Broken Windows and James Gunn
It's been three weeks since Disney fired James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, after some (despicable) past tweets by the writer/director reemerged, which have been heavily criticized for showcasing a lackadaisical attitude towards such taboo subjects as pedophilia, AIDS, the Holocaust, and rape. The backlash to these tweets has been, on both sides of the argument, insanely strong, repeatedly bringing into question the very validity of the tweets, as well as the reactions the world is having to them. It seems in recent days, however, that Disney may be reconsidering its decision to terminate Gunn's employ, be it in the form of utilizing Gunn's script, or fully reinstating him as director altogether. The door sits ajar, waiting for anyone from either side to open or close it. Now, I am not going to sit here and defend the tweets (from almost ten years ago) that led to James Gunn's firing, nor am I going to tell you exactly how to feel about them. If you haven't heard about this yet, bonus for you, ‘cause you're about to get a real rundown on everything that has happened up until this point. If you are aware of this current predicament, I hope you'll join me in trying to feel this one out, as many of its layers are soaked in half-truths, regret, undeniably disgusting behavior, and those bad guys for the ages: the Nazis.
A warning: This will not be an article strictly about that. This will be an article about how this happened, why I think this is wrong, and it'll be a little hard. There's a lot to cover. So for the sake of working this out, let's assume that you know nothing about the topic, and that I need to convince you that Disney’s decision to fire James Gunn, and subsequently NOT rehire him, is wrong for a multitude of reasons. And more importantly, that it shows a divisive turning point in how digital, disingenuous, agenda-driven behavior is beginning to take hold of the real world, for the worse.
1/ How Did We Get Here?
Let's start at the beginning.
Disney hired James Gunn back in 2011 to kick some ass on the recently announced Guardians of the Galaxy movie they'd been planning, a surefire departure in tone from what Marvel Studios had been producing with its comic book adaption series since 2008. Now, GotG was not that well known at the time, but arguably, neither was just about every single other character that had been cast as the central hero of their big budget film series. It's hard to believe, but there was a time that the names Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Thor, didn't necessarily crack the social zeitgeist. These were B-list heroes as far as the mainstream audience was concerned, and when they were finally propelled into the cultural conscious, I think they were all the better for it. The "unknowability" of these characters' origins allowed for the films’ creative teams around them to truly work that movie magic, crafting arcs and villains that were only mere reflections of their comic book counterparts. Sure, most people had heard the names “Iron Man” and “Captain America” before, but prior to 2008, could anybody really tell you that much about them, other than “He's got a metal suit,” or “He’s the guy that has an American Flag shield?” This was always Marvel's biggest gamble at the beginning: their biggest names (Spider-Man, X-Men, etc.) were already licensed to other big head studios. So could they create a series of films centering on some of the more obscure characters in their ranks to a profitable success? Their tactic for this was another gamble: hire directors with specific visions.
It may seem redundant these days to point out how experimental Marvel has been with its directorial choices, what with its recent influx of indie and non-white directors helming their biggest releases. But initially, hiring Jon Favreau, Joe Johnston, Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon to oversee these films back when they were being developed was a VERY big deal. Favreau was a Hollywood darling who didn't seem like he was really going to be able to make it in the big circus that is top budget filmmaking. His previous film, 2005's Zathura, was a critical bore and didn't make any money. But they gave him a shot at Iron Man (and eventually Iron Man 2), and now he's directing Disney live action movies faster than you can say, “Hakuna Matata.” Joe Johnston was an even weirder case. This is the guy who shot to fame for directing films like, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, The Pagemaster, and Jumanji, only to brutally fall from grace between 2001's Jurassic Park III and 2004's Hidalgo. And yet, this guy delivered what might be the BEST origin movie of Marvel's Phase 1 with Captain America: The First Avenger. And what about Kenneth Branagh? My goodness, this guy's track record before Thor reads like your 7th grade English teacher's Netflix queue (Good or bad? You be the judge...). A huge Shakespeare Nut, Branagh was the dream director for these guys to bring a mythological Norse God into our world, complete with some zany fish-out-of-water antics.
And then there's Joss Whedon. I vividly remember the day it was announced that the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse was chosen as the one to bring all of these big supes together in the long anticipated The Avengers. Talk about a roll of the dice. This guy had directed one movie (Serenity), which performed AIGHT, and at the time he was currently doing NOTHING, (said for writing a few comics in his off time and holding Shakespeare live-reading parties with his friends). And yet, this dude delivered (in this writer's opinion) the quintessential superhero movie of the 21st century, closing out a four year run of ups-and-downs that landed Marvel one of the biggest and most successful movies of all time. Marvel's gamble had totally paid off, and now they looked towards the future, in a slice of advertising they called “Phase 2,” a new slate of films set to be released for the next three years. And with this came the time to find the people that would fill the creative chairs for those stories.
