Winston Zeddemore: The Unnecessary Ghostbuster

Having recently re-watched both of the Ghostbuster flicks, I’ve come to the following conclusion:

Winston Zeddemore serves absolutely no purpose in either movie. His character is completely and utterly unnecessary, useless, and pointless.

I can already detect the furious typing of hundreds of irate Ghostbuster disciples, eager to provide me with a digital tongue-lashing for daring to even suggest such a thing. “Winston 4 Life”, they’ll say. “He’s just as important to the team as Ray, Peter, and Egon”, they’ll say.

But the thing is, he’s not. He’s not important in the slightest. Let me explain:

The protagonists of the films are Peter, Ray, and Egon (with Peter being the true main character of the bunch, seeing as how he’s the one with the love story). When Winston shows up halfway through Ghostbusters, the audience has already grown attached to the “big three”, and as a result, Winston’s arrival hardly even registers. He’s just some guy they hired off the street. We don’t know anything about his background, his motivation (besides money), or his goals and dreams to really give a damn about anything he does. He is the “fifth wheel” of the Ghostbusters.

These are the main characters of the film. Note the distinct lack of Winston in this image.

These are the main characters of the film. Note the distinct lack of Winston in this image.

The fact that Winston isn’t given enough screen time to really flesh out his character or capture our attention certainly doesn’t help his cause. Yes, if Eddie Murphy had accepted the role, Winston would have come in much earlier into the script and played a much larger role in the overall story. But as history shows, Murphy declined, and for whatever reason, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis still left the character in the movie, albeit in a severely reduced role.

But really, what’s the point? Why not get rid of Winston entirely if he’s not going to be used to his fullest? After all, one less major actor means one less expense for the producers to consider when greenlighting the project, right?

Well, I’ve done some reading, and I’ve come across two primary reasons as to why people believe Winston is still an important factor in the movies. Unfortunately for the people who believe in these arguments, I will counter each one with brutal precision and extreme prejudice:

Argument #1: Winston is the “Everyman”

The most prevalent argument for Winston’s existence is that he’s supposed to be the “everyman” — the blue collar ordinary guy — to provide contrast to the egghead university professors that are Egon, Peter, and Ray. After all, Venkman has doctorates in both Psychology and Parapsychology and has never worked anywhere but on campus — I doubt many moviegoers can say the same. Winston is supposed to be the normal dude that the audience can relate to amidst all of the wackiness.

But guess what? That’s not how it was in the original script, where Winston is some sort of ex-military weapons expert:

Very impressive resume. Electronic
counter measures, Strategic Air Command …
Black belt in Karate … Small arms expert …

Does that sound like an “everyman” to you? From this description, Winston’s not exactly the type of guy you’d find behind the counter at Burger King. Just because he doesn’t necessarily believe in the paranormal (at first) doesn’t make him an “ordinary guy”.

The “everyman” argument also falls apart because, in my opinion, Ray Stantz already held that position long before Winston arrived on the scene.

Who needs Winston when you already have Ray?

Who needs Winston when you already have Ray?

Unlike Egon (who is hyper-intelligent and emotionally sterile) and Peter (who is a bitter, sarcastic charlatan), Ray is just a normal, decent, and caring guy who happens to be a little OCD when it comes to the paranormal. In fact, it’s Ray’s child-like enthusiasm for catching ghosts that makes him the true “everyman” of the team.

After all, who was the main audience for the two movies? Who made Ghostbusters a true sensation? That’s right, kids. The way Ray reacts when the Scoleri Brothers emerge, for example, is a direct parallel to the way kids watch the movie. They, like Ray, think that ghosts are cool, neat, fun, and awe-inspiring.

So, remind me … why we do we need Winston again?

Argument #2: Winston Provides Crucial Elements of the Story

It is also argued that without Winston, the Ghostbusters would still be in jail (and New York destroyed by Gozer, naturally) because he’s the only one that can cut through the bullshit and convince the mayor that some real bad stuff is about to go down. Others will say that he’s the one the really sets the mood and tone for the last act of the movie when he discusses the Bible with Ray.

