It’s all just an uncomfortable mess.
The facts are these: last Friday, James Gunn, director and credited writer on both Guardians of the Galaxy films as well as Super and Slither, was very publicly fired from his job as writer-director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 3 after a collection of tweets he made between 2008 and 2012 resurfaced involving him making ‘jokes’ about paedophilia, rape, and transgenderism (the latter has mostly been ignored as this story has gone on). The tweets number in the hundreds (a small sampling can be found in this image) and were primarily dug up by far-right commentator Mike Cernovich, who has frequently made false allegations about notable public figures being paedophiles, as part of a crusade he’s been on since late 2017 against his “enemies.” He shepherded a campaign to get Gunn fired and Disney capitulated. Gunn left Twitter entirely shortly thereafter (his account is still up at time of writing).
I am not about to sit here and defend the ‘jokes,’ hence why I keep putting the words in quotation marks. They are indefensible even with the attempted qualifier of Gunn being a veteran of noted deliberately provocative indie studio Troma. There are almost no actual punchlines, little-to-no satirical value in them, and they’re so try-hard edgelord that they don’t even achieve their aim of being properly shocking. Of the ones I’ve seen, 90% of the ‘jokes’ are just ‘paedophilia’ or ‘transgendered people are gross.’ That’s it. They’re gross, they’re harmful, and no matter the context or the “it’s just failed attempts at comedy” excuse they perpetuate regressive viewpoints and are only distinguishable from non-‘jokey’ tweets about similar things by Gunn being, well, James Gunn. The man was in his 40s when he made those tweets, so there was absolutely no excuse for them.
And you know who would agree with that assessment? James Gunn himself. He’s been apologising for his frequently controversial past for years. In 2011, he authored a ‘satirical’ listicle on his since-deleted blog entitled “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With” which was filled with slut-shaming, homophobia, and fat-shaming under the guise of ‘humour.’ The post resurfaced in mid-2012 when Gunn got the Guardians of the Galaxy job, he was rightfully pilloried for writing such a thing, and he apologised through both GLAAD (one of the leading criticisers) and his own Facebook page. He’s apologised for his tweets in the past, he’s apologised whenever he’s stepped out of line on his other social medias in the years since 2012, and he’s spent much of the last few years as both a vocal critic of the Trump administration and somebody who has been earnestly supporting liberal and progressive causes. Whilst I was still on Twitter and following him, I did catch him slipping up every now and again, but Gunn has largely made a concerted effort to change.
Of course, many of these tweets were still viewable on his extremely lengthy Twitter history, not every one of the screenshots of the tweets in question came from dives into web.archive or Wayback Machine, which indicates an extreme naivety or astounding level of privilege in not having deleted them from one’s timeline already. (There are rumours, particularly since certain corners of 4chan and Reddit have admitted to taking part in an organised campaign to discredit Gunn, that Gunn had already deleted the tweets but online hackers found the old code of those tweets and inserted them back into his timeline. I have no evidence on-hand to back up such claims, however, so let’s stick to explanation #1.) Which also means that Disney, who took less than half a day to give Gunn his marching orders once this story broke, were either completely fine with Gunn’s past right up until it threatened to screw with their bottom line, in which case they are hypocrites for hiring him in the first place, or they legitimately didn’t know about such tweets and blog posts when they originally hired him, in which case they are completely inept fucking morons.
See, maybe it’s me basking in my and Gunn’s White male privilege by having this viewpoint, but if this were 6 years ago, when he first got the job and was still making rape jokes on the reg via his Twitter, I would have absolutely had Gunn fired. But today, in 2018, after he has frequently expressed genuine-seeming regret about his past and grown and changed as a person in the years since? …no, I wouldn’t have fired him. I’d have pulled what Adult Swim did on Tuesday when an old Dan Harmon short from his days as part of Channel 101 resurfaced in which, as part of a Dexter ‘parody,’ he simulated having sex with a baby. (This also came about due to Cernovich’s crusade.) Condemn the offending content, show that the person responsible has apologised and spent the intervening years genuinely growing and changing as a person, and move on. Such a move would be much more befitting someone like Gunn than someone like Harmon, whose growth towards becoming a better person over the years has been… challenging, shall we say.
