Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Phi Busters: How would a Ghostbusters franchise operate in Laos and Southeast Asia?

So, a significant buzz has been made about the casting decisions and the format of the new Ghostbusters film, which will be the first one in over 26 years. As a child of the 80s who grew up on a steady diet of horror comedies, this is something I'm approaching with an open mind.

There's a potential to do some really interesting things exploring an all-woman ghostbusting team as long as it can pass the Bechtel Test and doesn't become merely a gender-swap shot-for-shot remake with 2010s comedic timing. Well, there are tons of ways to do it wrong. But I hope fans of both horror and comedy can get something interesting and as iconic as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer.

I admit, I approach it all with a particular deal of goodwill because the Real Ghostbusters cartoon was also one of my first exposures to the work of H.P. Lovecraft with its episode, "The Collect Call of Cathulhu" and it also braced me for seeing some very different takes on the characters and the stories that could be connected to the Ghostbusters over the years in other mediums.

One of the interesting ideas that came up on the road to getting Ghostbusters out of development hell was the idea that the Ghostbusters might eventually set up worldwide franchises to deal with paranormal activity around the globe, rather than keep it yet another "New York is the Center of the Cosmos" franchise.

So, what would the Lao branch of the Ghostbusters look like, and what might be the opportunities and challenges they would face in the modern age? My thoughts are hardly the last word on the matter, but here are some things we'd be considering.

As a country, Laos is technically 722 miles long, from its northernmost to southernmost point. If people were driving 60 miles per hour, that means it takes about "half a day" to drive anywhere. This of course, doesn't really apply because it's not taking into account the lack of a highway system and non-uniform road conditions once you get outside of the cities. (And even inside of some cities.) There's also altitude issues, and many of the places where you might see a supernatural flare-up are in remote villages where you just have to walk it. Transit can also get a little touch and go because of UXO from previous conflicts, unfavorable weather, and other road hazards.

These are all things to consider as we identify the Lao equivalent of Ecto-1. There likely wouldn't be a Western-style hearse available to be repurposed for this endeavor. There's not much evidence to suggest 1959 Cadillacs made it to Laos in great numbers, if it all. While some might think a tuk-tuk would be the go-to vehicle, it doesn't really have the stability or reliability that a franchise would get the green-light to use.

As a nation, modern Laos has over 160 different ethnicities spread out within her borders, each with their own traditions, language and dialects and other customs regarding the supernatural. That's not even including the various foreign and colonial powers who have spent time there, such as the French, the Japanese during World War 2, Americans, Russians, Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Australians, to name a few.

Many died on battlefields such as the Plain of Jars, Phou Pha Thi, near Dien Bien Phu, and other locations. There are certainly many reports of tourist deaths over the years in Vang Vieng on the rapids or near the caves there.

So, among humans alone, there are plenty of candidates for upset spirits who might necessitate a Ghostbusters franchise operating there. There are also numerous non-human entities whose presence might well necessitate a call, ranging from Nak upset at the rivers and streams being polluted or destroyed by construction to hungry phi like the Phi Kongkoi, the Phi Kasue, or weretigers.

There will be a number of interesting challenges to address because the spiritual traditions of Laos include a medley of Hindu, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, as well as folk religions that sometimes overlap or contradict one another. Also, efforts to operate efficiently may be hampered because resolving a phi encounter is not something that typically has a consistent solution.

This would directly inform the team composition for a Lao Ghostbusters franchise. Because you have so many diverse spiritual traditions, and many entities are also shapeshifters, you're going to need a variety of specialists. This might include shamans or mor phi, but also scientists and cultural anthropologists, or people with that kind of background. They'll also need to be fluent in many of the languages there to be fully successful. 

One interesting question that might emerge is whether or not an all-woman Phi Buster team would be fielded, similar to all-woman demining teams employed by the Mines Advisory Group to address UXO in Laos, which currently has over 30% of the region contaminated with cluster bombs and other ordnance that failed to detonate during the Southeast Asian conflicts of the 20th century.

At the moment, it's unlikely the Lao franchise of the Ghostbusters would be as robustly funded as those in Europe or other continents. They would most likely enter Laos as an NGO rather than as a standard corporation, and would have to operate with a Memorandum of Understanding with at least one, if not multiple ministries there. 

There is a strong possibility that the Phi Busters would face considerable pushback from the government, which would take a dim view of them encouraging superstition or suggesting that the government is incapable of taking care of its citizens or adequately assessing their needs. Resolving this conflict would most likely involve a regular non-standard expense or else extraordinary services rendered to key decision makers.

Maintaining a consistent funding stream will also be an interesting question. Will it have to rely primarily on expatriate donors, or would domestic benefactors see the usefulness of having the franchise around. 

If we've hit a point where a Lao branch of the Ghostbusters is needed, might we see an informal volunteer network emerge such as the Thai volunteer ambulance drivers of the Ruam Kayanyu Foundation in Bangkok. You might also see an unfortunate rise in unqualified con men and women who attempt to pass off "equivalent" services that instead infuriate the various phi even more. Would the Lao Ghostbusters franchise charge extra to resolve the crisis. 

There are also questions of how the Lao Phi Busters would deal with staff members providing services or using equipment off the books or after-hours, particularly if they're accepting irregular payments, such as villagers offering prize chickens and eggs, or trying to marry off eligible children.  

It seems highly unlikely that the Lao Ghostbusters franchise would have access to the same level of equipment that franchises in the US and elsewhere would have. Especially a man-portable, unlicensed nuclear accelerator. But not strictly impossible. A P.K.E. Meter to measure psycho-kinetic energy may be available to the team, but they may experience a problem of unscrupulous individuals taking off with it and trying to peddle it on the black market, in addition to calibration issues appropriate to the region. The same goes for Muon Traps.

On the other hand, the Lao Ghostbusters franchise may also come into possession of a variety of esoteric and arcane objects particular to the region such as split buffalo horns for divination, spirit masks, shaman rattles, and palm leaf manuscripts of various levels of accuracy and effectiveness in dispelling malign entities.

In Laos, it might not be considered prudent to store ghosts collectively in one central location as in the New York branch. There would be some interesting questions about how they would ensure the necessary and consistent access to electricity to maintain the containment unit, and what the emergency protocols would be for a breach.

But these are just some of the things that would come into play, I imagine. What other issues or things would the Lao Ghostbusters have to deal with?

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