"Venkmaning" - Ghostbuster's Most Sexual Predator Moment

Let's discuss what I'm gonna call "Venkmaning." To do that I'm going to drive a bit out of my lane - my lane being specific discussion of lady-gasms, clits, and lady-bation in our culture, media, science, etc. Today, I'm going to break down a scene in the original Ghostbusters so we can see the purest form of Venkmaning.. Normally I only do these movie scene breakdowns for my SSL Review series and the scenes must include a specific discussion or depiction of clits, lady-bation, cunnilingus, or lady-gasm. This has none of those. Instead it has a textbook manipulation in which a man in power uses that power to strategically trick a woman into trusting his intentions and interest in her until he suddenly flips the switch and tries to do sex stuff with her in a betrayal of the original reasons he portrayed for why he wants to be around her. AKA a dude being actually quite intentionally mean and thoughtless towards a woman in pursuit of sex - all from the most beloved of Ghostbuster characters - Bill Murray and Dr. Venkman.

I hadn't noticed this creeping when I was a child....
I was at work eating lunch in a breakroom with cable TV and caught the first part of Ghostbusters, a movie I've always enjoyed, but hadn't seen in a good while. In fact, the last time I saw it maybe about 8 years ago, I think I had also caught it on TV and missed the beginning.

My boss happened to come in to talk about something, and I said, "Dude, I hadn't realized what a creep Bill Murray (granted, it's his character Dr. Peter Venkman, not actually him) was." He was like, yeah, he's a creep in that, and then we started talking about capital purchases, but I was shook, ya'll. It's not like I was surprised. I have started seeing real creepiness - ranging from straight rapey to just pushy in a lot of older movie I've rewatched. What was weird to me was how blatant it was in a movie that had been at the center of a really huge gender-related controversy quite recently. It truly surprised me with all the talk about how much of a perfect, cinematicly-amazing, utterly hilarious, excellently scripted, utterly untouchable piece of movie genius (I'm paraphrasing but that seems to be the gist of the fan talking points) the original Ghostbusters was, I never heard any hubub about how fucked up Venkman is - which granted could just be because I wasn't engaging much in that stuff.

So, I looked around the interwebs to see if I just missed it, and yes, it does seem there is an acknowledgement that Venkman is a creep (as my boss acknowledged as well), and probably a straight up sexual predator. However, the discussions on this mostly surrounds his interactions with Sigourney Weaver's character Dana - which really is pretty gross and, let's be honest, prevents this movie from being timeless. It is for sure a dinosauric remnant of its time and one that will become a more and more embarrassing piece of art as the years pass - not one that truly holds up over time (fight me). The experiment at the beginning is mentioned some, and it seems it's used sometimes in Psych 101 to talk about concepts like negative reinforcement (what Venkman says his experiment is about) and abuse of power. However, the take away of this scene always seems kinda light - like 'don't hit on your subjects, k?' But, it's more than him hitting on a pretty girl. It's a planned, nefarious, manipulation that really exemplifies a particularly painful way women get fucked over. Let's break this down.

The Scene:
It's at the beginning of the movie. The library ghost situation has happened. The iconic music and 'Ghostbusters' title/logo appears. We see the exterior of a university building - "Weaver Hall Department of Psychology." Then we see the door to a room or office in the building. It says "Paranormal Studies Laboratory" and has all 3 of the Ghostbusters' names on the door, Dr. Egon Spenglar, Dr. Ray Stanz, and Dr. Peter Venkman. It also has,"Venkman burn in hell" painted on it in red. It seems like a legit place, but this clearly is also showing us that Venkman may not be well liked (because the movie does seem to acknowledge he's a creep, albeit a lovable, funny, main-character who gets the girl in the end kind of creep).

