Fighting sexism was easier than ever last weekend. All you had to do was go to the movies, according to Anna Silman of New York Magazine:
When it comes to diversifying Hollywood, your dollars matter much more than usual over the next few days… As we know from experience, if Ghostbusters flops, one narrative will engulf all others, like a tidal wave of ectoplasmic slime smothering all rational voices: Women movies bad! Women no funny! Women box-office kryptonite! Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts!
As Silman notes, fans criticized trailers for Paul Feig’s reboot of the 1984 classic as soon as they hit YouTube. An ugly, anti-woman thread infected many of the anonymous, online opponents to the film. The promotional strategy has nodded knowingly at the backlash; recent trailers tout the New York Times review’s key phrase: “Girls rule, women are funny, get over it.”
To some who equate a Ghostbusters ticket with a latter day burning bra, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the movie is. Even with some less than stellar opening week reviews, supporting the Ghostbusters means beating the “other side” (in this case internet comment section misogynists, not ghosts) — which is more important that getting a couple hours of entertainment for your hard-earned $12.50.
What an appropriate way to kick off the 2016 political convention season.
The Republican Party will spend this week (and, probably, the coming months) trying to bring voters together behind Donald Trump. The wounds are deep after a more-divisive-than-usual primary process. Complicating things are the staunch opponents to Trump even within his own party expressing concerns about his rhetoric and his readiness. Previous Republican nominees like John McCain and Mitt Romney, who were criticized as too moderate and milquetoast, didn’t invite backlashes as well-organized and pointed as the #NeverTrump movement. Republican speakers can’t heal the rift by championing their own nominee, so audiences will hear lecture after lecture about the importance of unifying to beat Hillary Clinton.
How, they will ask, could you sit out this election and let her win?
That same Hillary Clinton will limp to the stage in Philadelphia next week as the Democratic nominee, battle scarred by her own rough primary season. A surprisingly strong challenge from septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders showed that Democrats still don’t fully trust Clinton as an ideological standard bearer. A surprisingly light challenge from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reinforced the narrative that Clinton operates on a different set of rules than most Americans without repercussion. With their own nominee so damaged, expect Democrats to heavy up on the Trump talk, rehashing every pile of controversy Trump has stepped in over the past year.
How, they will ask, could you sit out the election and let him win?
Those are the battle lines for the 2016 election so far: the two major candidates arguing over who’s the least worst.
Vilifying the “other side” makes for a fine strategy in the near term. Heck, Ghostbusters took in $46 million for its opening weekend, enough to give armchair feminists license for a victory lap. But without substance behind the rhetoric, the plan falls apart. If audiences determine the movie is bad, box office numbers will plummet. The repercussions will haunt those involved with production; Ghostbusters Director Paul Feig has joked that a poor box office performance will put him back in “movie jail,” limiting his options for his next project.
Similarly, at some point the major party nominees will learn that bashing the other candidate only goes so far without offering voters a positive contrasting vision.
Trump and Clinton may both continue with the “don’t-vote-for-the-other-side” playbook all the way through to November. If that’s the case, one of them will win the Presidency with this strategy. Yet the candidate who wins the November election will suddenly cease to be the lesser of two evils, and become the sole evil left standing. The bogeyman (or bogeywoman) they used to solidify support on the campaign trail will no longer be relevant. The tepid backing from their electoral coalition leftovers will render significant policy achievements near impossible. If the party that loses in 2016 manages to nominate a candidate who isn’t an utter train wreck the next time around, the next President stands a very good chance of being the first sitting President to lose a reelection bid since President George H. W. Bush in 1992.
Neither Trump nor Clinton has immediate incentive to change course; each candidate’s poor perception remains the other candidate’s best asset. Chasing the short term victory in November, the campaigns will likely maintain the current tenor of the election cycle, bashing each other while volunteering as little substance as possible. Each will bank their hopes on the electorate’s uneasiness about the other candidate.
Such short-term goals make for short-sighted strategy. The candidates will eventually find that voters are like moviegoers: You can’t fool them for long.