I think we should call it Melissa McCarthyism - the trend for reworking cultural products in order to make them more politically palatable. The latest victim in this thirst for raking over the past to airbrush out or gloss over any movie character, piece of literature or work of art that was not sufficiently PC is Ghostbusters, one of the greatest movies of the 1980s. It's being given a feminist reboot, and by "feminist" I really mean a Spice Girls-style sexing-up, turned from a movie starring four men who kill ghosts into a movie starring four women who kill ghosts. One of the women is Melissa McCarthy, hence Melissa McCarthyism: the ever-so-slightly authoritarian fashion for needlessly feministing old, and in this case brilliant, culture.
There's been a buzz around the Ghostbusters reboot for months. It moved up a notch this week when the four stars of the new, all-female, ass-kicking Ghostbusters were revealed: McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. Let's leave aside the fact that while, yes, McCarthy is a pretty funny broad, none of these women are a patch on Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd, who were at the top of their sardonically comedic game when Ghosbusters ripped through cinema screens in 1984. The more pressing issue is the question of whyGhostbusters is being remade with a massive lick of female paint. Apparently it's being done to send a moral message to the masses - err, presumably that women are just as capable of firing goo at green ghosts and giants made of marshmallow as men are. Emmeline Pankhurst must be grinning in her grave.
Of course, Hollywood has become notorious in recent years for foisting on to the public gimmicky remakes of old movies. Seemingly bereft of any sparkling new ideas, the big studios feast on and regurgitate past glories, sometimes frame-by-frame, as was the case with Gus van Sant's pointless Psycho. But with Ghostbusters III, it's different, and worse: not only is Hollywood touching up a classic that doesn't need touching up - it seems to be doing it in order to "send a message". That message, according to a gleeful Salon, is that we must all "[acknowledge] women's rightful place in comedy". Salon hopes the new Ghostbusters will help slay some "antiquated beliefs" and open up the "historically masculine field that is comedy". The Washington Post hopes the all-female Ghostbusters will tell a story of a "female team [that] is trying to break into an industry that has become a bastion of macho nerds" - because apparently that's what cinema audiences need to see / be educated about. One entertainment correspondent thinks the new movie will inform the (presumably stupid) public that "scientists come in all genders, and so too... could ghost fighters". I suppose they could, if ghost fighters were a thing.
The thread tying together all this excitement about the new Ghostbusters is the idea that it's good for old culture to be remade in a more politically and morally acceptable way. But is it? Heaven help anyone who thinks movies should be fun (and that classic movies should be left alone) rather than being turned into fat adverts for sexual equality. So Buzzfeed has web-shamed various tweeters who make the perfectly legitimate point that the all-woman Ghostbusters feels like gender-pandering. "Some Men Are Pretty Mad About Female Ghostbusters", says the tut-tutting Buzzfeeder. But reworking an old movie so that all the main characters are now of the opposite sex does feel like gender-pandering. Aren't there some good and new funny-female stories to be told? Can't Wiig or someone come up with a new comedy-drama idea? Why not?
The gender overhaul of Ghostbusters smacks of the horrible new trend for reimagining old culture in order to make it more suitable to contemporary political ideals. So in recent years we've seen cigarettes being airbrushed from old cartoons. The word "nigger" has been taken out of new editions of Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We've watched as hordes of angry female columnists (and some male ones) have demanded that videogames include more female characters. And it's rumoured that a baddie in the new Star Wars movie who was supposed to be male, and played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was rewritten as a woman. Culture is being policed by a new PC brigade, and this isn't positive. Where once the Stasi and other authoritarians naturally suspicious of art spent their every waking hour making sure art and entertainment contained the "right" political messages, now an army of online culture-watchers, whose favourite word is "problematic", are forever telling us that certain songs, films, games or TV shows don't have enough women or black people or gender-positive storylines and thus are Bad.
This policing of art to make sure it says the right things about gender and identity, this "Melissa McCarthyism", isn't new - but it's getting worse. Ray Bradbury, when he received correspondence from a "solemn young lady" asking him to revisit his Martian Chronicles and insert more female characters, said the following: "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian / Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist / Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist / Women's Lib / Republican / Mattachine / Four Square Gospel, feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse". He pointed out that "the real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws", but "the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule".
In short, the writer - or artist or game-maker or filmmaker - does what he or she wants and shouldn't be subjected to pressure to be more politically palatable. He was right. And just as there's more than one way to burn a book, so there's more than one way to destroy a film. Leave Ghostbusters alone. If you want to "send a message" about women's role in society, write a polemic.