Both are valid points. His character does indeed mention those things, I won’t argue that. But I will argue this — is it at all necessary for Winston Zeddemore to be the vessel for these plotpoints? If Winston’s sole purpose in the entire movie is to say that he “likes Jesus’ style” and tell the mayor he’s “seen shit that will turn you white”, well, that doesn’t really make him a very useful character, now does it?

Alternate Scenario A:
The Ghostbusters HQ is swamped with calls. During a brief break when she’s not on the phone, Janine asks Ray or Peter if they’ve read the Bible — in specific, the passages pertaining to the end of times — and states that it might be the reason they’ve been so busy lately.

See how easy it is to get rid of Winston? The exact same point is made, and as an added bonus, we’ve added some new elements to the character of Janine.

Alternate Scenario B:
After being arrested, the Ghostbusters are being lectured by the mayor and Walter Peck. The mayor questions why he should let them go, but the Ghostbusters can only respond with technospeak and gibberish about Gozer and Sumerians. Cut to a crowd of people outside the building — previous customers of the Ghostbusters, rallying in support of the team. Somebody is holding a sign the reads: “I believe.” Another person shouts for the Ghostbusters to save the city like they saved them, etc. Eventually the mayor is convinced to give the guys one last shot.

Okay, so that example isn’t as good as the first, but it still shows that the same point can be effectively made without the use of Winston. Perhaps it doesn’t produce a classic line of dialogue, but it still shows that ordinary people now believe in ghosts — and more importantly, in the Ghostbusters.

Sorry, but your services aren't needed here. Now hit the streets, you bum.

Sorry, but your services aren't needed here. Now hit the streets, you bum.

If you dissolve Winston’s role and divide his lines and character traits (as limited as they are) among the other characters, nothing would be lost and nothing would be missed. Doing so would not only help flesh out some of the minor characters in greater detail, but it would also tighten the script somewhat by keeping the main story focused on Peter, Egon, and Ray. You know, the true protagonists of the films — the real Ghostbusters.

If anybody wants to prove me wrong and state the case for Winston Zeddemore’s existence, drop me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.


27 Responses

  1. Have you ever owned a business? Winston was hired to help the original 3 because they were overwhelmed with work. Sure, his character wasn’t as fleshed out as much as we’d all like but he definitely serves a purpose. Some of your points may be valid when it comes to story structure but I have a feeling your dislike for Winston comes from something more sinister. Do you own a white robe by any chance?

    • Sorry Tom, but I find your comment rather inappropriate. I’m looking at Winston’s role entirely from the viewpoint of story structure and character development. Anything more “sinister”, as you say, is entirely in your mind — not mine.

  2. […] a follow up to his argument in favour of Ghostbusters 2, Steve McCutchen is arguing the lack-of-point to having Winston in both film. This I disagree with – there are very specific purposes to Winston […]

  3. Winston provides them the ability to split up into teams. It takes two to trap a ghost, one to shoot, one to throw the trap. The series shows this well, as does the film. Ray and Winston are returning from a bust in upstate New York while Egon held down the firehouse and Peter was in Dana’s apartment. To make a legit service where they could be out on busts 24/7, they needed one more person.

    And without Winston, we would have no awesome biblical reference scene.

  4. While you make some points to Winston’s irrelevance to the team, I think it’s unfair to point out aspects of his character that were written, but never used. I doubt most of the people who would make the argument that Winston is the every-man, even knew about his military background or weapons expertise as, in the film, they never even touch on that.

    So, as far as what is presented to us in the film, he IS the every man. You give that credit to Ray and I disagree due to Ray’s enthusiasm and belief in the paranormal, most of which would not be shared by your average Joe going to see a movie. Evidenced by his initial appearance where he goes off on a tangent about the ghost at the library.

    Winston is someone, as you or I would probably be, who takes the job not knowing a lick about what he’s getting in to. Imagine you’re looking for a job, this place is hiring, you go in and have this nasally woman asking you if you believe in all these different things, then are made to strap on a nuclear accelerator and fight ghosts. It would be a jarring shift to ones perception of the world. One that it simply wasn’t for Egon, Peter, or Ray as they had been studying these things for years prior. That is Winston’s point of the film. To take someone who has no knowledge or even interest in the paranormal and tossing them into that world.

