. And I’d love to read that. Please, point me in the right direction if it exists. But my point is well made.

As I watched the film Sunday night at the Nitro Stadium Theater, I realized the nuanced, adult-themed jokes of the film are so much better understood at 30 as compared to three (or so). I also realized that my dad’s quoting of the film has become more ridiculous to me, but no less significant.

It’s almost as if as I’ve grown up, and started working through the daily grind of adult life, Ghostbusters and my understanding of it have grown right with me.  

Sunday night, I walked out of the theater complex behind a dad explaining to his little boy that Ghostbusters wasn’t a new film. He was explaining things to his son and then turned to his wife to make a reference to some line. They laughed.

I couldn’t make it all out from 20 feet away but I watched him look at the little boy and say, “That movie came out 30 years ago.”

“30 years?” the little boy asked, completely bewildered by such a length of time. The concept of something being 30 was just as foreign to him as some of the jokes in the film. I also have no doubt the little boy could hardly fathom what it's like to work.

Indeed, random dad and his son who’d hopefully had his life changed by Ghostbusters, 30 years.