Extreme Ghostbusters: Sex in Kids’ Cartoons is Good, Actually (Sometimes)
Extreme Ghostbusters’ working title was, as it goes, Ghostbusters Dark. Clearly this is hilarious (and #radical), but despite its basic applicability I propose an amendment: I propose that Extreme Ghostbusters might just as well be referred to as Ghostbusters: Dirrrty. Yes, friends, with three Rs.
Ghostbusters was never an especially chaste property. There-is-no-Dana-there-is-only-Zuul pretty much wanted one thing only, and that thing was the D, I mean, the key. Louis and Janine were getting hella frottastic on the sofa before mama came home and Janosz stole that baby. Louis Tully is really only there to fuck. And, basically, all cartoons have sex jokes in them, sooner or later, because when worded correctly they can go straight over the heads of kids, and cartoons are written, of course, by adults. Adults like sex jokes. Sex is real, and jokes allow us to cope with that.
So Ghostbusters + cartoon = sex jokes, right? It’s to be expected. Not a great shock to encounter. What is a great shock is that they’re actually quite good; what’s a greater shock is that they establish, and enlarge, character.
Who and what were the characters? Well, gather round chil’ren, I’ll tell you a tale, a rude tale. Of creeps, confidence, and cat jokes.
Extreme Ghostbusters was “for the nineties” in a way you’ve doubtless already conceptualised. It was indeed “radical.” The core cast, ghosts (and assorted monsters) were designed by Fil Barlow, whose gross-out, kink-inspired style is currently being celebrated in Island following a prelude-to-renaissance reprint in Prophet; Brandon Graham, there, a big fan. The show positioned itself “in canon”–the four Ghostbusters, this time, were students; students of Egon, an original (“Real”) Ghostbuster. That’s cartoon canon, not live-action canon. There’s a full-on two-parter crossover with The Real Ghostbusters for the heavily nostalgic viewer. The students by necessity were weirdos–the only kids at Fictional University to give any credence to a course on the occult.
Four weird students. A whole bunch of ghosts to bust. Sure, fine, grand. But what are students also known for? Protesting? Drinking? Yeah. But wrong! Immature relationships. Immature, and deeply, but undeniably horny, relationships. Yes. Who you gonna call? Not your crush, oh my god! Fuck that guy, you don’t even like him. Right? Right? Totally. I do not know why I said that. Soooo you’re gonna call him? Yeah? Nice.
The Extreme Ghostbusters were Roland, Garrett, Kylie and Eduardo. The latter are our non-couple; the former (for today’s purposes) are our spares. But they are very fine young men.
Roland was the engineer. Not “the smart kid” (Kylie had him squared for genius, I think), but the egghead. The serious, nice kid, who would be there for you, but didn’t really understand why you were making such a fuss about nothing. Roland was a fixer, essentially, inclined to build equipment to solve material problems. It doesn’t make sense to this brain to have prolonged romantic tension with someone you claim to despise but spend every day around, flicking at. That’s good, because too much drama is too much drama. Without Roland, Extreme Ghostbusters would be Extreme Silliness, Plus Some Ghosts. Nobody really wants that.
Garrett was the jock with a brain, heart, courage, and social fluency. He’s the bro who’s the broiest, who’s also the best bud who knows what you need and wants to see you’re alright. Not perfect–he will neg you during video games and his patience has a finite reach–but extremely reassuring to have around. Garrett can see when people are raw for each other, because that’s just a social thing, that happens. He and Roland are clear-eyed.
Both of these characters have their own personalities, informed and non-reliant by their circumstances, both get great lines, jokes, and episodes all to themselves. You could watch Extreme Ghostbusters as a Roland fan, or as a Garrett fan, and not be too disappointed, probably.
But I didn’t. I watched it for the resentful and prickly flirtation between the don’t-touch-me girl with the big hair and the sleazy rule breaker with only half a smile. Because we all have our patterns. Don’t we. For me (and for others), Extreme Ghostbusters lived, died, and lived again (ghosts!) on its sexually charged snitting: Kylie, the gifted goth, versus Eduardo, the slacker. His heart, if not gold, was at least made of some useful substance. Like aluminium. Or … what do goths like? Oh–
Eduardo, the slacker with a heart made of heart. Or of dick, actually! But that sounds kind of gross. Speaking of gross,
The greatest joke of Extreme Ghostbusters’ entire run takes place in episode thirteen of season one, Be Careful What You Wish For. It is so, so dirty, and it is so, so good. It demands certain things from the construction of certain characters, and it’s safe: impossible to parse with a child’s brain. It–but I’m getting ahead of myself. First I should tell you more about Kylie.