We hear Venkman behind the door.
Venkman: Alright. I'm going to turn over the next card. I want you to concentrate. I want you to tell me what you think it is.
We see a star on a card and the camera moved to reveal a male college student with wires attached to his hand. He touches his forehead and nervously says,
College guy: Square.
Venkman: Good guess, but wrong.
Venkman flips the card over to show the star and then flips a switch on a controller in front of him that gives the college guy an electric shock. The college guy seizes a bit and yelps with the shock and we now see a blond college gal, Jennifer, next to him. She recoils too at his pain. Venkman stays steely calm, writes something down, and then looks over at the gal. He drops the steely persona and gives her a little smile.
Venkman: (upbeat) Clear you head.
Jennifer smiles a touch, nods and then Venkman hold up another card.
Venkman: Alright. Tell me what you think it is.
Jennifer: Is it a star?
Venkman: It is a star. Very good. That's great.
It is not a star. It's a circle, but Venkman doesn't reveal that. He just puts the card down and Jennifer smiles and seems excited. Venkman turns his attention to the guy again and holds up another card.
Venkam: Okay. Alright. Think Hard. What is it?
College guy: A circle.
Venkman: (Sucks air through teeth.) Close.
Venkman flips over a square. The guy smiles a little at that, but his mood changes as Venkman goes on.
Venkman: But definitely wrong.
Venkman gives the guy an electric shock again. He shakes so hard his gum flies out of his mouth. The gal looks a bit concerned. Then Venkman again softens and turns his attention to the Jennifer. He holds up another card. It's a plus sign.
Venkman: Okay. Alright. Ready?
Jennifer: smiles and prepares Yeah.
Venkman: What is it?
Venkman smiles again at her. She looks like she is concentrating a bit, and then Venkman smiles again at her and mouths jovially 'come on.'
Jennifer: Figure eight.
Venkman: Incredible. That's five for five. (flirty) You can't see these can you? You're not cheating me?
Jennifer: No, no! (a little giddy) I swear. They're just coming to me.
Venkman: Okay. (turning his attention to the guy and getting more serious) Nervous?
College guy: Yes. I don't like this.
Venkman: You only have 75 more to go. Okay. What's this one?
Guy: It's a couple of wavy lines.
We see from behind that he's correct, but Venkman drops the card without showing it.
Venkman: Sorry. This isn't your lucky day.
College guy: I know. (sadly)
The guys mumbles a variety of 'ums' and 'waits' as Venkman very slowly moves his hand towards the buzzer to electrocute him, all while turning his attention to the gal and smiling, winking. At first the gal looks at the guy in worry but then reacts to Venkman's attention and smiles demurly as he does this.
College guy: I'm getting a little tired of this!
Venkman: You volunteered for this didn't you? We're paying you aren't we?
College guy: Yeah, but I didn't know you were gonna be giving me electric shocks. What are you trying to prove here anyway?
Venkman: I'm studying the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP ability.
College guy: The effect? I'll tell you what the effect is. It's pissing me off (gets up and takes off wire)
Venkman: Well then maybe my theory is correct.
College guy: You can keep the 5 bucks. I've had it.
Venkman: I will, mister!
Venkman immediately gets up, moves to the other side of the table and sits down into the college guy's seam next to Jennifer. He's turned towards her, quite close and puts his hand on her shoulder.
Venkman: You may as well get used to that. It's the kind of resentment that your ability is going to provoke in people.
Jennifer: Do you think I have it Dr. Venkman?
Venkman: You're no fluke Jennifer.
Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) comes in. Venkman looks off annoyed.
Venkman: Will you excuse me for a second?
Jennifer: Sure
Venkman jumps up and joins dude behind Jennifer.
Venkman: (forcefully and annoyed but kinda under his breath so Jennifer doesn't notice) I'm right in the middle of something Ray!
Venkman gives him a jumping slap to the head as he says this, then looks over at Jennifer who doesn't seem to be paying attention and settles himself before he speaks again.
Venkman: I need a little more time with this subject.(sort of gives him a knowing eye raise, but Ray doesn't seem to notice) Could you come back in an hour, hour and a half?
Ray pays no attentions and just starts talking in length about the library incident and how exciting and big it is.
Venkman: I'm very excited. I'm very pleased. I want you to get right down there. Check it out, and get back to me! Get right back to me!
Ray tells him something like, 'No, you're coming with, and ends with, We're close on this one. I can feel it!" before he heads back out the door leaving the 2 alone again.
Venkmen looks resigned and mutters quietly to himself "I can feel it. We're very very close" and heads back to Jennifer. (kinda as if he's talking about him and Jennifer, if ya know what I mean).
Venkman: I have to go now Jennifer, but I'd like to work with you some more. Perhaps if you could come back this evening, say at...
Jennifer: 8:00?
Venkman: I was just going to say, 8:00. You are a legitimate phenomenon

Fuck Venkman and his fucked up intentional, calculated manipulation of this woman
Alright, so it's easy to see he's using his position as a professor to creep on this woman and that is clearly inappropriate. That's no secret. People talk about it, but I think that's just the surface of this. How he does it, how sadly common this type of creeping is, and how this kind of creeping affects the person being creeped on is really the story here in my opinion.

