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SYFY WIRE Ghostbusters

Why Don't People in Ghostbusters Remember the Ghosts?

In every Ghostbusters sequel, the public doesn't remember or care about the very real spooks and spirits!

By James Grebey

The Ghostbusters, famously, aren’t afraid of no ghost. But, it would seem that the residents of New York City aren’t afraid of no ghost, either, despite how much chaos Gozer and a kaiju-sized marshmallow mascot caused. Perhaps that’s because they’re seemingly incapable of remembering just how scary ghosts can be. They don't know ghost. The most baffling thing about the franchise, as seen in Ghostbusters II and Afterlife (the former of which is currently streaming on Peacock, alongside the 1984 original), is that nobody seems to care about the incontrovertible evidence that ghosts exist. 

That the public doesn't believe in ghosts in the first Ghostbusters is understandable. Venkman, Stanz, and Spengler are fringe researchers with a kooky start-up. It’s not until the hauntings really start that they begin to gain notoriety. At the end of the movie, they save New York City from the return of an evil supernatural entity that the Sumerians worshiped as a god. There was a portal to another dimension on top of a skyscraper! Demon dogs ran amok in Central Park! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attacked the city and eventually exploded into sugary goo! The Ghostbusters end the movie as heroes who saved the day. 

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And then, in Ghostbusters II, which takes place just five years later, suddenly the Ghostbusters are Public Enemy No. 1. They were basically sued out of existence because of property damage that the Ghostbusters — who, remember, defeated the evil spirits who actually caused all the damage — were deemed liable for. When Vigo the Carpathian and a river of evil emotional slime threaten the Big Apple again, the mayor’s response is to throw the Ghostbusters into a psychiatric hospital. Five years ago, the Ghostbusters famously busted a ghost. Now? They’re crazy. What on earth happened in those five years to make everybody forget about, you know, the ghosts!?

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Still

Eventually, the people of New York do come to rally around the Ghostbusters again and everybody comes together to give off enough good vibes to bring the Statue of Liberty to life and defeat Vigo. That only makes it even more confounding that, 40 years later when Ghostbusters: Afterlife is set, the youth of today don’t seem to have any familiarity with ghosts. Phoebe Spengler, granddaughter to an OG Ghostbuster, has no idea what Ghostbusters are. Paul Rudd’s character, Gary Grooberson, tells her that New York was “like The Walking Dead in the ‘80s,” and this is new information to her. How!? How is this possible!? In the span of five years, a giant marshmallow attacked Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty came to life, all because ghosts are real. Why isn’t this the only thing that anybody ever talks about? If either of those things happened it would be the biggest story in the entire world for all time! Why do the people of the Ghostbusters franchise have a total inability to remember or care about ghosts!?

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Perhaps the real reason why people can’t remember no ghost is because the Ghostbusters franchise is fundamentally one about underdogs. A big part of the charm of the original movie was the original trio’s rise from kooky nobodies to city-saving heroes. The sequel began with the Ghostbusters already on top of the world and simply ready to take on another supernatural challenge with the full support of the public wasn’t deemed as dramatic or interesting as having them start from the bottom again. And, for Afterlife, the legacy of the Ghostbusters took a back seat to the coming-of-age narrative. Phoebe wouldn’t have been able to discover the truth about her family and have this rich emotional experience if the exploits of the Ghostbusters were old news. 

Or, if you’re rewatching Ghostbusters II and finding yourself miffed that these ungrateful New Yorkers have totally forgotten how the Ghostbusters saved their skins in the previous movie, you can just blame it on the slime. Maybe being super-forgetful is supernatural. 

Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II are now streaming on Peacock.