Monday, February 24, 2014

A Brief Elegy for Dr. Spengler

Egon Spengler is dead. The man who built proton packs and told us to not cross the streams, the man whose only hobby was collecting spores, molds, and fungus, the man who would tell us about the Twinkie -- he's dead. And so, too, begins the long, slow death of my childhood, the dissolution of those small flashes of nostalgia that remind me of a time when maybe the world was no more innocent than it is now, but I was.

I'm part of a generation between generations, an interstitial collective of people who don't quite revere Joy Division or sarcasm as much as their older siblings, but who also can't name a single member of the Rugrats or say we never lived in a house without a computer. We're not Gen X and we're not Millenials; we're Gen Y, pre-Millenial, babies of the Reagan 80s. People talk about us like we might be part of Gen X, but that's a falsehood -- I did not even exist as a cellular cluster during the 1970s and I think you really had to experience at least a glancing blow of that dark decade in order to be called a Gen X'er. But I'm not a Millenial, either -- I never won awards solely for participation and I do not rank Miley Cyrus amongst my contemporaries. No, I'm part of a lost generation that falls between the cracks, a generation typified by anomie.

But there are a few cultural touchstones that always let me know whether or not you're a part of my generation: singing the entirety of the Ducktales theme song, knowing what will happen when this baby hits 88mph, having recurring nightmares of David Bowie as a dark elven lord, caulking your wagon to float it across the Platte River even if you know you'll lose two days, and, perhaps above all else, understanding that bustin' makes you feel good.

Ghostbusters has been with me since I can remember. I was three years old when the movie was first released and there seems to be no era of my life that wasn't influenced in some way by its quartet of scientist superheroes -- Venkman, Stantz, Zeddmore, and Spengler (okay... Winston wasn't a scientist, but he was one of the team). When I was really little, they made me feel that even the scariest monster could be wrestled to the ground and defeated, imprisoned in a big red container where it might never frighten me again. If THEY could bust a ghost, then so could I. If THEY could beat demon dogs and androgyne gods, then what chance did the creeps in the shadows by my bed stand?

As I grew older, I wanted to BE the Ghostbusters. I wanted to fight the evils that lurked in the closets of the universe; I wanted to learn as much as I could about ghost and ghouls, aliens and cryptids. Tobin or not, I wanted to write a spirit guide and explore the unknown. Ghostbusters fostered in me an interest in both science and all those things science cannot explain. It made me believe in the power of technology and the infinite possibilities of the paranormal. It helped mold me into a person who believes that the boundaries between the empirical and the supernatural are much, much thinner than we might like to admit.

As a teenager, I lost a bit of the sense of adventure that swirled around the Ghostbusters but gained the sense of humor that tinted their world. I got the joke -- the ridiculousness of their entire endeavor, the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of their "science," the reverential parody of all things horror and dark fantasy. And, again, Ghostbusters took on a new meaning for me, became a more interesting, more multifacted idol of my cultural history. Thus it's remained for the past 15-ish years.

Ghostbusters is a comedy of horrors and a sci-fi adventure. It's a gleeful celebration of technology and spirituality. It doesn't ask you to not laugh at its ghosts, but it also doesn't try to make them cute or cuddly; it's not a didact that tries to make you worship at the altar of skepticism any more than it is an evangelist of the supernatural. It's a movie that defies static identity, that defies being just one genre or taking just one ontological stance. And that's why it's the perfect movie for an interstitial generation, for people who just don't quite fit anywhere, either.

And now a part of that is gone. A little thread of my non-generation's loosely woven identity just unraveled. A little totem of my childhood just cracked and fell to the earth. In some ways, Egon will live forever, yes. But today he's a reminder of how my generation still can't seem to define itself by anything other than the tracings of popular culture and how my childhood -- all our childhoods -- are growing more faded, more frayed, day by day. 

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