Kylie Griffin, like many cartoon women and girls, was vocally performed by workhorse voice actress Tara Strong. A goth, voiced by Tara Strong (then Charendorff)–you’re thinking Raven, right? From Teen Titans? Bored, sardonic, so over all of this? You’re pretty much there. Except for one thing: Kylie is from New York. I should say, more evocatively, Kylie is from Noo Yawk. She has this great gut-punch accent sometimes, and if it comes and goes a little perhaps we can forgive it on the grounds of realism–during a young woman’s first year at college she likes to reinvent herself a little from time to time. Calibrate her identity. It’s fine.
Anyhow, the state of voice acting and the misleading concept of normalcy mean Kylie’s accent stands out at something unusual for a woman or a girl. Or a goth. It’s not, for whatever historical reason, something one associates readily with delicate silhouettes and black lipstick and backcombed hair, if you don’t already live around that accent all day long. Kylie reads as a combination. She’s slight, not so tall, girlface-cute, registering ethereal and otherworldly due to her twin interests in the occult and the scholarly. Her posture and facial expressions, despite the funereal makeup, are reactive, non-threatening, sometimes shy. Her hair falls over her face. Then she opens her mouth and the general effect is “ey, fuck yow.”
That’s an initially compelling character. In a cartoon, in a franchised cartoon, that basically unexpected juxtaposition is enough to suggest nuance. She begins to seem “real.” A real person is relatable. When you want a girl Ghostbuster to exist real bad, already, a relatable one? That’s like Christmas. You begin to root for her. Her triumphs and trials become your own.
And almost immediately, Kylie is put in social combat with Eduardo. They flirt evilly. The deeds are drawn up. You identify with Kylie, kid? You’re gonna feel the hell out of her oppositional attraction to this fuckin’ asshole.
I know, I know. Isn’t that always the way? Punish the girl with some dude-baggage? Yes, mother. But I love him—
Eduardo is … sensitive, okay? He has feelings! But masculinity makes it hard for him to healthily express them! This is old and boring, but Extreme Ghostbusters does it well, because:
- They’re in college, i.e., the whole point of everything is that they’re there to learn and grow. The premise is, “these people are unformed.” That he’s gonna learn how to deal is not said, but it is not definitively rejected; the audience is “allowed” to take kind of not the best and learning and come up with totals such as redemption arc, become a decent man and hope.
- He is Hispanic; his (Mexican?) accent is just as noticeable as Kylie’s and has a greater association with “foreignness.” His brother Carlos (a policeman) demands to be known only as Carl; the combined implication is that Eduardo too deals with outsidership, identity siege, and has an inherently nuanced relationship with privilege. There’s something to educationally lean on, here, something “you” (Kylie) can use for comparison and emphatic intimacy if he tries to skate over the “we live in patriarchy” thing. (Extreme Ghostbusters socially disempowered all of its core cast in fact; Roland is a black nerd and Garrett uses a wheelchair.)
- Terrible facial hair. It looks like a chin claw. But is this not too a rite of passage? We should all, if we are the least bit inclined, date a sulker with bad facial hair while we’re young. They’re hot.
- The insecurity which drives his lesser traits is exhibited overtly by the narrative in a way that less suggests “excuse” than “weakness.” We are not invited to see a flawless hero, but a young adult who’s a dope and knows it and who isn’t impressed with his own failings. (This is why the “I’m a scientist” thing checks out, in-ci-den-ta-leeee. He’s not a scientist, so he says he is, cos he isn’t.) Which circles around to “grow and learn.”
- He literally dreamt of her.
Eduardo/Kylie “matters” because it’s a romantic subplot in a cartoon that kids watched and internalised somehow. For me it matters because I was like “hell yeah,” and because as an adult I can recognise the pros and the cons, but more importantly I can recognise the structure of their relationship in my own past. It’s nostalgic, it’s compelling–frankly it’s a rush. I root for them because I rooted for my own romantic choices. Seeing their hardened shells crash furiously against each other in the vain hope that eventually said shells will crumble away by themselves, simply by brunt of impact, so that their yearning cores can finally unite in peaceful harmony makes me laugh for the childish silliness of wanting the glory without doing the work, and I cringe for the absurd joy of being in that dreadful, stupid, blissful position. It makes me happy because I wanted like they do, and I got what I want. Watching their juvenile flirtation becomes an exercise in gratitude. Ghostbusters Deep, amirite?
