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.
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.
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.
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.