But let's go back to the beginning.
Since you're reading this, I'd wager you have a decent understanding of what the Internet is. Thank you for that, because I'd probably have had a very hard time explaining it to you, since I am not smart when it come to ‘Big Boy Tech’, as I like to call it. As you know, the internet is a place where everyone can share their thoughts on everything, whether it be cuddly puppy videos, Aunt Beth's fishing catastrophe, that dance your younger cousin keeps showing you, or the Charlottesville protests. Ah Internet, what a slippery slope you set before us each day.
I annoyingly joke upfront because this is the sub-topic of the evening: Trolling and Cyberbullying; i.e.: spineless people acting like over-privileged dips on the Internet. "Trolling" is a term ascribed to the actions certain individuals take by introducing themselves into specific discourses, with the intention of not really caring what the discourse is about, but rather bringing that discourse to an aggressive (and ultimately) pointless end. It's a very schoolyard way of communicating with people, and everyone partakes in the process in one way or another, whether they realize it or not. These days, using social media is the method many of us use to interact with those we know, or those we wish to communicate with, and in this digital conversation there always lies the chance of miscommunication, or worse, directly hateful distraction. Speaking with someone in person allows for a multitude of advantages when compared with corresponding with someone online. To that end, the most important weapon an individual online seeking to disable a conversation has is anonymity; they can say whatever they want to try and break the person they are speaking to down to the level that they are seeking. Getting psychological, this was something that John Suler commented on back in 2004 with what he coined “The Online Disinhibition Effect,” which roughly states that people are willing to behave differently online than in real life, due to the anonymity inherent with online discourse. This can range from the idea of your "online self" not being a true representation of your "real self," and thereby allowing you to reinvent who you are, to the allowance of the "disengage/reengage" rule, which pins down the idea that not having to immediately respond or react to any given comment or point-of-view allows time for the responder to perfectly articulate their response.
This all leads to a very important, however temporary, psychological state known as "solipsistic introjection." This works on both ends of the strictly online communicative discourse, where the disconnect of not knowing or seeing one another leads to each person constructing their own (usually false) versions of the other within the conversation. This is where we start to get into very bad territory, because when you treat other human beings as fabrications within your head, you start to lose sight of any fallout that may occur from your correspondence. This is not okay, but more importantly: there are no guidelines and zero authority to point out when this crossing of the line may occur. And this is where we venture into the world of individuals governing themselves, which is rarely good. I could go on and on about this (and I'm sure I'll make more remarks on this subject as we move forward), but I know this should all be quite known to anyone reading this (again, you ARE on the Internet). I only mean to stress the understanding, not only of the foundations, but also the psychological origins, of this practice, to truly communicate the general point I'm trying to make in this article.
Now, not all trolls are bad! Hell, trolling technically started back in the ol' Usernet days, where certain account holders would post odd and pretty obvious questions to get responses from new users, thereby creating a "hardee-har-har" situation for anyone outside who was "in the know." And that not only is the origin of this method, but really the entire point of trolling altogether: to be sort of amoral to a subject, while appearing to care; to poke fun at the sincerity held by some, towards a certain topic, regardless of either party's dedication to it, while holding no real stance of your own. This is fine! Almost all observational comedy is rooted in this very concept. But then you have comments and actions that are clearly using narcissistic, sadist, and good old-fashioned antisocial personality disorder traits to function. Is this to say that anybody who suffers from these traits is an asshole? No, not at all.
I'm saying assholes are pretending to be these things. Maybe not necessarily to get away with anything, but because it makes them feel powerful in a world they deem controlled by the powerless. Again, a thought that on the surface, seems commendable. But it's what they do with that power that really shines a light on what their true intentions are. And when that poking fun at themselves or an idea turns into hate-fueled transgressions, directly or indirectly targeted at a group, that's when trolling becomes bullying (or worse). And as childish as it may seem, bullying is not a child-only threat. Bullying is a very real, ever-present part of every person's life. We all have things about ourselves that we are nervous someone will exploit: whether it be our looks, our tastes, our family, or any unfathomable amount of other things. You can bully someone about anything, but you can also bully someone for a wide array of reasons. It's the choice we make to bully, that defines who we are. Are we gonna be the Biff Tannens of this scenario, or are we going to be the George McFlys? Some would separate those two as the choice between strong and weak. Others would make the distinction as that of villain and hero.
