I never got around to seeing the original Ghostbusters back in 1984. I was a snotty 19-year-old kid who spent most of his time listening to Mozart, or reading Cicero in the original Latin, and you would have had to have waterboarded me before I would have paid money to see that kind of overproduced, corporate hack work. I honestly hated everything about 1980s popular culture. Seriously, you millennials don’t know how bad it was. Just about the only I thing I did see from the original Ghostbusters was the curiously rapey Ray Parker Jr. music video, which was rotated so frequently on MTV it was impossible to ignore.
So the news that the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters would include an all female cast of “ghost busters” provoked no reaction in me at all except “oh Christ. Not another shitty reboot of another shitty movie.” Eventually, however, since I don’t have a life and spend all my time on the Internet, I became aware of the online controversy surrounding the $144 million dollar extravaganza, which was directed by Paul Feig, and produced by a long list of Hollywood studios headed by Sony. It’s pretty much the same thing as the controversy that erupted around the boring Mad Max reboot last year. Men’s rights activists hated the film, or, to be more accurate, they hated the very idea of the film, since it hadn’t been released. Feminists and their allies at websites like Buzzfeed considered supporting the new Ghostbusters to be almost as a litmus test on whether or not you support women’s rights. You don’t plan to see the new Ghostbusters? What are you, a misogynist?
It all came to a head this week when Milo Yiannopoulos, the self-hating little bleached blond Nazi with a name more unpronounceable than mine employed as “technology editor” at Breitbart “News,” wrote a scathing, yet also overly long and endlessly boring take down of the new Ghostbusters. I got through about half of it. Nobody not named François Truffaut or Walter Benjamin should write a film review over 1500 words, and that includes me. Pauline Kael’s classic reviews are rarely over 500 words. In any event, Yiannopoulos, a leader of the “Gamergate” movement with several hundred thousand followers, directed most of his ire against Leslie Jones, the black “ghost buster.” His followers at Breitbart, mostly the kind of right-wing racists who once called the police on me for making dead Breitbart jokes (seriously they did, see the enclosed screenshot) then proceed to go on a rampage against her Twitter account. They flooded her timeline. They sent racist tweets comparing her to an ape. More importantly, they Photoshopped fake tweets to make it look as if Jones had made homophobic remarks about Yiannopoulos, when in fact she had not. At this point, it’s difficult if not impossible to figure out which screenshots of Jones’ tweets are real and which ones aren’t.
Faking tweets is a violation of Twitter’s terms of service, and Yiannopoulos was banned. Many people, of course, Photoshop fake tweets on Twitter and don’t get banned, but Milo Yiannopoulos, a long time Twitter troll widely perceived to be a nuisance, had apparently retweeted a few of them. So the Twitter management saw their opportunity and deleted his account. Good riddance, most of the left exclaimed. It’s a violation of “free speech,” the right countered. “Free Milo.” The problem, from my point of view is twofold. First of all, unless Yiannopoulos was dumb enough to troll Jones with sock puppets without using Tor or a proxy, I doubt Twitter can actually prove that he was tied into the harassment. I’m sure he knew that his review of Ghostbusters would mobilize trolls against Jones and the rest of the cast, but knowing something and proving it are two very different things. The second problem is why now? That Milo Yiannopoulos is a right wing racist troll is common knowledge.
Milo Yiannopoulos’ sin in the eyes of the powers that be at Twitter is not that he’s a racist or a conservative, but that he organized a consumer revolt against a film bankrolled by a major Hollywood studio. Twitter, Facebook, and all of corporate social media have only one purpose, advertising. You have no free speech on Twitter and Facebook. You get to use their platform as long as the management thinks you’re making them money. The moment they believe you’re damaging their brand, you’re out. This is true not only of right-wing racist trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, but of black nationalists like Azealia Banks, who had very consciously organized a campaign of harassment against the white rapper Iggy Azalea far worse than the one Yiannopoulos organized against Leslie Jones. As long as Banks gave Twitter cache for being hip and edgy, as long as she brought in black users, she was promoted. When she went off the deep end, endorsed Donald Trump, and began to come off as mentally disturbed, Twitter banned her without comment. She had done her job, had allowed Twitter to capture and profile a large part of the black demographic. She was no longer of any use. Yiannopoulos, in turn, was banned, not for being a racist harasser, but for offending Sony. I doubt there was any kind of purposeful collusion between Sony and Twitter, but there doesn’t have to be. The management of a corporate advertising platform always runs their business with an eye to what will please the cultural elite in Hollywood. By panning Ghostbusters and mobilizing his followers against a member of their cast, Yiannopoulos, a long time troll and racist harasser, had crossed the line. He had organized a consumer revolt. This is not to say that Yiannopoulos had cost the producers of Ghostbusters any money in the short term. In fact, he played right into their viral marketing campaign, but in the long run, Twitter wasn’t going to allow anybody, even a prominent conservative, to piss off their advertisers. There’s no left and no right in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, only green.
Addendum: Final Irony mentioned above. Breitbart fans (who are now complaining about “free speech”) once called the cops on me for making dead Breitbart jokes.