Ghostbusters and Guilt-vertising: Or How The “Right” Product Can Make You A Better Person
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the SuperNerdLand.com staff and/or any contributors to this site.)
Over nine different articles plus various tweets from “celebrity” personalities. This is what dropped onto the internet between May 17th/18th after internet reviewer and B-Movie producer/director James Rolfe released a video on his YouTube channel explaining why he wouldn’t be seeing or reviewing the new Ghostbusters reboot from Paul Feig. In this age of faux warfare over aspects of culture, is it any mystery what bend these articles took?
“Earlier this week, meanwhile, a video, featuring Cinemassacre reviewer and hard-core original “Ghostbusters” fan James Rolfe ranting about how he refuses to see the new film…” — The Wall Street Journal
“…it is still some serious bullshit to take a principled stand against the Ghostbusters reboot on the grounds of “quality.” The whole point about the original — despite being one of this guy’s “favorite franchises of all time”—is what a massive piece of shit it was, is, and ever shall be.” (emphasis is in original article) — The Stranger
“…he also very, very specifically doesn’t mention doesn’t mention the all-female cast.
It seems like an absurd oversight when critiquing this film to not mention the gender-swap, but it’s in fact a very calculated decision that allows Rolfe (and his supporters) to fight off criticism by claiming, correctly, that he didn’t even mention the casting while simultaneously blowing on his dog whistle till he’s fucking blue in the face.” — Pedestrian
“I think the bathroom crusaders know they hate trans people. They’re using bathroom safety as a bulwark to not seem as bigoted (they’re so bigoted that they think they’re coming across as reasonable right now. Think on that). I don’t think “Angry Video Game Nerd” knows that he’s having a sexist reaction to Ghostbusters. I think a lot of guys online DO know that (or that they don’t believe sexism exists, which is even worse), but I don’t think “Angry Video Game Nerd” is sitting around stewing over women in Ghostbusters.” — BirthMoviesDeath
“Yesterday some man-child threw a public tantrum about the new Ghostbusters, declaring from what appears to be his parent’s basement that he will never, ever, ever watch it. So everyone go watch the movie twice for him.” — Gothamist
I really wanted to hate this Cinemassacre GHOSTBUSTERS review but I’m such a fan of noisy, thick-saliva swallowing it won my heart. — Patton Oswalt
So what video got everyone’s knickers in a twist? What put James at the front some imaginary Mongol-esque band of marauders on the internet that are said to be targeting media intended for women?
It really seems reasonable to me. I have a feeling about this videos intent as well. His video comes off as an answer to fan inquiries, and he has confirmed this. Given his niche of coverage, and his audience size, I am sure that Rolfe was inundated with questions from his fans regarding what he thought of the Ghostbusters reboot so far and if/when he was going to review it.
So he gave his answer, with two videos worth of explanation. Though the coverage so far focus on his first video, he has an even longer follow up on the production hell that a 3rd Ghostbusters has gone through.
In his first video, James makes some salient points. The biggest one to me is the idea of “if you know you are not going to like it, then why pay to watch it?” And tellingly, this is where the media lost their collective shit.
Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. The reason why so many mediocre Call of Duty titles come out, and why we are on Transformers 5 of a franchise when everyone you ask will call the movies a guilty pleasure at best, are the same.
Money. Liquid fucking cash. Asses in the seats. It’s great to think of the things we consume in culture as having some merit, artistic or otherwise. It’s how we reassure ourselves of our purchases. Producers and distributors of media largely have no such want to imprint integrity onto their product. The measure of worth in most eyes in this arena is money.
They are akin Vince McMahon, CEO of WWE. They don’t understand exactly what people want, they just go off what gets a reaction. Good or bad. Does it get asses in the seats? Then their job is done. They are not in the business to appease our artistic or cultural sensitivities, these companies are in business to make money.
If we zoom back into the Ghostbusters reboot, part of Sony’s attempt to get “asses in the seats” was focus to focus on the female cast. One couldn’t find an article touching on the movie’s production that didn’t mention the fact it had female leads in the headline. Just do a Google search for “Female Ghostbusters,” and you will see the attempt to make this a driving factor in garnering ticket sales.
Why? Because I believe the higher ups at Sony knew this was not going to be a hit on the nostalgia factor, like a lot of reboots are. From the Sony email hack we learned that before production even started, Feig envisioned doing a Ghostbusters reboot his way. This was going to be something different.
With the nostalgia magnet aspect of the reboot knocked out (or shoehorned in via references at best), what is left to propel a middling movie gaining a hugely negative reception before it even hits theaters?
Why latching onto everyone’s favorite cause du jour, of course: Progressiveness.
This is where I would like to define a term to describe a pattern I’ve been seeing: “Guilt-vertising.”
