The Dan Aykroyd/Harold Ramis written, Ivan Reitman directed film isn't just about a group of washed-up NYU parapsychology professors turned unlicensed nuclear-accelerator wearers that just happen to save the world. It's riddled with those "small things" that make the film so memorable. In this case, some life-lessons that I took away from it over the course of the many years I've watched and re-watched it. Here’s 15 to share.
16) It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over
Let’s start off with an obvious lesson. Never assume that “the end” is really “the end.” Especially if it involves an androgynous demigod that can summon a traveler made of marshmallow. In their climatic battle to save New York and likely the rest of the world, Gozer miraculously disappears as our heroes blast her with unlicensed nuclear accelerators. A moment (or beat, for you scriptwriters out there) passes as the four look at each other. Apparently that’s it, right?
The next thing you know, Gozer’s disembodied voice echoes from the walls and challenges them all to choose a traveler. The deed wasn’t done, and unfortunately the only thing that Ray Stantz could think of, now being caught off guard, was the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It went from bad to worse in a blink of an eye. So never assume anything, especially if it seems that easy.
Winston was right about the tools and the talent, just jumping the gun a bit.
15) There's a Fine Line Between Insanity and Celebrity
Not an actor? An athlete? A filmmaker or rock star? Want to be famous despite your complete lack of talent? Well hop on to the crazy train. Nothing is going to make you famous quicker than going on television and talking about ghosts and how you’ve created a way to capture them. Even before their landmark event that was the saving of New York and probably the world, people loved the Ghostbusters. There wasn’t a whole lot of proof that anything they were doing was actually real, but they were all over the magazine covers and television and just being out there with this crazy idea was more than enough to make them famous.
It takes the crazy and eccentric to become famous – even more relevant now than it was in 1984. One look at reality TV, a cesspool of talentless idiots that desire fame for no reason other than to have it, and you realize it. The most crazy episodes or moments on reality television are the moments someone remembers and that morning talk radio talks about the next day. A bad singer dressed in a toga on America Idol. A horrible mother demanding her infant daughter look like a whore. The idiots on the Hills. Horrible housewives. Kim Kardashian. These are awful people yet their fame is celebrated and given to them on a platter where the public goes “I want some more” like Oliver Twist begging for the last barrel-scrape of gruel.
14) Women Like the Mysterious, Odd and Weird (to a degree)
There’s two “love” angles happening in Ghostbusters, and believe me I use that word only because “possessed demon sex” doesn’t sound particularly nice. Our first is with the wonderfully world of the most under-appreciated Ghostbuster, Egon Spengler.
It does not involve this twinkie…unfortunately.
From the get-go, the Ghostbusters’ bored, overly-sarcastic secretary, Janine Melnitz, makes her move on our beloved collector of spores, molds and fungus. Now all the Ghostbusters are pretty weird, but Egon takes the cake…but only because we actually don’t know a whole lot about him. So that seems to be a reason why Ms. Melnitz is so drawn to him. Women love the mysterious type, and Egon most certainly is mysterious.
Then we have the odd and weird. We know that falls to Peter Venkman because Dana Barrett is quoted as saying “you are so odd.” Well, guess what: he got her, didn’t he? Venkman is so unabashedly odd, not trying to pretend to be anything but, that she can’t help but be drawn to him. He’s not being creepy, even when stalking her and following her around town, not to mention being rather judgmental on what she has in her fridge that isn’t a portal to another dimension, he’s just odd. Eccentric. Quirky. Women love that, but they particularly love it when a man is comfortable enough to just be that.
Pardon me while I wander around your apartment and pump my thingy.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule. Sometimes being too odd and trying to not be resulting in being a little creepy and awkward isn’t beneficial at all. Right Louis?
But there is a "weird and nutty" threshold. But hey...he still got laid.
13) Libraries are Naturally Scary
Throughout my life, I have been to many libraries. I’m sure you have too. If not, you probably should considering they’re probably going to cease to exist quicker than Rick Moranis after 1997. In each case, I would think of Ghostbusters. You know you did too. Hell, you probably even stalked through the aisles and stacks, creeped around the corners and went on adventures looking for ghosts. Maybe you got a little scared when you wandered in to some weird, unknown area of the library that nobody has touched in years. Maybe you grabbed a bunch of books and tried to find out just how high a human could stack them. Maybe you were like me and pulled out all the card catalogue drawers to various lengths just to mess with people.
