Exploring the Americana of The Ghostbusters

Americana is a green bottle of Coca-Cola, it's a fire red Chevy, it's a hand-illustrated postcard from Arizona, and in a way, it's also Ghostbusters.

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Ghostbusters Art

Americana is a green bottle of Coca-Cola, it’s a fire red Chevy, it’s a hand-illustrated postcard from Arizona, and in a way, it’s also Ghostbusters.

The good people at Insight Editions got in touch with Ghoulish Media about their latest art book inspired by the imagery of the Ghostbusters franchise. Obviously we were ecstatic about the project and wanted to help out any way possible.

They sent us a copy of the 208-page book and upon opening it I was awestruck. The entire book itself is a compilation of fan art surrounding Ghostbusters. It’s essentially a gigantic visual love letter to the franchise with a written introduction from Ghostbusters: Afterlife Director Jason Reitman. In his introduction Mr. Reitman says…

On rare occasion, a movie will coalesce so perfectly that it ceases to belong to the artists that created it. The dialogue, the performances, the characters, the music, and the soundscape becomes such a part of our collective consciousness that they defy the idea of being born. they simply exist. Ghostbusters lives on that mythic plane…

Ghostbusters: Artbook, Jason Reitman

Just like Star Wars, the Universal Monsters, or The Avenger films, Ghostbusters has taken on a second life within the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. But after spending hours wading through the pages of the miniature art gallery I began to think on the imagery of the series.

Why does a film about four ‘Joe Shmoe’ ghost exterminators resonate so loudly for so long? It’s obviously an incredible film, the comedy is expert, the practical effects are solid, the creature designs are fantastic! But how did this strange concept of a film create such a widespread cultural reach?

Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle…or in this case a phantom in a trap. It was the highest-grossing film when it debuted in 1984. It surpassed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Terminator, and Gremlins! I believe that to be because it’s a very American story. And I know what you’re thinking “duh of course it is” – but bear with me.

Reagan Revolution

Ghostbusters tells the story of four down on their luck blue collar and white collar workers who decide to take on being entrepreneurs. The four go into business and one of the main antagonists of the story is the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). They “fight” the systems of regulation and business wins! Right?

Ghostbusters is very much a product of the Ronald Reagan administration. During the “Reagan Revolution” big government was seen as more of a problem rather than a solution and federal regulations were heavily curtailed.

These issues deserve their own editorial though for another day. Point being, Ghostbusters leaned into the pro-capitalist nature of the Reagan administration, and when it came out the bootstraps mentality obviously resonated with Americans everywhere. Just to hone in more on the pro-capitalist nature – Ray Parker, Jr. struggled to write the now-iconic theme song until he thought of it from the perspective of a commercial.

The Design of the Ghostbusters

The Ghostbusters themselves resemble blue collar workers or the American every man. Their uniforms resemble that of a plumber or exterminator, their HQ is based of a fire station, their vehicle is inspired by an 1959 Cadillac, they smoke cigarettes, and they live in New York – a city renowned for its early immigrant population.

When you look at the Ghostbusters you don’t see a super hero but you see an average American. They’re all doing their best to scrape by the best they can and doing so they blend so perfectly into the natural world.

The Ghosts of the Ghostbusters

While our main protagonists blend so well into the natural world it’s our antagonists that often times don’t. The specters of the film franchise often POP off screen. They’re either neon green, hot pink, or clad with intense glowing red eyes. The ghosts are almost works of pop art compared to the natural world of New York City. They contrast with everything but it works because of course they shouldn’t be there!

Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain, drawing inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture. Stay Puft, the final boss of the first film feels like a piece of pop art come to life. He’s an American inspired cartoon food mascot who’s dressed as a 1950s American sailor.

The Longevity of Ghostbusters’ Imagery

It’s no wonder why the film franchise connects with so many people, especially for so long. The film’s use of the working class, the federal government, and the general production design are fragments of American life that still resonate with people in 2020.

The desire of time since past in culture manifests into a burning nostalgia. Audience’s nostalgia for the 80s may be overtly romanticized and probably reflects only a small portion of a society’s experiences but those are the roots of Americana. It’s like looking back through a dusty box of old photos and feeling a mixture of happiness and melancholy.

What comes out of that nostalgia though are symbols. Symbols are formed from simple beginnings but take on lives of their own with every person. Like a glass bottle of Coca-Cola. Close your eyes and think about the bottle if you can. You probably envision warm summers and vintage hand-painted ads of Santa Clause. Americana is a green bottle of Coca-Cola, it’s a fire red Chevy, it’s a hand-illustrated postcard from Arizona, and in a way, it’s also Ghostbusters.

It’s a visualization of American desires, nostalgia, and dreams. So rest assured knowing that it’s here to stay.

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