2/ The Best Decisions Disney Ever Made
When the time came to start filling out Phase 2's ranks, Marvel continued to up their game. They grabbed the buddy-cop auteur (and X-mas aficionado) Shane Black, to helm Iron Man 3, a move that would've made the loosest of movie producers turn their heads 90 degrees too many. Black has been (and continues to be) notorious for being difficult to work with, a true mofo when it comes to putting an idea on film, and unrelenting in his inability to bend to studio mandates to the point of becoming a legend for it. When the time came for Thor: The Dark World, they hired Patty Jenkins, their first female director, whose only real claim to fame was her directorial debut, 2003's Monster, a film as far away from a Marvel joint as you can get. Alas, it was not meant to be, and Jenkins departed the film only two months into production to be replaced by HBO golden boy, Alan Taylor. But then Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrived, helmed by the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joe. These little bastards had nay a notch in their belt (a few episodes of Arrested Development and Community, as well as a flunk of an Owen Wilson vehicle in the form of You, Me, and Dupree), but that didn't stop Marvel from giving them the keys to the Cap-verse (and eventually the whole damn thing, as they went on to direct Civil War and both Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel, Avengers 4). For God's sake, they even gave Edgar Wright, quite arguably the best director working at the time (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World's End), a crack at Ant-Man, only to cut ties after creative differences, a fate similar to the aforementioned Jenkins/Thor project. These guys were hiring top dollar, based on creativity and ingenuity alone, a sight rarely seen in recent big budget blockbustin'.
And then we have September 18th, 2012: James Gunn was announced and confirmed as the director (and given rewriting duties) for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. As a huge Buffy fan, when I read Joss Whedon would be directing The Avengers, I said to myself, “Don't die until you see this. You must live. LIVE to see this movie!” When James Gunn was announced for GotG, I thought, “You're dead. You died. And this is heaven. Behold!!” I had been a fan of Gunn's for quite some time, even considering myself a diehard fan of his, mainly due to my knowledge of his roots within Troma Entertainment. Although I definitely wasn't at the appropriate age to really have access to his work with Troma while he was active, I was nonetheless eventually swept up by this dastardly disturbing production company's particular brand of cringe. The company is mostly known for its Toxic Avenger films, as well as some other oddball releases, such as Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and Troma's War. But few among us are also aware of its insanely underrated 1997 gem, Tromeo and Juliet, for which a bright and green 30-year-old James Gunn rewrote a screenplay from director Lloyd Kaufman's original script. The movie is trash-art to its core, with equal parts 90's romance and gratuitous decapitation. The movie is a real find for anyone who digs obscure, off-the-wall independent filmmaking, and I'd personally recommend catching it on glorious VHS if you can find it. Tromeo was a launching pad for the young Gunn, who would go on to write the screenplays for a few more Troma shorts, as well as bigger movies like Thir13en Ghosts, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, and both of the live-action Scooby-Doo films. The stage was set, if rather oddly, for someone to take a chance on this guy, gifting him with a sizable production budget, a good cast, and the ability to go wherever he wanted with a film of his choosing. This is when Gunn's directorial debut, 2006's Slither, came into the world.
Slither, is something of a household treasure over here at Story Screen. We showcased the dark comedy in our Beacon HorrorShow Part II series to a crowd of unsuspecting horror lovers, who were all blown away by the film's humor and tenacity for over-the-top gore (which is minimal in relation to the things Troma Entertainment had been pumping out since the 70's). But regardless of its toned down violence and sexuality, it's hard to be unimpressed by the Slither’s original and innovative decisions when it came to showcasing the homage of B-horror movie filmmaking, much in the vain of films like Night of the Creeps and The Return of the Living Dead. It remains to this day one of the most solid entries into comedy-horror because, like others that garner that title, it equally balances both genres, stitching them together by having just about too much heart for its own good. From here, Gunn continued making some more trash-comedy projects, including the highly recommended PG Porn series, which is an absolute stroke of genius on just about every level you could discuss about it. And then we get to 2011, Gunn unleashed his sophomore film: Super. Much like M. Night Shyamalan's 2000 film, Unbreakable, this is a movie that does well enough for itself on its own, but had it been released only a few years later, would've acted as an interesting social commentary on the state of superheroes in modern pop culture. Shyamalan's deconstruction of the comic book hero/villain origin and dynamic, came only two months after Marvel changed the game with 2000's X-Men, and a full year and half before Sam Raimi's Spider-Man would set the new standard for superhero fare in 2002.
