When life reflects art, things get scary

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed says there are lessons to be learnt from the original Ghostbusters film

The original Ghostbusters: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson. Courtesy Columbia Pictures
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In the original 1984 Ghostbusters film, there is a scene when suddenly all the ghosts are released and the level of dangerous supernatural activity goes completely off the scale. There's fear and destruction on an unprecedented scale and panic and pandemonium sets in.

That’s what it has felt like in real life this year with the escalation in violent acts. It feels like the world has gone completely crazy on a scale that we’ve never seen before. And just like the shift in magnitude faced by the population of New York in the film, every day it’s becoming harder for all of us to cope. Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Brussels, Munich, Istanbul, Dhaka, Balad, Ansbach … the list is long and doesn’t end there. Some days I don’t even want to climb out from under the bedcovers, worried at what the world holds.

The terrifying escalation of horror feels like it did in the film.

Not a fan of Ghostbusters? You should be. It's not just in the level of crazy activity that life reflects art. The danger facing the public is exacerbated when a non-expert claims to have expertise and shuts down the Ghostbusters' equipment and puts them into jail. With expertise pooh-poohed and locked away, the city takes a terrible downturn into a hellish nightmare.

Donald Trump might see his own reflection in the self-proclaimed bureaucrat who claims to know best and squashes the actual real experts. And it’s a trend that we’re seeing more and more in the disregard for expertise, even when dealing with issues of such epic proportions.

This month, a remake of the superb original was released featuring a female lead cast. If Trump was the anti-hero of the original, will Hillary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel be the fearsome female trio that save us this time?

I genuinely wish that the terrible events of 2016 could be solved with three special lasers and a giant marshmallow man. But they can’t.

Instead we have individuals with mental health problems, violent histories including warning signs of violence against women, and we have bloodthirsty political ambition. We have gun control issues leading to weekly mass shootings. We face war, a global epidemic of rape, increasing racism, rising refugee numbers. It’s heartbreaking to list them all.

Instead of effective on-the-ground strategies, we have non-experts cranking the volume up on our fear which actually only serves to heighten the danger. If they’d have been in charge of the Ghostbusters they certainly wouldn’t have been telling us: “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.” Instead, they would have been busy increasing the fear factor as well as the actual danger.

But here’s where real life can diverge from the melodrama of art. The roots of the crazy can be addressed. But only if the fear of experts from the grass roots along with the desire for self-aggrandisement are stopped from dominating the conversation.

And, of course, an analogy can go too far. Today’s perpetrators of the horrors we see around us aren’t supernatural or inexplicable. They are inflated by our fear which plays into their stories. They see themselves as saviours. Instead, we need to puncture their sense of heroism and expose them for what they are: peddlers of hate.

Repeat after me: “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf