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Kieran Kelly recommended this Salon article — which is actually a revisionary look at the films of Harold Ramis.*

Baby boomer humor’s big lie: “Ghostbusters” and “Caddyshack” really liberated Reagan and Wall Street
Harold Ramis was a master of subversive comedy. But the politics of “Caddyshack” and rude gestures have backfired

* I am not in complete agreement with anyone concerned.  While the films could be criticized for their targets and execution, I don’t think the writer makes his case.  The terminology used displays some dissonance, and he rejects a nuanced, complex reading of the films.

“And that makes for a pretty liberal film, right? I mean, who else makes fun of country club grandees except for us lefty authority-questioners?

Well, free-market conservatives do.”

Here the writer steeps his clumsy criticism in the pop left/right knee jerkism we’ve come to expect out there in the mainstream.  Presenting his false argument about “authority-questioners”, it’s almost condescending.  Authority isn’t a virtue.

The reason these movies stand out and endure is because they have complexity.  They aren’t meant to tell you want to think, but to give you the opportunity to do so.  Without that complexity and challenge, there’s no classic.

Perhaps the article’s best dig is:

“The kind of liberation the rude gesture brings has turned out to be not that liberating after all, but along the way it has crowded out previous ideas of what liberation meant—ideas that had to with equality, with work, with ownership.”

Here, the author, Thomas Frank, almost makes his point.  But the dissonance, in light of what he argued previously, sinks his argument.  How he can lay all of this on Ramis and Company, in the context of a farcical comedy, is unclear.   But work and ownership, Frank says, are intrinsic to his idea of liberation.

Like the Ghostbusters?

Frank just decried the idea of the small business startup, but now he’s in favor of work and ownership.  Well make your mind up, Frank.

“Here the martinet is none other than a troublemaking EPA bureaucrat; the righteous, rule-breaking slobs are small businessmen—ghost-hunting businessmen, that is, who have launched themselves deliriously into the world of entrepreneurship.”

Yes, work and ownership.  In fact bureaucracy and the EPA itself can have problems, misdirected activities, harm.  That’s the nature of power and authority, and in this case unaccountable power: the EPA man is not the one facing jail.  Reading too much into this EPA angle may be biasing any fair interpretation of the film.

The EPA bureaucrat made a unilateral decision that was disastrous while choosing ignorance over the consequences of said decision.  It is that kind of reasoning that is the true target, not the Environmental Protection Agency or the concept of reasonable regulations.  That’s the distinct difference that received no mention.

In some ways I agree with Frank that these films chose some easy targets and largely symbolic middle fingers.  That would make them less effective, in the political context, not more.  Trying to pin the Reagan era on Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and friends is too much of a stretch to be taken seriously.  The photo (above) that Salon chose to go with seems a tad dishonest in its complete dissing of Ramis and his widely beloved works.

Unthinking lefties are as unpalatable to me as unthinking right wingers, and perhaps were to Ramis too.  We must confront these challenges and the myriad opposing ideas, even in comedy, if we’re to stand the test of time.

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