Alternatively, Super landed right when Marvel's new age of cinematic adventures was just barely getting started. At the point of its April 2011 release, moviegoers had only been exposed to the likes of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2. It would be another month before another "let down" in the franchise would be released in the form of the first Thor (Shush. I like Thor. And so do you. Come to terms with it already.) In Super, Gunn's dark, cynical take on a man, whose mental instability and male ego leads him to think he has the right to beat people within an inch of their lives as some form of vigilante justice, is precisely the sort of dark take that would've been hailed by members of the Superhero Fatigue Club (established in 2012 after The Avengers), even though it was more directly comparing its main character to the likes of the Batman from 2008's The Dark Knight. Super still rocks; it’s a delightful and challenging watch for any viewer for a multitude of reasons, the least of which is a scene that upends the act of rape and the concept of consent in a (I shit you not) pretty funny way. The movie has its haters, and some for very good reasons. Where Slither jauntily danced in and out of Gunn's early nastier tendencies, Super bathes in the cringe-inducing moments it ingeniously builds towards, and this is a brand of storytelling and dark humor that is not readily accessible for just anyone. So, after all this, Gunn plays around with a few more nasty shorts, including a brief chapter in the dreadful Movie 43 (*shudder*), and in 2012, he is suddenly tapped by Marvel (who had, as recently as 2009, been acquired by They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named: The Disney Company), to head its newest franchise.
Gunn was the choice that few would've even considered. I mean, holy shit, Guardians of the Galaxy was a film few would've even considered! This was directly taking the idea of B-list properties to another level. Where your odds of finding someone who knew anything remotely specific about Iron Man or Captain America back in 2008 were few and far between, NO ONE knew about the freakin' Guardians of the Galaxy. A rag tag group of wannabes and scoundrels, heavily updated (or forgotten) every decade for the past forty or so years? You make a movie out of that?! That's what I like to see!! That's the same guts and forward thinking that Marvel is finally being acclaimed for these days, what with the hiring of Fruitvale Station and Creed director, Ryan Coogler, for Black Panther (a fucking GREAT movie), and the co-writing/directing team behind Half Nelson, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, for Captain Marvel. I mean, c'mon! You read the previous paragraph. That guy?!?! He even had a miniature scandal pop up after he was announced, which dealt with some, AHEM, rather stupid and gross blog posts he had made a few years earlier, pertaining to comic book culture, women, and sex. But we'll get to that in just a moment. Because before we jump into the main topic of this article, we need to redirect our gaze briefly, from Marvel and Disney's decision-making, back towards that rascally thing called the Internet.
3/ Broken Windows
The Broken Windows Theory: an observational foundation of identifying possible threats and motivations, this theory supports the idea that where there are already signs of vandalism or harassment, more will likely follow, due to its alleged acceptability by the proof of past vandalism or harassment.
This crude theory is a pretty good summation of "trolling culture." I've already dipped into where trolling comes from, and slightly impressed my thoughts on the whys and how’s. But let's get into the who’s a little more specifically, allowing the previously mentioned whys and how's to perhaps become a bit little clearer. Amorality is always going to play a big part in the culture of trolling individuals or ideas, but the more dangerous part of these online backlashes are the people who have something to gain – individuals of a group that have a specific agenda, who can hide behind the self-prescribed silver-lining that can be manipulated out of just about any viewpoint. These include: freedom of speech, protecting innocents, or any virtuous act that you could somehow (however vaguely) connect to the reasoning behind inflicting a full-scale assault on something. It's the mantra of “the bad guy doesn't know he's the bad guy, he's just doing what he thinks is right.” This is all well and fine when being attributed to the fictional actions of emotionally layered characters in stories we read or watch on the big screen, but this type of logic doesn't fare too well when linked to real-world actions or individuals. You see, in a story, every character plays a part in the thematic narrative of what the story is really saying. The villains of these stories must REPRESENT something to us, our heroes, and the world of the narrative; giving them understandable motivations towards an evil goal is a crucial part of having an interesting antagonist. The real world doesn't have antagonists. The real world version of that is called assholes. An example: I mentioned freedom of speech only a moment ago as a virtuous sentiment one could use to argue why someone would say or do something that some might consider rude, disrespectful, wrong, or just plain ol' evil. But here's the thing about free speech: you're allowed to say what you want. That's the whole point of it. You GET to say it. To that extent, you should be allowed to be heard. That's what it is. But considered? That's heavily different from heard. So we have all of these people who know that if they say something, it will be heard (the Internet and social media pretty much guarantee that). And they are also very much aware that if they start to disagree with massively accepted truths, such as Global Warming, the Holocaust, or (for fucks sake) the Earth being round, they will get more attention. And that's what they want. Attention. Because having the world's attention gives them power. It's not real power mind you, because you really can't do anything with it. Your average troller simply gets a rush out of pissing a of couple strangers off, just by saying whatever they think will piss others off. It's not rocket science, and while some have elevated the trolling scene into an art form (let me be very clear here, they are few and far between, and they normally rely on surrealist inspiration as opposed to harassment or threats) most meander in socially pathetic lives, their brand of humor and toxicity seeping into their daily routine. This normally leads to the loss of healthy relationships, and a detachment from the reality of the world (the “Online Disinhibition Effect” made physical). That's not me throwing fists at the wind. I know more than a few people that this has actually happened to. Some of them are reading this right now and probably started to feel angry about 5 minutes ago. Now they know why. But, as I was saying, this is not the worst part of this culture.