I describe Guilt-vertising as such;
To infer that consumption of a particular piece of media or product makes you bad person, or infers problematic characteristics to someone who consumes a particular piece of media or product, or
To infer that not consuming a particular piece of media or product makes you a bad person, or
To infer that consuming the “right” type of media or product enriches you
This is something we’ve seen in spades from some of the indie game cliques. The social justice crusaders online have been telling anyone who will listen about how problematic certain mainstream games are. If you just embraced their games, and their ideas, you would certainly be a better person. In fact, not being enamored of the latest walking simulator certainly shows you lack taste, at least. You might even hate women if you don’t want these products.
Or so we are told.
In the same tirades that bemone consumer culture, and using products to identify oneself, people engaging in “Guilt-vertising” will ask you to identify yourself with their products of choice. Unironically asking you to identify with just another set of consumer products that get gussied up as “progressive art.”
And so we see in the case of James Rolfe V. Ghostbusters. Rolfe provides measured reasons why he would like to speak with his wallet and not see it, and the media accuses him of being sexist, running a misogynistic show, and living girlfriendless in his mom’s basement. Anyone paying attention to gaming media the past two years will find this all too familiar.
Nevermind the facts of Rolfe’s life and work, he is brandished with wrongthink for his choice, and told he is being a “soft sexist” The most baffling conclusion being that he has committed the crime of being a misogynist for not mentioning the female cast as one of his reasons to not see the film.
Some even point to Bill Murry’s involvement as an indicator that all is well with the Ghostbusters reboot. For those who don’t know, there had been a third Ghostbusters movie in various stages of pre-production for many years. The biggest factor in it not getting farther than that seemed to be Bill Murry’s reluctance to revisit the universe. Now that he is in the reboot, that adds automatic “geek cred” to the movie, right?
Not really. Also discovered in the Sony email hack was information indicating that Sony were ready to litigate against Murry if he didn’t participate somehow. I imagine Ramis and Aykroyd didn’t want to bring contract lawyers to the table with a friend, but Sony corporate has no such qualms. I would say it doesn’t bode well when someone has to be threatened with legal action if they do not participate.
The media and Sony are trying to push consumers into a corner. You are a really bad person if you don’t want to see the movie because of the female cast, but you are still a bad person if you dislike the reboot for reasons totally unrelated to one’s sexual organs. This is a catch 22. This is Guilt-vertising.
It doesn’t matter if the movie is good or bad. In a lot of the articles quoted above, you see a sentiment that the authors themselves are not excited about the reboot either. But you have to see it. Because women. Because hell, wouldn’t it be worth the ticket to then go tell everyone how bad it actually was?
Asses. In. The. Seats.
I truly do not believe Sony thinks the Ghostbusters reboot is some cultural landmark because of gender swapped leads. They’re smart. They know how to use the media. And the media gets played like a damn fiddle almost every time.
Is it any wonder that the day after Rolfe’s video, a new Ghostbusters trailer dropped? It was about time to drop a new trailer anyway, and I don’t even need to have a history in PR to know that it was the perfect time to drop it online. You cannot tell me that marketing at Sony didn’t know that the media would lap up this “Ghostbusters War” like crack laden doggie kibble.
“Ghostbusters War.” pic.twitter.com/A2fQ8X13Jh
— TheCartoonLoon (@TheCartoonLoon) May 17, 2016
In a pinnacle of redirection, Jen Yamato of The Daily Beast attempts to connect disliking the Ghostbusters reboot to Donald Trump and anti-women sentiment in this diatribe. Choosing to not see a movie has just turned into an affront to women, and apparently aligns you with Trump.
Let that sink in for a moment.
This isn’t even the first time in recent history that a movie studio seems to have pulled the Guilt-vertising lever. We saw something similar happen with the atrocious Fantastic Four movie from 2015 (laughingly called Fan4stic among comic book fans).
In the marketing lead up to the release of this flop, there was an attempt to spin marketing into this odd victim complex. For those who are not aware, there was a character (Johnny Storm) that was made black who was white in the comics. No big deal in my eyes, but it became a glaring story issue when he is sibling to someone who is white (Susan Storm). So instead of choosing to make both Johnny and Susan black (because that’s how genetics work, you don’t have to rely on an adoption trope, and it’s just a cool idea to me), or god forbid making the de facto leader — Reed Richards — black, they chose to have a token that breaks canonical storytelling.
Fans who spoke out about this were called racists, and there was this bizarre interview released where a seemingly staged exchange happens between the interviewer and the cast of the movie (featured in the video below at 6:27). In it, he leads with the race issue, and then goes on this creepy track of fawning over Kate Mara, her hair, and her toes.
Those who don’t get into PR stuff much (I really do not blame you) may not see an issue, but you see something that just generally does not happen on the press junket of major motion pictures. There were no “out of bound issues,” and no PR handler came to shut off this cringy interview in its tracks before it even got to a toe fetish.