    Now, is he entirely necessary as a character, probably not. The movie probably could have gone on just fine without him, as you said. Not enough real screen time to build a character in the first, and they didn’t make much effort in the second to build him further. But now, 25 years later, I don’t know that I could imagine a Ghostbusters without Winston.

  5. Huh. Were you inspired to write about this after my comment on lack of Winston in GBII?

    I won’t jump on you for saying this because you are right in that the movies could function without Winston. But then that’s a slippery slope and you could also have Louis Tully removed and just have Dana possessed and then open the gateway after awhile, or have no Janine and… well, you get my point.

    Winston might not be absolutely crucial to the films, but I think they’re richer with him in. He IS the everyman, despite that line in the script. In fact that line was probably removed because it detracted from his everyman status. Him with Ray in the car is a cool scene that could not function as well with the other characters (Peter is too skeptical and sarcastic to seriously discuss religion and Egon is too scientific). He helps bump along the jail scene, and is also funny in the finale, but best of all is when he and the guys are with the mayor (Ivan Reitman’s favourite scene of the film).

    Yeah, he’s not REQUIRED in the way that the other three are, but I think it would be poorer without him. I think it was also smart that they tried to have as many anchors to normalcy as possible when going for the big finish of Mr. Stay Puft.

  6. Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  7. Excellent points by Mike and Ross. Indeed, it’s easy to see how Winston isn’t crucial to either movie, but after all these years, it’s pretty much impossible not to picture the Ghostbusters without him. For better or for worse, he is part of the team. It’s just a shame that his character wasn’t utilized to its full potential.

  8. You are right about his character not being used to it’s potential in either films [The “Ghostbusters II” arguement is a moot point as the film-makers were trying to – even if unconciously – emulate the “story-beats” of the first film, which is why you don’t see much of Winston until after the first big bust of the movie]. But he was put there for a reason. And that very valid reason has been stated in these very comments ad nauseum, so I need not repeat it .

    Just because he had little screen time in first means nothing – His character had to start somewhere, and it just so happens he came in later in the movie. I mean Janine’s not “one of the original three”, came in slightly later, and had little screen-time in both films – is she to be considered “useless” as well?

    The character of Winston Zeddemore, while not fleshed out much in the films, was very much-so expanded upon in the animated series, and subsequent spin-offs. More importantly – The new “next gen” video games. Making his role vital to the story of all Ghostbusters properties.

    And might I add that he’s purportedly been promoted to “Dr. Zeddemore” in the new game, and at the behest of a one Mr. Bill Murray to boot. Bill was reported as saying he wanted ALL FOUR characters to share the spotlight, and not concentrate on one particular actor/role. And the video game is canon with the films – serving as a “surrogate” to a third film proper. So the mistakes of the past are being rectified.

  9. The guy makes a fair point that Winston serves no mega-concrete point in the first film, and it’s a wonder that they even had him in the first film at all, and look at the poster, the older video games…. no Winston. He’s basically transparent in the first film in the grand scheme of things.

    It was his prescence on the animated series that made him a more solid, fleshed-out character. RGB gave him the screen time needed to really become the everyman, a quality that was intended in him once they cast Ernie Hudson, but because of hollywood desires, the “nobody” actor was treated less importantly. RGB fleshed him out and made him much more relatable. In fact, I postulate that if Winston had not been in RGB, he might not have made it to GB2.

    But from a logical story standpoint, it made sense for the team to hire on a fourth member, and it adds a proper team dynamic, as a person above me said. GB2 solidified his importance, I think, as it allowed the GBs to still function with sufficient numbers behind the scenes while Peter was off with Dana. Had it just been Ray and Egon, you couldn’t have stretched the subway/river of slime/fight outside of museum material out in the right way.

    But, as also said above, Murray’s requirement of equal screen time in the new game will finally rectify Winston’s lack of substance in the movie-verse. And add to that that he’s now a seaosned pro, as seasoned as the original three, so he has the Rookie to boss around. And I think his inclusion just as a friend of the original three is important.