The worst parts are the ones that have the means to reach the world-at-large with their trolling, masked under the (transparent) guise of professional journalism. These are the people with followers, connections, and self-righteous empty-hearts that are needed to bully their way towards a victory that doesn't really exist. They treat every battle won as if it's actually part of the war they've made up in their heads. And they don't care how many people's lives they destroy to do it. No, I'm wrong. They do care. They want to ruin as many lives as they can. They consider those to be the flag markers of a victory.
While the foot soldiers of this army will be easily visible by their false statements, off-topic comparisons, ad hominem defenses, or the use of any of the following terms: snowflake, libtard, cuck, shill, south paw, glass jaw, white knight, triggered, mangina, muh representation, neoliberal, etc., it is not these individuals that we should blame (although, they do suck, and they probably won't be getting any better at this rate). It is the so-called "generals" of these movements that should be holding our attention; the ones with the means to spark the fires that oh so many bigots like to claim are rising. Now to be fair, I do not know these people, nor have I even seen one of them in person. So what I am about to say is based solely on the research I've done on each individual, from their own confirmed social media accounts, their own blogs or websites, or journalistic accounts written by and about them, from multiple sources. Any of these links you click will lead to some serious shit, so be warned: pretty much anything that even rubs up against these fools is toxic. Fools like Mike Peinovich of The Right Stuff (TRS), Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer, Tara McCarthy of Reality Calls, Andy Nowicki and Colin Liddell of Alternative Right, Lana Lokteff of Red Ice TV, Brad Griffin of the Occidental Dissent, Christopher Cantwell of Radical Agenda, and, of course, Daniel Friberg, Jason Reza Jorjani and Richard Spencer of Altright.com. These are people heavily involved in the so-called Alt Right Initiative's agenda to plaster hate speech, endorse distasteful discourse, and ultimately tear down any established order of respect, decency, and love that has somehow been able to work its way into our justice and societal systems in the past half-century. These people have the money, brands, exposure, and followers to be able to pull off any number of viral campaigns, for or against, whomever they choose. But that's just it, isn't it? These are VIRAL attacks; attacks that occur online, throughout social media and over various websites. Attacks that can legally falsify evidence, dissuade discourse, and outright lie, whether about facts, opinions, or whatever helps their main objective of the one thing that they are truly after: to piss people off. Go ahead. Google just one of those names I listed. They're not even major players, they're just the ones egotistical enough to throw their own names down on the game they're playing.
And this leads us to our main point of discussion.
4/ Controlling the Conversation
After James Gunn brutalized the studio system with Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, earning over $750 million each, he began going to work on the next (possibly final) installment to the galactic adventure he had created, penning the first draft for the script that we know simply as, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. Reportedly completed on June 25, 2018 (as per Gunn's own Instagram post) the screenplay was most likely being utilized by producers and crew members in typical pre-production fashion, getting a head start on the film that was slated to begin filming by early 2019, all for its theoretically scheduled release in early 2020. But then on July 20, 2018, a large amount of previously deleted tweets by Gunn "resurfaced," and in the kneejerk reaction of the decade (I mean, probably, right?) Disney immediately fired Gunn from the GotG3 project; entirely cutting ties with the newly shamed director. Gunn's tweets, as previously mentioned, dealt with an assortment of taboo topics, treated with immense insensitivity and downright disgusting bravado, all written nearly a decade ago.
