The ghosts of 1984 were Sumerian shape-shifting demons transplanted to Central Park West…


Ghostbusters, Columbia Pictures, 1984

From The New Yorker:

To learn more about ghosts, I recently watched the original “Ghostbusters.” It became clear to me, as it had not been when the movie came out, in 1984, when I was seven years old, that ghosts congregate around the enemies of free-market capitalism. When the original Ghostbusters lose their cushy academic posts in parapsychology, they mortgage Dan Aykroyd’s mother’s house, invest in fixer-uppers (an abandoned firehouse, a 1959 Cadillac ambulance-hearse), and start a ghost-extermination business. They find that ghosts haunt the New York Public Library, traumatizing a librarian, whose salary is paid by the taxpayers, and that demons inhabit the frail frame of a penny-pinching accountant, played by Rick Moranis. (“Who does your taxes?” Moranis bleats, when rescued by the Ghostbusters.) An Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, who shuts down the ghost-containment unit, triggers a ghost Armageddon. Ghosts infest the refrigerator of an uptight cellist, played by Sigourney Weaver, whose beautiful body is the rightful trophy of some enterprising capitalist. The Ghostbusters bust the ghosts, humiliate the E.P.A. lawyer, release Weaver’s libido, and make a fortune.

If the original Ghostbusters was about the thrill of the free market, the new one is about its consequences—about the people it disenfranchises, and the possibility that they will try to take violent retribution. To get anything, in the new New York, you have to take it from someone else. When the new Ghostbusters try to move into a cool former firehouse in Chinatown, they learn the monthly rent is twenty-one thousand dollars. (As Alexandra Schwartz wrote, their New York is also a ghost town of empty real-estate investments.) The vehicle they drive is a “steal”—not in the sense that they get a good deal on a car that nobody else wants, but in the sense that they steal it from Leslie Jones’s uncle. This vehicle is a hearse. It may have a dead body in the back. They have to figure out what they would do with a body. Eventually, the uncle, an undertaker, turns up and wants his hearse back.

Whereas the ghosts of 1984 were Sumerian shape-shifting demons transplanted to Central Park West, the ghosts of 2016 are the dispossessed souls of people whose rights were trampled in the making of New York. The remake opens with a tour of “Aldridge Manor”: a Simpsons-style parody of a nineteenth-century mansion with “every luxury, including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence.” (“In this very room,” the tour guide tells visitors, “P. T. Barnum first had the idea to enslave elephants.”) It’s no wonder the house is haunted by the patriarch’s repressed daughter, who went crazy and murdered all the servants. Her eruption from the basement causes the tour guide, a young white man, to soil his pants.

Everywhere ghosts appear turns out to be the site of a historical wrong.

“Ghosts From Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively”, Elif Batuman, The New Yorker