Making up a non-sexual interest in her
First of all - how he does it. Venkman creates a big ol' scenario just to make Jennifer believe that she is special and that he is interested in her in a professional capacity. Although from our viewer perspective he's clearly trying to get with her, how can you really blame Jennifer for assuming that his niceness and interest in her is because she's been able to guess all those cards? She's on her own trip in this scene where she's realizing that she has a psychic ability, and why wouldn't the person doing this study be truly interested in her? She's guessing every card correctly. Why wouldn't he want to continue investigating this as soon as possible? Why wouldn't he want to work on this tonight at 8 - as soon as he can get back to it? She can only assume he's as excited to learn more about her abilities as she is - probably more so! Why would she ever assume this grown, professional man doing scientific study into his area of expertise has created an elaborate ruse where he lies to her at every turn. That would be insane, and she would be paranoid for thinking that. She can only assume it's cool and exciting for both of them.

However, this situation is insane and she would be right to go into a deeply paranoid train of thought. What he does here is intentionally misdirect her to think his interest in her is professional - unrelated to wanting to fuck her. He set her up so that she lets down whatever guard she's learned to put up around dudes trying to bother her.

Getting her to feel unguarded with him
But that's not all folks. He also gets her to let down her guard in another way. When she starts this experiment, she's not alone with Dr. Venkman. She gets into the situation in a much safer-from-getting-creeped-on scenario. There's another guy. However, as we know, Venkman does everything in his power through the experiment to piss the guy off and get him to leave. He succeeds and voila! he's got himself alone in a closed room with Jennifer. It's the old get-her-to-a-secluded-place date rape trick. She's not seeing it yet, though. She's already deep in the whole I-might-have-ESP thing and she thinks Venkman is professionally interested in her, plus the guy left on his own. For her, it doesn't add up to Venkman pushing her into a situation where they are alone. It's going as planned - Venkman is intentionally getting her to trust him under false pretenses and specifically getting himself alone with her all while allowing her to think something way different and more normal is happening.

Establishing safe intimacy
Then, as soon as they are alone, he moves across the table to sit very close to her and touches her almost immediately while still speaking to her in a professional capacity. He knows what he's doing. He has planned this out meticulously to keep her open to him and willing to go along with whatever happens. The touch is the first step towards sliding without much notice into pushy sex town. But then Ray gets there.

She never indicates she wants him sexually
Honestly, it seems like Venkman was going to try to fuck her right there in that that room. He asks Ray to come back in an hour, hour and a half. We know he sure wasn't trying to finish that experiment. Which...let's just consider that for a second. Jennifer in this situation doesn't seem to be thinking of fucking Venkman at all. Yeah she smiles at him and stuff, but let us not forget that she's being gaslighted into believing that Venkman is excited about her abilities. When she talks to him, she's talking about her abilities, not about flirty shit, and when she suggests meeting him at 8, it's because she thinks he wants to work with her some more (because that's what he tells her he wants). When he eventually starts getting handsy with her (since, lets be honest, this is the next step given he's trying to fuck within the hour) his intentions, I think, will come as a surprise to her.

I think it's easy to look at this scene and read in it that Jennifer is playing along, being flirty and looking to fuck too - maybe because that's the most palatable read of this situation. The alternative, that she's going to be completely bamboozled, is frankly gross and sad, and maybe that's not the read an audience wants to make on this otherwise light-hearted comedic storyline. But that's is the only really sensible read. He's flirting with her, and she's simply being nice and even a bit giddy about her exciting new abilities.
What this manipulation does to a person
And that brings me to the other part - how this kind of creeping affects a person. Here's the deal. Do you know how it feels when you are praised for something, or when someone notices something you find interesting or unique or about you, something you take pride in? It feels nice.

Now, how do you think it feels when someone really convincingly and maybe even for a lengthy amount of time pretends to notice or praise those things but then suddenly, is all like, "sike! I didn't give a shit about any of that. I just wanted something else and played you like a fiddle to get at it."

...well, that feels embarrassing, and shitty, and sad.

Lots of people might have felt something like that in their life, but if you are a woman, I bet there's a good chance you have had that rug pulled out from under you when it was revealed the person just wanted to fuck you. You think a person is drawn to you and compliments you because of something you are doing, something you are working toward, something you share in common with them, but then they reveal the real situation. Maybe they drop you cold when they see you have a significant other or when you tell them you don't want to date, or when you avoid a sexual pass they make. Or maybe you just realize it when you think you're talking about something interesting and completely non sexual and they start trying to get with you.