I am not going to sit here and defend James Gunn's tweets. I'd either be a lunatic or despicable human being for even trying to do so. The tweets were vile, inappropriate, disturbing, and wicked. But I will point out the very obvious elephant in the room: the tweets were meant to be those things. AGAIN, I am not defending what Gunn previously said. I am merely exaggerating the point that many of you have probably already come to realize, if you have spent even the slightest time looking into the specifics of this case: that James Gunn was a self-inflicted-sick-minded artist who made his money by making provocative pictures within and without the Hollywood system. The dude had a brand of humor that was heavily utilized in his films, and that brand became his personality's brand. Should he have made those jokes on Twitter? I don't think so. But he was for sure allowed to make them just as much as anybody else is allowed to write whatever they want, as long as they don't break the law, which is quite hard to actually do on the Internet (you either need to be very stupid, or very, very stupid).
How this whole thing went down can be summarized into these events, which all happened rather quickly: Gunn had been a known criticizer of Donald Trump, repeatedly tweeting and commenting on the acting President's poor performance and general bad behavior; for this, he was targeted by alt-right conservative journalist, conspiracy theorist, and all around quisquilian, Mike Cernovich. Cernovich was as one of the central dudes in the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, which revolved around the false accusation that Hillary Clinton, along with members of her campaign, were running a child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria. Or you may remember him as the dude that likes to tweet about date rape not being a real thing (even though he was **SURPRISE** charged with rape himself back in 2003). Cernovich unearthed the old, deleted, already apologized for tweets of James Gunn, and distributed them through the likes of social media, The Daily Caller, the One America News Network, and Fox News. Oh, I forgot! Cernovich also tweeted this as recently as 2012: “Have you guys ever tried 'raping' a girl without using force? Try it. It’s basically impossible.” Ah, journalistic integrity. I tip my hat to you, m'lady.
While some quickly point to this being an exaggerated reaction to the current #MeToo movement, that is, shall I say, a little uninspired? The #MeToo movement has led to some of the best social and political changes that I can think of in recent times, and while I'm no expert, I can tell you as a person with a decent heart and even the tiniest sliver of empathy, that the movement is very good for everyone. If you need to question that, I'd suggest looking into the good it's actually done. It's inarguable. But, as with any major change to the status quo, those who fear change will attack it, or worse, they will actively seek to upend the very idea of progress. There's most likely at least 10 dudes that just read this and got very upset, but they still haven't figured out why they're upset. But don't worry. Check Facebook in an hour. You'll find em pretty quick. And that's exactly the type of nonsense that we have at play here.
Mike Cernovich obviously does not give a damn about what James Gunn joked about a decade ago, which is evident in the fact that he has made way worse jokes more recently. What he does give a damn about is James Gunn having the platform to communicate ideals that are the opposite of his own. You can tell Cernovich doesn't really dig that too much. His Twitter feed reads like a tech-villain that a five year-old made up, and pretty unimaginative five year old at that! And he's not alone in his indignation towards Gunn, which should go without saying. The other people that are outraged by these old tweets can be categorized into three separate modes of thought: 1) they don't care about what he said, they care that he disagrees with them politically, 2) they care about the things he said, and want him to be punished for them, or 3) they don't care about any of this, just that spreading it and fighting for Gunn to be fired is a way for them to feel powerful, by helping in an effort to take down someone they consider to be “an elite.” Now, two of these don't matter, and you can probably figure out which two. The one that does matter – people who are truly disturbed by what Gunn tweeted and want to see some accountability on Disney's part – is the one I'm most interested in discussing. Because making these jokes, however distasteful they might have been, does not necessarily mean that Gunn should be fired from his job for them. This is a man who has repeatedly apologized for these statements, and others. Remember earlier when I mentioned Gunn was caught up in some scandalous shit back when he was hired to helm the first GotG movie? He had made a blog post that was titled, “15 Superheroes I Most Want to Have Sex With,” which included this particularly gross statement about Stephanie Brown (AKA Batgirl): “Being a teen mom and all, you know she's easy.” YUCK. That's a very weird joke, dude. But you know what he didn't do in there? “Try it.” In Mike Cernovich's oh-so-elegant and thoughtful tweet on rape, he not only commented on the idea of rape, he actually wrote the words, “Try it.” Is that to mean that Cernovich is endorsing the idea of his followers trying out rape? Sure seems like it! Am I being unfair? You're damn right I am. You know what else is unfair? Firing a person for making jokes ten years ago for comments that he repeatedly apologized for at the time, which you were aware of, and still hired. Yes, Disney knew all about this. The scandal with his blog post was heavily circulated back in 2012, and it was reportedly around this time that the post, as well as all the tweets in question, were both deleted and apologized for by James Gunn himself.
