I started this blog as shameless self-promotion of my writing but I’m finding myself lecturing a lot lately and I’m not sure how to feel about it. This post is no different. I’ll try to write it well, I guess?
The children and teens I work with are generally the most lovely, thoughtful, intelligent young people I’ve ever known and I delight in speaking with them to the point where we often lose track of the lesson they’re actually there to learn. Just this past week, someone mentioned Ghostbusters and that conversation went on just long enough for me to feel guilty I didn’t move them along sooner. But it was gratifying to see a group of both boys and girls, of different ethnic backgrounds and religions, having a pleasantly respectful conversation about an apparently divisive film.
Some of them said they thought it would be funnier. Some of them said it wasn’t enough like the original. Some of them said it was too much like the original. Most of them said it was really pretty great and they wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
But there was one boy, a white upper middle-class 11-year-old Christian boy who took the discussion to that other place. That place where reason and discourse goes to die. The kid became a walking comments section, regurgitating all of the small-minded, bigoted, hate-filled inanity that has plagued the film from its announcement (without the swearing or the slurs, obviously, because I would have kicked him right the hell out).
The original Ghostbusters came out in 1984. I was elementary-aged and didn’t see it until at least a year later when my dad bought it on VHS. I loved it because it was funny and exciting and different than a lot of what I had seen before. Ghostbusters 2 came out in 1989 as I approached adolescence. That one, I may have actually seen in the theater and loved just as hard, possibly more so than the original because the walking Statue of Liberty and the people of New York banding together to spread lovey peacey thoughts was a simple symbol of hope and inspiration in my young mind.
This kid, on the other hand, was born in what? 2005? Almost 20 years after the first came out. The cartoon based on the movie went off air 14 years before he was born. Ectocooler changed its name 8 years before he was born. I can guarantee you that this kid’s childhood was not ruined by adding ovaries to his favorite show. So where, oh where, did the hate come from?
Memes and repetition by biased and/or unreliable parties. The same place too large a chunk of Americans get their news and form their political opinions. Why else would he be preaching the gospel of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd with absolute ignorance of their roles in or praise of the new film? He hadn’t even seen it. And there’s no way he was going to, he asserted, because it’ll just ruin the experience of the original.
As I stood there, listening to him mocking and shaming and mindlessly repeating the opinions of others, I had to make a choice. Do I call him out, this kid who doesn’t even really understand what he’s saying or why or what the connotations are in this room full of girls and POC? It’s not entirely his fault that his role models are dipshits and bigots. I’ve been reminded on more than a few occasions that children don’t always realize they’ve been brainwashed by their family members until they grow up and move out and experience the world for themselves, forming opinions of their own and disregarding the untruths they were conditioned to believe in their youth. But at the same time, isn’t it my job as a role model to provide an alternate perspective? Isn’t it my role as a leader in this small community to inspire positive change and help question negative assumptions? But the whole situation was making me unreasonably angry, which isn’t a good place to teach from at all.
In the end, I was saved from having to make a decision at all as one of the older boys, a Muslim in fact, interrupted my thought process by gushing about Holtzmann which steered the entire conversation in her direction. It’s not hard to get distracted by Holtzmann. And minutes later, I shushed them all and urged them to focus on the task at hand, putting a pin in the conversation until our session ended.
But I’m still thinking about the snarky white kid and his meme-inspired rhetoric. I’m grateful for all of the students who allowed opinions other than their own to be spoken without mockery. I’m even more grateful for the students who seemed to understand that the movie was kind of a big deal in terms of equity (teen girls mostly).
But that one kid. That one kid is the reason stereotypes persist, why sexism is pervasive, and why old hates don’t die: the old bigots hand it down like family heirlooms, insisting on their value despite the rot and rust that holds them together.
Maybe the opportunity will arise again to provide another perspective or at least to challenge him to reconsider what he’s been told. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I say because my voice will never drown out the bigotry that surrounds him at home. Just like the larger issues I have no control over, there’s only so much I can do and that is so very frustrating.