The fact is, in the back of your head when you’re at a library, you probably thought of some sort of demon or spirits lurking somewhere in it. We don’t even have to thank Ghostbusters for that, thanks to its iconic New York Public Library scenes with Alice who may or may not have been menstruating. The way they’re set up, the uncertainty and maybe even anxiety of wandering through endless, repetitive aisles, through the dark, shadowy stacks of dusty books as you look for that out of print tome for your film research paper on woodcuts and xylography influence on visual storytelling that Professor White insists is integral subject matter, so much so you’ve spent an entire week in her class discussing it and goddamn Kamishibai techniques from Japan when the syllabus didn’t mention a thing about them. No. Screw you, Ms. White. Film history should start with the invention of moving pictures and the silent cinema. If I want to learn about narrative storytelling history I’d have taken that course in the English Department. Thanks for wasting my money. She just goes on and on in that monotone drone of hers that consistently puts you to sleep and when she said you have to do a research paper it just sounded like everything else she drones on about and now it’s due on Monday and you have to lock yourself into an oversized campus library for the weekend, drinking that horrible library coffee they sell in what-passes-for-a-Starbucks on the ground floor, and wander aimlessly through intentionally-frightening places you aren’t even sure you should be in at eleven o’clock at night. Of course, the stacks aren’t computer catalogued so you have to use the old card catalogue and wouldn’t you know it, some asshole pulled out all the drawers that scares the shit out of you because you’re the only person on that entire floor.
It just comes with the territory.
12) Research Where You Plan to Live
Are you searching Craigslist for your next apartment or home? Do you have a realtor helping you out and showing you wonderful places you could live and raise your family or throw parties for your clients? Did you ask them if it’s haunted? Did you even bother to ask if Evo Shandor was the architect (a requirement in my apartment hunting)?
If you’re planning to move, you have to ask the questions. You also have to, perhaps, spend some time at the local library or city offices and research what happened in the past at your place, otherwise you might as well just buy that house in Amityville and call it a day. “Oh, it’s a great deal!” No shit.
In Ghostbusters, I’m sure there were records about the history of that building. I’m sure because there’s an entire scene where Ray Stantz explains it all. He checked it out. Did the research. Found out that this Shandor guy wasn’t on the up and up. Do you know who didn’t do their research? Dana Barrett and Louis Tully. After being possessed and turning into demon dogs and nearly bringing about the end of the world, do you know what they’re probably going to do before moving into their next apartment?
Also, to make sure their fridge isn’t a doorway…and now we Segway.
11) Clean Out Your Fridge if Company is Coming Over
Having guests over to your home is an invitation to the invasion of privacy shortly followed by passive-aggressive judgmental quips like "So I guess you haven't heard about the two-ply toilet paper" or "Judging by your medicine cabinet, that rash hasn't quite cleared up yet, has it?"
But there's nothing worse than the guests that you welcome into your home strolling over to the refrigerator, opening it and seeing their otherwise gleeful expression slowly sink into a frown of disappointment. You can tell a lot from a person by what they have in their fridge. Lots of junk food, like Dana Barrett has in her fridge, indicates a pretty fast paced lifestyle that usually ends with a night of your mother asking you why you aren't in a relationship yet. Lots of fruits and vegetables indicates something more healthy and that you take the time to actually cook. Absolutely nothing means you love to go out and eat a lot, spending little time at home and are more social.
The thing is, whoever you are is determined by what you put in your fridge. Whether it be intentional or unintentional. You may be a very healthy person, but this one time you had people over for the football game happened to be the same time you took home a bunch of doughnuts from work and now have a fridge full of doughnuts. Plan on a constant barrage of questions like "What's with all the doughnuts?" If you want to make a good impression, do more than just vacuum and dust before your guests come over. Clean out that fridge and put your best "No, really…I'm healthy" foot forward.
10) Just Leave Jerks Alone
Some men just want to enjoy life. That's all the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man wanted before he was burned to a crisp and then exploded atop a large building and his tasty white-body rained on hundreds of people that would put a Japanese Bukkake hentai video to shame.