We all know why these alt-right trolls attacked Gunn's character and career. Character assassination is nothing new. But what IS confusing is Disney's aggressive reaction to dealing with the public situation, both in the extreme measures they chose to take, as well as the whiplash-inducing speed they chose to do it in. Why such a strong reaction after these tweets resurfaced? Well, There's the whole thing about Roseanne Barr being fired from her own recently renewed show, which definitely played a part in the cultural viewpoint of the dilemma. And you know what? I don't think Barr should've been fired. Sure, her tweet specifically pointed at a real individual in the public eye, and mocked her for her race, in an astoundingly bigoted way that just almost shakes off any idea of being a joke in the first place. It's not a joke. It's hate speech. Made by an idiot. Who understands that being thought of as a racist is not good. Especially for a career in the film industry. Her tweet proves one of two things, and it's actually quite engaging how little middle ground there is: Barr is either an idiot or a racist. There's NOWHERE else to go in the conversation, but of course, those that can will try. And with the followers that Barr has, that hate speech (which it 100% is) turns to the dark side of social media: normalizing hateful rhetoric. Is that bad? Uhh, yeah. That bad. Is she a bad person because of it? I mean, yes? It's definitely not a nice thing to say. However, I think that she IS a bad person for trying to blame it on drugs and not her own despicable nature. But did she deserve to get fired for that? No. No, I don't think so. A good friend of mine put it thusly:
“They (ABC) hired Roseanne, whose Internet history already was worse than what she tweeted. And her mental health is completely up in the air. To fire her over that tweet creates a certain precedent: that you are only as great as your worst tweet, which is a blip of language without context, or verbal intonation. I'm not saying it was right, but it was on brand. So fire her, fine. But now you've set your standards. You, as a company, have set a line of censorship that you stand for. And that goes for both sides.”
He's not wrong. Roseanne Barr's Twitter feed is loaded with racist and bigoted remarks, dating back well before her rehiring for her now canceled show. It's like a scavenger hunt for deplorable, ignorant nonsense, only anyone who clicks on her username is an instant winner within fifteen seconds. But my friend is also right in that, yes, there is a precedent that not only must be made, but also upheld. But at what level are we willing to set that precedent? Let's not mix words here: Barr's firing is disturbing on its own level. But, for what it's worth, Barr and Gunn's separate firings have two very distinct differences: Barr made her "joke" while she was currently in the employ of ABC, while Gunn's "jokes" were made well before he had joined the Disney hierarchy. This is very important point to be acknowledged when comparing these two. And more importantly, Barr chose to defend herself by blaming prescription drugs (which is probably a lie), and creating a visage of herself as a victim of circumstance, even going so low as to claim that this was a premeditated strike on her character, designed by those who were angered by her support of Donald Trump. Crazy, right? Well, that's exactly what DID happen to Gunn, and it can be proven. That is what happened. But while Barr attempted to push the blame of her situation on those who don't agree with her personal views, Gunn, who knew exactly who and where his attackers were and came from, chose to accept full responsibility for his horrendous tweets, eloquently stating:
“My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time.”
“Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse. To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all.”
Here's what Barr said:
“Guys I did something unforgiveable so do not defend me. It was 2 in the morning and I was Ambien tweeting- it was memorial day too- i went 2 far & do not want it defended- it was egregious Indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but…don’t defend it please,”
“hey guys, don’t defend me, it’s sweet of you 2 try, but…losing my show is 0 compared 2 being labeled a racist over one tweet-that I regret even more.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me, guys!!-I just want to apologize to the hundreds of people, and wonderful writers (all liberal) and talented actors who lost their jobs on my show due to my stupid tweet. I will be on Joe Rogan’s podcast Friday.”
To be glib, as Frances Dolarhyde would say, “Do you see?”
Beyond the casual (and easy) comparisons between their firings because of tweet(s) by ABC for Roseanne Barr, and James Gunn by Disney, there lies what this article has been getting at. Back in July, when Gunn's tweets resurfaced, other individuals came under fire, all by the collective effort of people who hide anonymously behind that sheen of a bright screen. Dan Harmon, registered fuck-up and proprietor of such genius works as Community, Rick and Morty, and Harmontown, was suddenly, once again, awash with scandal as a video leaked of an old comedy sketch that featured him, umm (checks notes), being sexual with a baby doll. Honestly, this doesn't surprise me. Harmon is a freak, and I like to think he'd thank me for saying so. The video originated from 4chan (where nothing bad ever happens), and subsequently went viral. Dan Harmon has spoken out – both verbally and on social media – against President Trump's actions and methods. While it might be meaningless to some, sharing a specific post of an anonymous user from 4chan I think succinctly exemplifies what is going on here, and the major mentality many of these users share:
“Think of Roseanne Barr and all the other much less rich, much less famous people who have had their lives destroyed. We must use these tactics against them as effectively as they've used them against us. It is the only way to win.”