As the great video above from Midnight’s Edge points out, you don’t let fresh actors far off the proverbial leash when on their press tour. More established and experienced actors are given more free reign, but the sheer inexperience of fresh actors makes PR handling almost a necessity in a media culture that amplifies mistakes into seemingly apocalyptic consequences. I know Fantastic Four movies are traditionally made to thumb Fox’s nose at Marvel in obvious rights holding actions, but there are certain things that are PR 101. And shutting down horrible interviews is one of them.
There is also little that is coincidence when it comes to marketing
Press after this focused on victim aspect of Michael B. Jordan “defending” his character, and this movie was posed as something more than just a mediocre production. You were racist for questioning the casting, and the movie was elevated into the “war” platform of cultural critique.
There is something that I don’t think some of these marketers have realized yet, though. No one likes to be guilted into something. You might catch the people who want to virtue signal through their choice of media, but most are not going to see your movie just to change some imaginary idea that they are not progressive enough. Movie and comic fans smelled the bullshit through the controversy, and Fan4stic became the worst regarded of Fantastic Four movies. And it had nothing to do with the race of any lead characters.
The same will go with the Ghostbusters reboot I imagine. I suspect there is a certain audience that will go see it just to see how bad it is. I hardly think anyone but the social justice crusaders will look at viewing this as some giant leap towards progressiveness. While I do think the movie will net just enough to warrant the two sequels that Feig has planned, I do not think this is going to be a runaway blockbuster. And I’ll flat out state that I think a reboot of similar looking quality but with male leads would be just as lambasted.
But be prepared to hear how you are a horrible person who hates children having female role models, no matter your critique. Because we are in a world where some want to call you sexist even when you explicitly state that the female cast is not the reason for your dislike. And be prepared to do what works best in these cases.
Don’t play their game.
In the case of James Rolfe, I’d be looking for a lawyer and fighting hard for libel. What the press blithely puts out there for clicks once again can have lasting repercussions. By attempting to put a scarlet letter on Rolfe, they are actively damaging future potential by leveraging unsubstantiated attacks for ad revenue. They are harming his reputation just to push eyeballs to their sites.
And all for a movie everyone will forget a month after its released. Welcome to the world Gawker helped create.
If we zoom out to the larger picture, we can see that Guilt-vertising is actually an exciting prospect to marketers. Levering emotion is one of the core concepts of impactful marketing. Guilt and Shame are not out of the equation, either.
“The key point is that, though both are negative emotions, the effects they have are different. Consumers who feel ashamed are best targeted by campaigns which offer a ‘big picture’ solution to their problems, whereas those who feel guilty respond better to a smaller, short-term fix.
Marketers can manipulate shame and guilt in their strategies into a positive outcome by pairing those emotions with the appropriate messages.” — Marketing Tech News
Ask Your Target Market points out that guilt is used routinely by non-profit organizations:
“Nonprofit organizations use this tactic in their ad campaigns frequently. Would you really choose to spend your money on a cup of coffee each day rather than use it to save a starving child? Are you really not willing to pick up the phone and donate to save abused animals? Are you really going to throw that plastic bottle in the regular garbage can rather than the recyclable can?” — AYTM
So the advent of Guilt-vertising is not a new thing. Not new at all, if you look at the research in this 1991 paper published by the Association for Consumer Research.
“…we define consumer guilt as an affect triggered by the anxiety a consumer experiences upon the cognition that he is transgressing a moral, societal, or ethical principle. The transgression can be purchasing a product, service, idea, or experience (i.e., a brand that does not abide by quality standards), or not purchasing a product Prescribed by moral, societal, or ethical principles.” — Association for Consumer Research
Though marketers are swift to tell you that you need to be deft when weaving guilt and shame to not have consumers rebel, the current crop of progressive crusaders haven’t learned to take such a light touch. From petulant to increasingly hostile, defense of products like the Ghostbusters reboot are so detached from reality as to cause general confusion, if not laughter, from critics of the production.
Calling someone a misogynistic, basement dwelling, silva swallowing, hateful nerd does not change the view enlarge that Feig’s reboot looks boring and pandering. Meanwhile, the press that tries to call people to task for the crime of not liking a movie looks increasingly infantile as fans give reasoned responses for not liking something, and get called a shitlord in return.
So where does this leave reasonable folks? Where we have always been.
Love what you love with no bounds, and pay no heed to those who want to call you a horrible person for liking or not liking a movie, or game, or book. Trust your gut, and speak with your dollar. And if someone squirms when you mention talking their dollar away, then you know you hit a sweet spot. You are the best arbiter of your taste. Not me, not some hack at Salon, or a multinational production company. Hell, go see the Ghostbusters reboot… just don’t do it because you’ve been shamed into it.
Do it because you want to.