Ruining your childhood one frame at a time.
To me, I just say "live and let live." If you're out at a bar and there's just someone that is agitating you, your best bet is to just let them do their thing and you worry and concentrate on your own thing. In this case, the Ghostbusters knew they didn't have a chance with a giant, walking marshmallow, so they turned their attention to something else to focus on that ended up taking care of everything in the end. Some meathead at the bar not shutting up about how awesome his sports team is and loves saying "brah" every five minutes. Ignore him. Leave the room even. Go find something you care about and let that guy do whatever he wants. It shouldn't bother you, even if he's climbing up the side of the building to kill you.
The Ghostbusters taught us that if you direct your attention elsewhere, not care about that other guy that’s bothering you and move on, everything works out in the end.
9) Uninhibited (and Unprotected) Sex Has Consequences
Those classes in Junior High were right: you better be cautious if you're planning any type of sex. You may regret what happens afterwards, especially if your date keeps calling you the "key master" all night long.
Not thinking and diving into bed with someone is just going to result in something awful. Sure, those two and a half minutes might have been the most amazing two and a half minutes of your life, but wouldn’t you know it? - Now you have the warts, that rash, those strange red mark and in nine months you’re going to get a surprise. Ghostbusters might have used the transforming into a dog and the summoning of a demigod as symbolic representations: being a dog means you’re just riddled with countless diseases and a demigod represents the child you accidently created. Way to go.
Peter Venkeman is completely aware of this rule, shooting down a sex-crazed Dana had to be a tough call, but he knew better.
Think about it, Gozer needed her demon dogs to have sex to open the portal (no not that portal) so it’s basically saying get yourself some itch cream and prepare for that baby because your lack of inhibitions and sexual awareness is going to ruin your life.
8) Heroes Can Smoke. Deal With It.
It's hard to believe that it was just a few decades ago when everyone in films smoked. Whether it be Arnold chomping on a cigar in the jungle or Bruce noting those weird European cigarettes the obviously European terrorists are smoking. Hell, there was a time when James Bond smoked. A lot. Guess what? The Ghostbusters smoked too. A lot.
The fact that they smoked didn’t deter from their awesomeness, though. Nor should it. I don't think any kid was corrupted as a result, and it certainly wouldn’t be now. Sure, it might date the film in the same way those ashtrays on your plane from New York to LA makes you realize you're 30,000 feet in a metal tube older than you are, but the fact that nearly all the Ghostbusters smoked doesn't take away from the fact they had character and did what's right in the end, even sacrificing themselves if need be.
Smoking has a stigma today. People look down on it, from the smell to second-hand smoke to just buying a pack – judgmental eyes are everywhere. But is a person “bad” if they smoke? No. They aren’t cool either. It’s just what they do and, I’m sorry, if someone is going to save the world then they can smoke as much as they damn well please.
7) Stay In Shape
They may have bought a firehouse, but they aren’t firemen.
To completely negate rule 7 is rule 6. Sometimes you have to take the stairs in life, and do you know the quickest way to hate yourself when taking the stairs? Being out of shape. One of the ways to be out of shape is to smoke, it's no wonder the Ghostbusters have difficulties climbing flight after flight of stairs up to Dana Barret’s (and potential future-ex-Mrs. Venkman’s) apartment. Three of them smoke and one is Egon, so it's safe to say that, though we aren't judgmental of our heroes being out of shape as it's one of the defining characteristics of our beloved Ghostbusters, it might be a good idea if we everyday non-Ghostusters took better care of ourselves.
That was sort of the entire point of this scene. The Ghostbusters eat twinkies, smoke and are just “regular guys.” They aren’t superhuman, which is why we love them. Everything they’ve been doing up to that point is heroic, but not necessarily physically demanding. Ramis and Aykroyd probably thought the same thing and wanted to point that out in the script – these guys are out of shape and here, in one of their rare moments of weakness, we come to understand that we shouldn’t be.
Everyone, grab either a cigarrete or a twinkie, there are no other options.