    I suppose Winston’s “underappreciated” status is what made him my favorite. He’s such a fun character and Ernie Hudson’s so brilliantly understated in the role.

  10. I don’t want to repeat anything what was alreayd above, but I also want to point out that Winston not only rounds out the team by trait but also personality.

    Venkman is the conartist type character (mouth)
    Egon is the brains
    Ray is the heart and is enthusiasm of team.
    Winston is the guy that “keeps it real” as they say

    With Ray, Egon and Peter you have this imbalance that Winston corrects. So little time on the screen, but when you see all four of them together you see them like “wow, I could be a Ghostbuster too no matter what I am. I could have no brains at all, but great personality and I can e a Ghostbuster” and yet you can also say “I am smart but poor in labor and I can still be a ghostbusters”

    Each character fits a role that societies have showing that anyone can be a Ghostbuster so long as you love to do what you do.

    One thing I have to say is this:
    Winston probably had one of the best lines I have ever heard: “I have seen sh*t that will turn you white.” Classic…pure classic.

    Peter can’t say that line…Ray can’t say that line…nor can Egon. Their personalities don’t fit that.

    That’s all I wanted to add

  11. I believe the reason for Winston’s introduction is because Peter, Ray and Egon are already fully-qualified doctorates in their field. If they say “PKE readings are gonna fuck shit up,” they all grasp the seriousness of the situation, but the audience may not.

    By making Winston the outsider and everyman, he is the voice of the audience saying “Huh?” to which Peter, Ray and Egon then explain the deadly scenario with fast food metaphors.

  12. How about this… for an answer:

    Winston represents equal opportunity. He shows that anybody can and should be able to get a job in America. This goes hand in hand with the theme of enterprise and the American dream which is a big part of the whole Ghostbusters story. The fact that Winston is black also underscores this. The Ghostbusters as an organization and as a team transcends race and religion. I believe that is something really important to portray… especially when battling forces of supernatural nature. Without Winston, Ghostbusters will be just like the tv show “Friends”… it’s funny, but humorously an unrealistic portrayal of NYC.

  13. Although I like Winston, I would have to agree to some point. I think his role was good enough in the first film, but the second film does not need him. I however believe this could have been rectified by better writing as an alternative to taking the character completely out. And you’re right, I also see Ray as the everyman (and I do not see Peter as an “egghead,” by the way, as it’s my impression that he “never studied” and got through college by the skin of his teeth, probably by paying Egon to write his papers for him). As a last note, I wish they would have kept in some mention of the Winston character’s military background as I feel it adds more interesting qualities to the character than just being an “everyman.”

  14. I am not even going to elaborate on why Winston is instrumental to the Ghostbusters, the positives far outweigh the negative dissertation you have put forth.

  15. […] Winston Zeddemore: The Unnecessary Ghostbuster Having recently re-watched both of the Ghostbuster flicks, I’ve come to the following conclusion: […] […]

  16. You are very wrong, Ray was not the “everyman” that you claim, he is the “child-like scientist”, there is a big difference! he is there for the wonder and fantasy that is captured by children for which is what his character is aimed towards, winston is the “hardworking bluecollar” and also serves as the rock of the group, if you noticed in the movies, your 3 “protagonists” are scared chickens! (Not discrediting the Ghostbusters, they are heroes nonetheless) while he stands and fights, the only counterpoint you’ll have for that is the train sequence in GB2, it is minor but he still stands there as the train passes through him while the other guys hide which proves his bravery still. you sir, Mr. McCutchen, not to offend you in any way or to insinuate anything about your character, but your arguements are coming off as a little bit of a hater of the common person, not that i’m saying you are, but you are being a little overly harsh with your criticisims towards Winston and his overall role which you are oversimplifying to meet your own ends.

    • Fair enough. There are always two sides to every argument, and perhaps I am oversimplifying things a bit.

      However, when writing an essay or something similar, it is often quite necessary to simply things, focusing solely on one side of the argument while bringing up its counterpoints as little as possible — playing “Devil’s Advocate”, if you will.

