What’s an Environmental Protection Agency representative gotta do to get a break in this town? He’s just doing his job. I mean, as far as government lawyer types go, being an EPA stooge at least has some nobility to it. So why is Walter Peck the villain of Ghostbusters?
Besides the fact that he’s played by William Atherton, basically a staple of ‘80s douchiness, he’s also an expansion of a theme Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray had all been elaborating on around this time period. It’s the Slobs vs. Snobs mentality that pervades Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes and Meatballs. Peck is a stand-in for the exclusive, whitebread golf resort or the rich rival summer camp or preppy fraternity. The creative minds behind Ghostbusters have always championed the underdog and Peck is a stand-in for the overbearing establishment.
While Ghostbusters has a solid, Libertarian streak throughout, the actual Ghostbusters aren’t really the classic Randian hero archetype. While they embody some of the characteristics, they’re really more anti-establishment and anti-capitalist working class heroes. Time and again their monetary struggles are accentuated: Ray Stantz takes out a third mortgage, the whole team deals with the perils of starting a small business. Because of this, the establishment — basically the government — is inherently antagonistic, including any extension of that like the EPA.
When Walter Peck walks into the movie he’s in an impeccably pressed three-piece suit, showing amused disdain for their little operation. It’s not a big surprise that Peter Venkman is immediately hostile towards him. All of the roadblocks in the entire movie — the University Dean near the beginning, the snooty Hotel manager, even the ridiculously coiffed blonde musician Sigourney Weaver is chatting with in one scene — are cut from the same cloth. Upper crust authority types who look down on the chain-smoking, jumpsuit-wearing workaday schlubs. So that’s the part Peck has to play.
Peck is smarmy and dismissive and makes it his mission to shut down the Ghostbusters without even understanding what they’re doing. He sees them as con men and, worse, socially beneath him. He practically sneers at Venkman’s bonafides. From the moment he walks into the firehouse he wants to shut down these people he sees as charlatans.
The funniest part is that Peck is actually kinda right.
Earlier in the film, Egon Spengler admits that the containment unit is dangerous. The grid isn’t holding up. They literally have unstable nuclear reactors in their building. Venkman’s instant dislike and dismissal of Peck almost makes the eventual release of the ghosts as much his fault as it is Peck’s. They should have sat down, had a conversation and found a way to assist Egon in stabilizing the grid.
But, not only would that be a boring-ass movie, it would run totally counter to the Slobs vs. Snobs theme. The slobs just want to be left alone to have fun, party, play golf, goof off, or catch ghosts. It’s the snobs that won’t allow it. Anything that isn’t the strict, WASPiness of “polite society” is counter to it and thus wrong. Anything that says ghosts are real is a scam, especially if these blue collar Joes are the only ones who can stop it.
So that’s why Peck has to be the bad guy. He has to carry the torch of Camp Mohawk and Omega Theta Pi. Walter Peck has to be the bourgeoisie mouthpiece for our schlubby heroes to clown on and point to as the problem holding them back from doing what needs to be done. That’s why Walter Peck is the bad guy.
Also because he has no dick.