6) The More Insane You Act, the Less Likely People Will Take You Seriously at a Party
The worst possible scenario: a horrible thing happens to you when you're at a party. It doesn't matter if it's a bro-centric, beer-pong booze fest or an accountant's meet-and-greet buffet to celebrate the new clients. If you're in trouble and in a large social setting, nobody is going to know if you're being serious or not.
Imagine you're at a dinner or a party where someone may or may not have brought a hellhound. You're going about the room trying to force yourself to not start dancing to Chumbawumba's Tubthumper coming out of the host's stereo, enjoying idle conversation when, suddenly, somebody runs out of the bathroom and starts screaming. Your reaction, and everyone else's reaction, is to stand there and stare. You aren't sure if this person is being serious at all. You don't know that person all that well and you aren't sure where they came from or what drugs they’ve possibly been doing. In fact, the question "what is this guy's problem?" is the first thing that will pop into your head coinciding with one of those "really?" smirks where you aren't sure if you should be smiling or wincing but hoping it doesn't look too much like either. The fact is, nobody is jumping up, grabbing the guy by the shoulders and looking into his eyes saying "My god, man…what is wrong!?"
Nope. Everyone will just look at him, gawking at the absurdity or the fact he may be on fire, then just return to whatever it was they were doing. In social situations, anything could happen.
5) Stick it to "The Man" Whenever You Can
The greatest sense of satisfaction and resolution doesn’t come when you expect it in Ghostbusters. It doesn’t come when they get their first big case and trap their first ghost. Nor does it come when they finally beat the bad guy and blow up a building in glorious success. No, it comes in a couple of brief instances.
The first is when they finish their first big case at the Sedgewick Hotel. The hotel’s manager (played by longtime character actor and John Cleese lookalike Michael Ensign) is appalled that he is being charged an ungodly amount for the Ghostbusting services, especially after the team just ruined the room reserved for Mrs. Van Hoffman. His sense of entitlement got the best of him, that is until the Ghostbusters just threaten to let loose the nasty little Spud. Ah, there’s the victory. Not the money. Not the bustin’ to feel good. It was the fact that they had the power to stick it to someone rather than be the ones being stuck.
You aren’t given too many chances to stick it to the man, but when it comes, you have to take it. That is unless you are “the man” to which case expect many people to stick it to you over the course of your life. Sure, you might have earned your success, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a dick.
Speaking of dicks. The second instant is an obvious one. After spending some time in jail, Officer Carl Winslow (no, really, it’s Reginald VelJohnson typecast as a cop yet again) informs the team that the “Mayor Wants to see you guys.” The Ghostbusters then confront the mayor and explain that a certain member of the EPA is the cause of all the misfortune going on in the city. Well, not the cause, but he damn sure isn’t helping. Fire and Brimstone. 40 Years of Darkness. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria!. The moment Mayor Lenny points at Walter Peck and simply says “get him outta here” as only a New Yorker can was a moment of pure satisfaction. Finally, someone sees the truth…small victories against “the man” one moment at a time.
Thanks. Enjoy the fruit basket, dickless….oh, that reminds me.
4) Government Officials are Assholes (and have no dick)
I suppose I was only about six or seven when I was first introduced to Walter Peck of the Environmental Protection Agency, third district of New York and the fact he may or may not have a dick (a lot of Ghostbusters’ plot is integral to whether or not he has one). There was something off with the guy from the moment he appeared in the Ghostbusters’ firehouse and mistakenly left out the “Doctor” before “Venkman.”
Doctor Venkman already didn’t like the guy, therefore I didn’t like the guy because, as we all know, Bill Murray is God and anything he says or does is 100% true (even badly sliding into home). It was probably the beard that made me weary of him right off the bat. If there’s anything that movies in the 80s proved, is that bad guys have beards and sometimes are thrown off of Los Angeles skyscrapers.
Ever since that moment, and the soon-to-follow shutdown of the containment unit that unleashed all the ghosts the team had caught into New York at once and destroyed their headquarters in the process, I realized that those non-elected people assigned to government positions can easily go on power-trips if they’re given too much, err, power. All dickless had to do to get his way was file some paperwork and get someone from the city to come with him to throw the switch to “off.” So, not only do they have a ton of influence and power with few obstacles in their way, they can unleash it as easily as we turn up the radio to listen to Ray Parker Jr.
3) Say "Yes"
Be. Self. Confident.
