In these heartbreaking times, when so many of our real idols are turning out to be massive dickholes, maybe it seems pointless to note how equally creepy some of our fictional idols are. But those guys reflect on our culture too, specifically when we clearly weren’t supposed to find them creepy. The comically lecherous middle-aged loser has been a comedy staple so long that they probably turn up in cave drawings. Everyone chuckled and tried to ignore that in the real world, getting stuck in the same room with one of these guys can ruin your goddamned life.
So let’s talk about Dr. Peter Venkman, immortalized by Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. You know, the guy who asks a clearly traumatized woman if she’s menstruating. The guy who harasses Sigourney Weaver’s character Dana with multiple unwanted displays of affection (a woman who also just underwent a traumatic experience), blackmails her into a date (by promising new info on said trauma), and belittles her throughout the movie like a sleazy pick-up artist who recently learned about negging. That guy.
He is introduced mere minutes into the film as a college professor abusing his position to hit on a female student, faking experiment results to set up some time alone with her — the kind of thing which would ruin a career today, but which society was apparently fine with for several thousand years before that. And besides, he’s supposed to be a jerk, right? The whole point of those early scenes with Dana is that he falls flat on his face. It should be mentioned that she’s a fairly well-written character too, as women in ’80s comedies go. She’s a successful musician living in a great apartment who repeatedly points out how unprofessional Venkman is being.
So the movie does acknowledge he’s kind of a dick (though a lovable one), but that leads us to the fact that this man apparently brings syringes full of tranquilizers on his dates.
Let’s back up a second and set the scene. When Venkman first invites himself into Dana’s apartment (letting it slip that it’s an excuse to “check her out”), he quickly makes sure she’s single and has no roommates, and then starts with the sexually suggestive jokes. Venkman, a man she’s known for like two hours and who got her alone in her apartment under false pretenses, then tells her he’s “madly in love with her.” Dana makes it clear that she’s not interested and kicks him out … so Venkman decides to switch to a new strategy.
He waits outside her workplace to tell her he has new information on the entity that is terrorizing her, but would prefer to give it to her “in private.” When Venkman shows up at Dana’s home, he finds out that she has been possessed by an evil demigod named Zuul. The scene ends with Dana/Zuul growling at him, and by the time we get back to them, Venkman is on the phone with the other Ghostbusters, telling them that he “whacked her up” (that’s ’80s for “knocked her out”) with 300 cc’s of Thorazine:
Which raises a question: What the fuck? More specifically, where the hell did he get that stuff, and why did he have it with him?
For those unaware, Thorazine is an antipsychotic, also known as a major tranquilizer, usually used for treating psychosis or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It also has a nasty side effect of impairing judgement, causing sleepiness, and making it hard for the body to move. Before going to the apartment, Peter had no reason to believe Dana would be possessed. The possibility had never even been raised. He also knows that he can’t use this drug on ghosts. There’s only one person he could have planned to use it on, and it sure as hell wasn’t Rick Moranis’ character. (Not yet, anyway.)
While we’re at it, we’re pretty sure Venkman got that stuff illegally. Neither parapsychology nor psychology are medical fields, so the only likely way a guy like Venkman could have obtained it would be through bribing a corrupt pharmacologist. Also, that amount of Thorazine is waaay above the lethal dosage. If Dana hadn’t been possessed by a ghost, she would have ended up as one herself. Of course, the alternative is that Peter carries enough date rape drugs for 12 women on his person at all times, just to be efficient.
To his credit, Peter does reject Zuul’s offer to get down with Dana’s body (after thinking about it), so at least there’s that. But the question is: Was the Thorazine bit a plot convenience they rightfully knew most viewers wouldn’t think too hard about (“Eh, they probably had to use the stuff in a previous possession case”), or was it a subtle joke they tossed into the script, that Dr. Venkman’s the type of guy who brings knockout drugs on his dates? It’s not like the film up to that point wasn’t full of jokes demonstrating that Venkman thinks about sexual consent the way corporations think about tax laws.
Either way, as with lots of these “hilariously shitty guy” types, Venkman gets the girl in the end. He proves his worth to Dana by killing the demigod and saving the world, freeing her from the possession — which, oh by the way, he refused to take seriously the first time they met (he spends the whole time hitting on her). And to be clear, Venkman doesn’t change at all, or learn anything. All that happens is that Dana learns that Venkman is in fact as awesome as he claimed to be. His dickish, horndog exterior is something she as a woman has to get past if she wants to land a man. Or, you know, get a male professional to spend time on the issue she called about.
And so what if a generation of young males grew up thinking that when a woman hires you to come do work in her apartment, it’s a perfect time to start putting the moves on her? If she rebuffs you, that only means you have to prove your worth by doing a good job, and then she’ll come around! The key is to never give up! Women know that sex and intimacy is but another form of payment for services rendered!
Meanwhile, you have to wonder how many women in the Ghostbusters universe eventually decided it was easier to live with the ghost.
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