Ghostbusters and Guilt-vertising: Or How The “Right” Product Can Make You A Better Person

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(Disclaimer: The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the 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

And then there’s “The Angry Video Game Nerd,“ a misog­y­nis­tic web show whose syco­phan­tic Wikipedia en­try made me pine for hem­lock in my cof­fee.” — FiveThirtyEight

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.

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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. 

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. Leveraging 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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

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