      If I were to talk about both sides of the Winston debate equally, it wouldn’t be much of argument at all, now would it? It would be a wishy-washy piece about how Winston is useless, but he’s a pretty cool guy once you get to know him, and he does a lot of things well, so everybody gets a pony.

      And if I did that, nobody would read it, nobody would care, and we wouldn’t be having this excellent discussion about the multitude of pros and cons of the Winston character.

      • “If I were to talk about both sides of the Winston debate equally, it wouldn’t be much of argument at all, now would it? It would be a wishy-washy piece about how Winston is useless, but he’s a pretty cool guy once you get to know him, and he does a lot of things well, so everybody gets a pony.” Regardless of the whole yay Winston, boo Winston yappity yap…THAT LINE WINS. PERIOD.

  17. I agree with Steve. Winston always seemed to bail on the ghostbusters like in gb1 when they were in jail he said he wasnt even with the guys so he should be released. Also why is it if we dont like Winston were automatically racist thats bullcrap

  18. Your points are valid in some areas, but the two things that I find the character for Winston to be needed for is 1. The skeptic, and 2. to show the expansion of the business.

    1. He states at the beginning that he’ll believe anything, if there’s a steady paycheck in it. While Peter is truly the cynical, he does at least believe in the paranormal, he just doesn’t care. Winston on the other hand is a character that doesn’t believe in the paranormal, but he’s looking for a job so he doesn’t really care. He does come to believe in the paranormal. In that sense he is the everyman.

    2. The Ghostbuster, as a business saw rapid expansion, we see the characters busting non stop and we see Ray having dreams about the job ;), but we see how quickly a new hire is needed. Winston fills that role.

  19. Your arguments are neither precise or brutal. But way to think highly of yourself!

    You pointing out Winston’s character from the original script makes him not the “everyman: role is stupid, pointless, and shows you really reaching hard for a reason beyond your opinion that Ray fills the role. That may be in the script but it didn’t make it to the movie.

    As for the second argument, you can take any ghostbuster out and replace their role with another character using your flawed and rather crappy logic. For shame.

    Not a huge Winston fan by the way.

  20. […] ‘real Ghostbuster’ and that he was just more of a ‘temp’ or something. This ‘black Ghostbuster’ H8R claims he was “useless” and “pointless” in both films. He even calls him a […]

  21. […] to be black.  What’s important about your character isn’t what you contribute, but how ancillary you really are.  Because of this, other nerds will adore you in what I would like to call the “Bobba […]

  22. I appreciated reading this piece. It’s a great look at a pretty periphrial character, and it was a good help/reference for me writing my own little Ghostbusters anylsis, “Which Ghostbuster Are You?”

  23. I was watching a marathon of GBI & GBII Encore has on just now, and I thought the same exact thing. I googled my sentiments, and your blog was the first searchable item. I wanted Winston to have a point. I remember as a kid growing up watching these things and feeling sorry for Winston because the “Big 3” (boo Miami) always left him out. LOL. I was compassionate for this guy as an 8-yr-old. I didn’t know the back story with Eddie Murphy, and knowing now that info, they should have either scrapped the character or given him more substance. Instead they are straddling the fence in no-man’s land, serving as a misguided beacon to ignorant folks who would suggest circumspective bloggers such as yourself might be card-carrying members of the K K K (Stupid, but while I say that, I do have to say the underdeveloped-ness of Winston and how the 3 educated white boys comprise this chummy club of mates who deal with the esoteric occult, while the “blue collared minority” sits on the fringe and awaits the say-so of the former, I can’t deny that I’ve raised my eyebrow at the unintended nod to social strata). Anyway, what brought me to respond was the courtroom scene in GBII where the Scolari brothers pop out of the pink goo. WHERE THE EFF IS WINSTON WHEN ALL THAT GOES DOWN? He was present for the hearing. He might not have been tried as he was not there when the Big 3 (I hate myself for using that term, but it’s so convenient) dug the hole, but he left the courtroom and left them to deal with catching the ghosts themselves. What kind of wingman is Winston!? Who just bails on his friends like that? If they are even friends. If none of the above applies, who abdicates one’s job responsibilities right in the moment of most dire need? Anyway it’s the fault of the writers. To be or not to be- don’t straddle the fence.

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