Who You Gonna Call When Production Companies Ignore Social Media Slime?

Curator's Note

What does it mean for any mainstream production company to be in consultation with their consumers? Ghostbusters (2016) is significant because it deviates from the typical "test footage" changes and course alteration based on fandom feedback. Featuring a female dominated cast, the film does not hinge on heteronormative love interests, model type casting, or stereotypical female roles. CBS declared it the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube. Rather than taking seriously the inevitable circulation of anti-feminist flaming (or in this case, sliming?) online by original Ghostbusters fans, Fieg and company simply carry on.

Now that the dust has settled and the film has been declared both a feminist cause célèbre and a complete flop, this post raises two distinct questions: 1) is it no longer true that "all press is good press"? and 2) how can we explain divergent practices in media reflexivity?

First, it would be easy to declare the film a disaster and blame Sony’s failure to consult nostalgia-loving moviegoers. However, the negative press served a critical role in garnering the attention of women, families and younger audiences that enjoy seeing women demolish stereotypes on the big screen. Production elements were certainly conscientious of the way that the film overtly challenged expectations of women as comedians, as scientists, and as entertainers in general. The telos of the film was bigger than box office sales, and its success was its ability to breathe new life and long term relevance in an otherwise outdated franchise.

Second, reflexivity is not preemption, nor is it pandering. Fieg's remake is an exemplar of media reflexivity as embracing dissent. Reflexivity is often practiced as making changes based on fan reactions, but also as identifying the "haters" and focusing on the remaining target audience. Marvel can continue to edit films based on feedback due to their diverse, yet loyal fandom. Feig wisely chose to diverge from these methods because rebuilding a polarizing yet franchisable film yields greater potential than generating lukewarm enthusiasm from all. In sum, when a vocal minority loudly proclaims their opposition to a blockbuster film, it produces the impetus, or what Lloyd Bitzer would call the exigence, for a reactionary defense of the new Ghostbusters. Without public criticism, there may not have been the controversy that propels social media discussion, and in turn, free marketing. Ghostbusters proves that in the long run, it can indeed be hip(ster) to be uncool. 


Your clarification about reflexivity not being preemption or pandering is so important. In the case of Ghostbusters, reflexivity takes on a far more conversational role. As you mentioned, the film is aware of the controversy that led up to its release, so much so that the characters and narrative are able to provide a form of meta commentary. Specifically, I am thinking of scenes where the Ghostbusters watch the equivalent of a trolling YouTube video as well as the villain's transformation into the classic Ghostbusters logo. In these instances, the film is able to react to online complaints about the female leads and physically confront a symbol of the original film, respectively. These sorts of call-and-response scenes are only possible in a social media climate where a film is announced then dissected online years before the actual production begins. As you say, in the case of Ghostbusters, the cast and crew chose to confront criticisms rather than yield to them. In either choice, our big budget releases are beginning to communicate directly to their audiences in a complex way.

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