A little bit of ego can go a long way. Sure, you may not be a God, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say you are when asked by another God or your date at dinner. Ray Stantz might have been caught off guard and lost in the moment when asked such a question by the mighty Gozer the Gozerian, but it’s really just a character flaw. Ray was too humble for his own good – a little bit of ego would have had him respond “yes” and maybe the four Ghostbusters, Gozer, her pets and Stay Puft might have just sat down for some afternoon tea. If Ray was comfortable in his skin and confident enough in his ability, he would have undoubtedly said “yes.” We all know Peter probably would have, which is why Peter should have answered the question.
Even then, sometimes putting out a “front” is the best solution to a difficult situation that may or may not involve a demigod. Gozer wanted to know if these four beings were on the same level. That’s all. Say “yes” and we’re good to go. But Ray said “no” and Gozer felt the need to try to kill them because that’s what Demigods do when they aren’t looking like an 80s coke addict.
Self confidence is a great lesson through all of Ghostbusters. Ray, Egon and Peter were down on their luck, took a chance and were confident enough to see it through. It’s an underdog story about scrappy, smart but assured guys that happen to hunt down ghosts. If anything, Ray wouldn’t have lied at all when he was asked if they were Gods.
“Smiting makes me feel good”
2) Science can be Tainted
Back off, man. I’m a scientist. I also put my desire for attractive women before my work.
We sure do trust scientists a lot. Most, I think, are ethical individuals who want to help the world in some fashion. They wish to find facts and enlighten us with their discoveries. Others, though, are like Dr. Peter Venkman, who is only in it for himself.
He’s probably earned it, though.
Let’s face it, scientists are human, and not all of them have great moral centers and wouldn’t put themselves first before their work. Sure, they may be really smart at whatever field they’re in, but that doesn’t mean they’re infallible.
Dr. Venkman finally gets one of his subjects in his experiment about ESP to predict what is on the card he’s holding. Ah, but that subject isn’t as attractive as the other. That subject also isn’t a woman, and that simply won’t do for Dr. Venkman. He shocks the male student, sends him storming out of the room, then closes in for the kill on the female student.
It’s innocent, really, but he might have just had a major breakthrough. Any scientist might have had a similar breakthrough but screwed up somewhere. I can’t help but think of this scene with Venkman, how we read about new findings or that there’s things still to be discovered and how we really put a lot into the hands of people we sometimes forget are human. They are, unless they’re Neil DeGrasse Tyson to which then they are superhuman and do no wrong. I suppose that’s why we need consensus, because going by the result of one guy’s back-room “experiment” with his students is something everyone should question.
1) Sometimes, Shit Just Happens
Even before the phrase was famously uttered by Peter Venkman in the sequel, there is one lesson that embodies the entire Ghostbusters franchise: Sometimes, shit just happens. There’s no reasoning of logic behind it. Sometimes, things happen that have no explanation or precaution for. From locking yourself out of your house to discovering another dimension in your refrigerator. From realizing your fly was down to being turned into a slobbering demon dog. From getting a car accident or waiting forever in traffic to being slimed or covered in warm marshmallow. Sometimes, shit just happens. Somebody has to deal with it.
However, there’s not always someone to call. Sometimes, that’s just the way life is. You can keep bitching and moaning about it, looking for a way to prevent the next time, but in reality that’s just life. Deal with it. Take control. Cross the streams and move on.
This was probably my favorite lesson. It may not even be the best lesson learned, but understanding that the way this world works and some things just happen and you have to deal with it kind of encompasses a lot of of the lessons of the Ghostbusters. Shit happens. They deal with it. Giant Marshmallow Man? Shit happens, deal with it. Girlfriend possessed? Shit happens, deal with it. EPA Shuts you down? Shit happens, deal with it.
Ghostbusters is, from the very beginning when they’re kicked out of their university all the way to taking on Gozer at the end, all about overcoming shit that just happens. They didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it, but they dealt with it on their own and in their own way. Obstacles happen to everyone. You’re not special even with a proton pack on your back. Just deal with it, move on. Your life is better as a result and you can feel more assured and accomplished of yourself because you weren’t worrying about who to call.
“Chillaxin” is also an option.
GB Seal of Approval