Yeah, sometimes people get in situations where there is uneven interest and an honest misunderstanding takes place with good intention. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about a person wanting to become sexual with another person and taking intentional steps to misguide their object of desire to build undue trust, and to get them in secluded situations so that the possibility of sex is more attainable. If you are thinking that this isn't always so bad - that this can be part of dating - then that's the problem. That's why this scene, though incredibly mean, kind of seems normal. Our culture accepts that behavior to some degree, but it's not cool.

In fact, to the person that this happens too, it's like a punch to the gut. "Oh, yeah, I'm a fucking idiot. Why would I think this person is interested in me? I guess I'm just some tits and a pussy, and I fell for their dumb method of making me feel comfortable around them." Maybe I don't know exactly how to describe that feeling. Maybe it's different in different situations, but I think it's something like a sinking smack of reality that takes you from a particularly high place to a particularly low place quite quickly. It's mean and it shouldn't be normalized as much as it is.

What we didn't see but can assume from this Venkman scene (amusing on where this fits on the 'rapey' scale)
What's worse, I think, is that this kind of manipulation sometimes works simply because by the time the woman has figured out what the real intention was, she's too confused and embarrassed to actively separate herself from the sexual action that has started happening. I think it's something we don't talk about enough, but saying no is hard, and just going with the flow is sometimes too easy - especially when things just keep pushing forward at a fast pace. Sometimes things just happen so fast that there's not time to really be clear about what happened and what is going to happen.

I think creeps like this bank on the hope that by the time he starts doing things that reveal his real intentions, like taking off cloths or doing something specifically sexual, the woman has been bamboozled for long enough beforehand that she becomes kind of bewildered at that point. Suddenly she's trying to figure the situation out anew, real time while it's happening to her at a quick pace, and all while feeling really dumb that she let it get this far - that she didn't realize that this was about sex. So even if she doesn't want sex, she might feel bad or too silly to stop it with much forcefulness. Don't underestimate how strong a person, especially a woman's, instinct is to NOT make a person upset by stopping sexual things they actually don't want. A creep knows that, like Pringles, if you can get it started - however you can get that to happen - it's hard to stop. A creep is banking that any inkling of a 'no' will be conflicted with enough shame and confusion that it can just be kind of ignored long enough for him to go onto the next move. It's probably not legally rape, but it's for sure rapey, and definitely shitty. Granted, this part was not in this scene, but it kind of is too. I mean I would put money down that this is where this Venkman/Jennifer situation was going. It's there between the lines.  #MeTooGhostbusters, yall.

Don't we think maybe the person(s) that wrote this scene were intimately familiar with this kind of shitty, mean-spirited manipulation, but saw it as just kinda funny (not as deeply cutting and mean) given that they wrote it for the main character it in a kids movie that was meant to be at least a little lovable and redeemable (he ended up with another women in the film he harassed, actually).
All that to say that even with just the part of this we saw (which is minus the part where Venkman really would try to actually fuck her) it's a mean, dirty trick of a scene. It's a thoughtless, hurtful way to treat a person, and it's not something people do to people they respect, but men do it to women so often that it almost seems like a normal part of dating (funny and lovable even). And let me just say that even though this sucks, this mentality is woven so deep into our culture, that it's hard to blame a man for thinking of dating and sex in manipulative terms. I think women even think of it this way (from the opposite direction) to some degree. That is how we see hetero dating and sex in our media and how we talk about it...but that's an even bigger bag of worms...

I mean, even now in an era that should be so much more progressive than the world 30 years ago when Ghostbusters was made, the scene in this movie is largely just viewed as a professor abusing his power in order to flirt with a student instead of being seen as the focused, cruel kind of sexual manipulation it actually is. It doesn't pop out to us in that way because this kind of manipulation still happens so much that it seems like normal stuff. That's how far we still have to go.

Because, haven't most of us been #Venkmaned to some degree? I mean the purest form of Venkmaning is when a Paranormal professor megatricks you into thinking you have ESP, gets you alone in a room for 'professional' discussions, and then tries to fuck you. That's probably less common. The harshest type of Venkmaning starts with vagrant lies to gain trust and get you alone, and ends with a forceful attempt as sex. But, there's lots of other levels of Venkmaning that involve various styles of lying, insincere interest, phony compliments, and devious plans all with the sole aim of getting a lady into situations that make it hard, uncomfortable, or too confusing for her to say no to sexual advances.


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