That’s also not without bringing in Disney’s past hypocrisy on such matters, as brought up by actor Bobcat Goldthwait, such as hiring actual convicted paedophile Victor Salva to direct the studio’s 1995 drama Powder, 7 years after his initial 3 year sentencing (he only served 15 months). But again, in specific relation to Gunn, it’s tricky. I understand those who believe he should never have been fired due to his actions in the years since the offending tweets proving that he has learned and changed, and I understand those who think he should at least be punished for his actions in the same way that companies check the social medias of prospective employees for any red flags before hiring them. If it were just about the tweets, on their own, regurgitated of their own accord, then I’d at least understand how this all went down and maybe not feel so queasy about the whole thing even with Gunn having been one of my favourite filmmakers since my first catching of Slither when I was 14.
But, of course, it’s not that, is it. Gunn’s firing was not the result of the same long-overdue reckoning and desire to clean house in an industry that has had abusive and discriminatory roots stretching back to its inception. The one that spawned the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the one that is seriously trying to start a necessary conversation on how to reorient Comedy in a more socially aware age, the one that would much rather known domestic abusers didn’t get to take centre-stage at San Diego Comic Con’s Hall H to deafening applause. This was nothing so noble. Instead, because this is Mike Cernovich’s doing, this was a right-wing hitjob against a prominent outspoken Trump critic that had the good fortune to accidentally land on a target that wasn’t immediately cut-and-dry (like with Cernovich’s other targets in his ceaseless quest to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre regardless of the theatre actually being underwater).
This was because Roseanne Barr was publicly fired by Disney in May for tweeting racist epithets and the far-right, forever looking for liberal conspiracies trying to oppress them in some nebulous way, needed to find a scapegoat so they can accuse (So Much For) The Tolerant Left™ of being massive hypocrites. Never mind the false equivalency in their argument, that Barr continued to post offensive indefensible shit during her time under the Mouse House’s employment and has only gotten worse since her firing (showing absolutely no regret over her actions or desire to change), whilst Gunn palpably has and also has been the classiest of gentlemen post-firing. Never mind the massive hypocrisy in the right-wing brigade of disingenuously screaming “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!” over paedophile jokes – and it is only the paedo jokes that they are upset about, I want that made crystal clear – whilst happily and blindly defending an actual alleged serial paedophile who ran for Senate last year along with god knows who else in the Trump/GOP demagogue. Never mind the fact that Cernovich is not exactly Mother fucking Theresa either, with his long history of denying the existence of date rape, pushing the myth of White Genocide, and spreading bullshit conspiracy theories like Pizzagate.
This was because far-right assholes wanted to weaponize Cancelled Culture for their own means, to own the libs, to gain another foothold in the exhausting “Culture War,” to prepare to scream about hypocrisy and censorship and oppression the second we didn’t immediately flush one of our own down the drain when presented with a case that requires actual fucking nuance. (After all, they have correctly pegged that there are certain sections of the Left who love to eat their own over the slightest infraction.) In the case of Gunn, they just happened to luck into being right on a certain level – those tweets were, are, and will forever be indefensible – but for the wrong reasons, because they wanted that sketch on The Break with Michelle Wolf where anonymous audience members admitted to wanting Trump to screw up in North Korea purely so they wouldn’t have to give him credit if he fixed everything to occur. That would fuel their non-existent cause, it would give them credence to go forward with some imaginary moral high ground that they never had in the first place.
And Disney rolled over. Quite fucking quickly, I might add, because, as mentioned, now it affects their bottom line. They’ve got a major borderline-monopolising merger to close. You think they’re going to risk doing anything between now and whenever that deal gets permanently sealed to piss off the mindless goons of those in power? Of those who gleefully allow such a worrying merger to go on when said company is in their good graces, but will attempt to eat said company alive for the slightest indiscretion? But all that’s done is galvanise the witch hunt, which has already spread so fast and so thoroughly to women and people of colour that it’s like when a resprayed car falls apart to reveal the stolen shitbox it was all along, because Gamergate gave these cretins a roadmap and the rest of us didn’t realise the potential of that power until it was too late.
Like I said up top, this is all just an uncomfortable mess. Gunn’s tweets are indefensible and he should have been punished for them, but not like this, not via such a disingenuous targeted hitjob, and with the additional context of his sincere repentance and attempts to improve as a person genuinely taken into account. (For those who want to pull a “judge me by my work” defence, Gunn’s Guardians movies actually provide the perfect evidence of said evolution into a better person.) I guess the best lesson I can come up with from this thing, besides “maybe just don’t ever make jokes about paedophilia online,” is “scrub your timelines regularly” but that doesn’t always work, either, since hate-mobs such as these will dredge them up and nail you to the wall with them regardless. Nuance, after all, is just a leftist concept for snowflakes. The Internet is written in ink, for worse and for… No, just for worse.
Callum Petch, if we’re all apoplectic, will be the neckbeard.