Ghosts and Goblins

When I was a kid, Ghostbusters was a Thing. I got into the cartoon—both of them—and the movie. I wrote ghost stories and read far more than was healthy. One book, I remember, I had to physically get rid of because the cover carried so much residual horror after I read it. I’m 95% certain that I was initially interested in Supernatural because of Extreme Ghostbusters.

The name is stupid, but it had an awesome cast. I will still fight people in the street over how great that show was.

Anyway. There are many reasons I grew out of Ghostbusters. The first cartoon was of that kind of 80s/90s quality that does not age well. The jokes are bad and/or tired, mostly puns, and it accidentally teaches some upsetting moral lessons. There also aren’t actually that many ghosts in it.

From the very first episode, you can see that whoever was in charge, they did not know what to do with the property. The voice cast is phenomenal, but the character designs are cosmically confusing when you know what the actors look like, and the ghosts are so not ghosts. They never resemble anything living, they’re garishly colored, and they behave like corporeal beings. The first episode has some goofy decisions, like an obese ghost getting stuck in a pipe and the ghosts using the terminology that the Ghostbusters made up like “Level 5 apparition.”

Often, they were expressly dealing with things that were not ghosts. The Grendel, trolls (bridge trolls in New York, seriously), a leprechaun at least once. Demons and goblins.

Goblins are an interesting “thing” in mythology. Outside of places where the meaning of the word has been thoroughly codified, like Dungeons and Dragons, there’s not really a set appearance, although it carries connotations of being vaguely humanoid and usually ugly. Culturally, goblins tend to live in the dark, be cunning or tricksy, and are not the nicest creatures.

This is one of the reasons why 쓸쓸하고 찬란하신 – 도깨비, which was originally translated as The Lonely and Great God—Goblin saw a mid-broadcast name change to Guardian: The Lonely and Great God. The titular 도깨비 was more of a benevolent force in the world than a grimacing trickster.

Goblins are a better choice for children’s television than ghosts. Goblins are more readily dynamic in how they can affect the world than ghosts. They don’t have an implied history. Nor do they necessarily have feelings or agency. They can just be nasty things that need to be hunted down and contained. They don’t need a reason to exist or to do any of the things they do. Just like bugs.

Ghosts have the problem of questionable visibility and tangibility. They’re usually lacking in one or both to some degree or entirely and that is what makes them ghosts. Also being the lingering spirits of a thing that was once living. Usually a human.

Put that context on the ghosts in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters and it just gets uncomfortable.


[Everett Peck’s stock ghosts for the show]

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is a construct created by a malevolent god. So. Not a ghost. But what was that pink thing with the blue crest and antennae in life?

Goblins, demons, or monsters fit better. The first has the most palatable parent-friendly name.

I’m not sure if I have some kind of conclusion other than that the ghosts in The Real Ghostbusters were usually not ghosts any more than I am a block of cheese.

[post requested by dither]

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