We. Them. They. Us.
5/ Shut the Door. Have a Seat.
Look, let's bring this to a wrap and have ourselves a final heart to heart. While I've spewed opinions, facts, history, and the occasional cuss word, at the end of the day, my fascination on this subject boils down a very simple sentiment: I like James Gunn. Not just as an artist, but as a person. I've never met him, and while I am positive that anybody would be lucky to, I don't have to. His personality is so communicative that anyone with the most basic good-human-being-radar would be able to inform you of just that. I've casually followed this guy through the span of his career, eagerly awaiting his next project, ever confident that this dude can deliver the goods. And he always does. I may not have been as technologically inclined in the social media atmosphere back in 2009 when these tweets were made (honestly, I never even really got into Twitter and Instagram until only a couple of years ago) but I can tell you that one of my favorite things about these platforms is not connecting with friends, or even sorta kinda communicating with artists whom I adore (Hi, Evan! Poster's in the mail, I promise?), but getting to see how some celebrities chose to express themselves through the medium of social media. Some are bland, obvious shades of ego and forced deprecation to appeal to a certain brand. That's cool! Do you, celebrity! But I always found Gunn's pictures and comments (in the time that I followed him) to be immensely enjoyable and truly honest. Here was a dude who openly and repeatedly, referred to his older days as a trash-art enthusiast as something that he simultaneously regrets but is proud to have walked, however many trips and tumbles may have happened along the way. A guy whose fight with addiction and depression is probably the closest that I can compare with my own, whether or not that's just me stargazing. And, most importantly, my man got me into Halo ice cream, which if you haven't tried: GET. ON. THAT.
Does James Gunn deserve our forgiveness? Well, that's really up to the individual to decide. Disney's point of view seems to have been made very quickly, based on the idea that any negative attention towards their brand would lead to another mega-social downfall. You really can't blame them for pulling the trigger so fast on Gunn, wanting to come out on top as the good guy. Hell, even Gunn admitted that he gets it. It's a business, and they all need to act like professionals in service of what they deem to be the best option for the business. That's the other aspect of this: the weird way Disney handled (and continues to handle) their decision to fire Gunn straight away. It was head spinning fast. Sure, they wanted to get out from under the bus before it even got anywhere near them. I can respect that. They've got a lot riding on their franchises, and even more riding on the perception that they want us to have of their company (which, look, Disney, we get it. You're fucked up. We're fucked up. Don't try too hard. Give us good movies. Let's be cool). They're also not stupid; they understand the fact that, if this is indeed a coordinated character assassination (which it obviously is), then these people have more ammo than just these tweets, meaning any leniency on Disney's part will be met with even more "proof" of James Gunn's un-Disney-Like character. From my own point of view, I think Gunn’s apology and acknowledgment that whatever his bosses decide is going to be the decision that he himself, as a professional, has to respect, is more than enough for me to go, “Alright, you didn't ACTUALLY DO anything wrong, and it certainly seems like you've matured A LOT since you wrote those humiliatingly bad and heinous jokes, so yeah, I forgive ya.” But that doesn't really matter. Self-forgiveness is what it's all about. Both of the GotG films are all about a group of ne'er-do-well A-holes that slowly grow into decent human beings/aliens/raccoons. They’re about characters that start out at their worst, but ultimately get the chance to show that they can be kind, decent and heroic. I mean, consider the fact that James Gunn created these interpretations of these old Marvel characters. Rocket, whose main characteristics (besides being a raccoon with a very, very big gun) are that he is crude, foul-mouthed, and kind of nasty, especially when it comes to making inappropriate jokes, which are used to mask his own insecurities on how the world perceives him. There's no arguing where this character comes from on an artistic level. Does it mean his jokes are okay? Hell to the no. But does it mean we should fire Rocket; especially because he's a central figure in a Disney owned property, which has always prided itself on being a family-friendly entity? That's the big question here. Was Disney right in firing Gunn, and are they right in continuing to cut ties with him in the aftermath of this ongoing scandal?
I'll let totally not disgraced in any sense of the word Disney sweetheart, Johnny Depp, in the words of his world beloved character, Jack Sparrow, put it plainly: “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
We are Groot.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.