So here’s how it all begins: In the first episode, Kylie gets possessed by a succubus-style ghostie and comes swaying at Eduardo. He is not aware she is possessed, she’s like, “Kiss me, Eduardo, I want you to,” and he’s totally into it. And so, from the start, we know, he definitely wants her. There is no hiding, no denying, no gameplaying. He is dtk … if she starts it. He would be susceptible to her wiles once she got ready to use them. So the fact that so much gets in the way of that, in the general scheme of things? Human. Human and frail. Rather sweet. The fact that she’s plainly not ready stands out in comparison, and in that light we recognise that he takes that as it is. No pushing. No expectations. This is basic stuff, yes. But basic stuff is necessary.
From here, regular sassing aside, there are a couple of stand-out scenes that I think deserve mention. Kylie gets this habit of saying drily, “I’m not a[n] (x).” The first time it happens she says directly at Eduardo, in response to a prompt to scream if anyone runs into trouble, “I’m not a screamer.” Is it me or is it suddenly crowded in this big huge empty underground complex?
When we make jokes about our own sexual selves, or indeed our bodies in abstract, we take a chance. We gamble on the possibility of ruining our experience of a room, or a group: the chance of one of the guys in it taking our words away from us and conceptually hijacking said sexual, bodily agency. To plant an entendre in the ground and claim a space like this is to risk the space as a safe one. Kylie makes a quip that uses the recognisable language of sexuality–she doesn’t do it accidentally. It isn’t meant to humiliate her or mark her as different. She rolls the ball, and she scores a strike! None of these guys try to punish or patronise her. They recognise, as a character basis, that her sex noises are HERS to joke about. She casually establishes herself as a sexual individual, a level of confidence that is not accessible to all women at all times. But here, among the Ghostbusters–her eighteen-nineteen year old boy-man peers–for Kylie it is. This makes the hell up for her body being taken over in episode one. Hail Satan, and may it be so in all children’s cartoons.
(Eduardo’s greatest fear is alleged to be that of being naked in public, in the same episode. The boy’s physical shyness gets examined while the girl stands firm on purpose? I’m in, this is good deprogramming.)
And finally, the greatest joke of all. Let’s roll. In episode thirteen, Be Careful What You Wish For, Eduardo is feeling gloomy after having made a mistake or two and being gently laughed at and left to clear up by the rest of the team. Kylie is the last to leave, laughing cutely and citing a need to feed her cat. The Ghostbusters, at this time, are searching for a certain ghost.
The ghost approaches Eduardo, but Eduardo does not realise. The ghost is a salesman who grants wishes–monkey’s paw problems, wish-granting much like that one episode of Buffy. The ghost, in his kindly, old-man voice, asks Eduardo, what’s his problem? And Eduardo complains if only Kylie wouldn’t disrespect him so much (this is a childish use of “disrespect,” he’s not an actual maniac), and sulks that she spends so much time on her cat … instead of, we understand, on him.
Whoops, the ghost “grants” Eduardo’s “wish.” Whoops, Eddie wakes up seeing through the eyes of Pagan. Pagan is Kylie’s cat.
At a point rather later in the episode, once the team has comprehended Cat-uardo’s messages and perceived the ghostly problem, we get the gem. The glittering monster rhinestone, standing tackily above all others, bathing cheap light over all that’s below. Garrett says:
Ugh, I don’t even wanna think about what you wished for.
BECAUSE EDUARDO IS INSIDE OF KYLIE’S PUSSY, SICKOS. Bury me at sea!
This joke is good for certain varied reasons:
- Eduardo did not actually wish that at all. There is no consent problem here.
- It is extremely dirty, in its basic mechanisms. “Inside her pussy.” That’s so *thrusting motions*
- We know that that is a real, non-magical wish (“desire”) that he really has; this is just a reminder that reminds like a Mack truck.
- Oh my god, it’s elaborate. An entire episode written around a scenario arranged so that a character can infer–not even make–a horny pun.
- No child will ever, ever get this. Even if they do, they’ll be like, “Well, that can’t be right; they wouldn’t be allowed to say that.”
- Then you grow up and omg they did??
- Ladies wrote this joke. Lara Runnels and Patricia Carr! Nice, ya witches.
And that’s my thesis, darlings. Extreme Ghostbusters? Ghostbusters Dirrrty. Extremely darn decent. Bustin’ makes me feel good.