Ever since Weinstein (or longer, really, with the Film Twitter outing of people like Devin Faraci and Harry Knowles feeling like the true kick-off in my mind,) I’ve become accustomed to seeing people I admire be suddenly and without much warning outed as bad people, and dropped like a hot potato from Hollywood at large. For a while there, it almost became something of a daily ritual: wake up, take a shit, find out someone I love is shit, put out a shitty response on a shitty certain network (you know the one), and continue with my day. It might hurt for a while, but ultimately I’ve viewed this entire #MeToo thing as a necessary pain for both the industry and our culture: bad people being outed and shamed for doing bad things, from Louis C.K. to Roseanne, was a necessary step in the betterment of our society. Even if things debatably went “too far,” (which I would argue was rarer than the alternative), I was pretty resolute in my opinion that everything going on was “right.”
I still feel this way, in regards to #MeToo. But today’s piece of Hollywood shaming is not about #MeToo, at least not directly. This isn’t an example of a person mentally or physically abusing someone, and getting away with it for years. Nor is it an example of a person saying something offensive or reprehensible, and facing swift punishment for it. No, James Gunn getting fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 comes in the form of tweets….really bad tweets…from over a decade ago.
The background, just in case you need it: James Gunn has been the writer/director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise thus far, a task he has handled with aplomb. They are critical hits, audience hits, and box office hits. And perhaps more than any other current MCU series (give or take a Thor: Ragnarok), Gunn’s unique voice is clear throughout both films, in the musical choices (all his) to the jokes and gags (mostly his.) He puts one hell of a unique stamp on the MCU, and even if the Guardians movies aren’t my absolute favorite of the franchise overall (hint: you can see where they both rank here), they are dependably great in large part because of him. So regardless of the reasons for his firing, this would be a damn shame, and a massive blow to the future of the MCU post Avengers 4.
But the circumstances of his firing turn things into, frankly, a clusterfuck of political and ethical and moral quandaries that I’m far figuring out my exact position on. I will make one thing completely clear though: the tweets in question that lead to Gunn’s firing are UNACCEPTABLE. They are in incredibly poor taste, stink of someone trying way too hard to be “edgy” (one of my least favorite character traits in a person, really), and are not even the slightest bit funny. Even just putting the morality of the tweets aside, everything about the ethos behind the tweets represents someone I would never want to encounter, nor want to support. Not just because the subject matter is bad, but because the sentiment behind it (SHOCKING and IN YOUR FACE and NOT AFRAID TO GO THERE humor) is so unbearable.
All that being said…this is a lot more complicated than simply being about bad tweets. The timetable for one is important, as pretty much all the tweets are from nearly a decade ago, and Gunn hasn’t exhibited the same penchant for that type of “humor” in the years since joining Disney and Marvel. Gunn also seems to be expressing remorse about the jokes, lauching a Twitter thread owning the horrid nature of the jokes, while still trying to explain how he has moved forward as a person and changed in the years since making them:
2. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018
4. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018
5. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 20, 2018
He was equally as remorseful in a written statement he released following Disney’s official decision to cut ties with him:
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.”
So yeah: the tweets were bad then, are bad now, and everybody involved is aware of this. But is Gunn’s stupid jokes from a decade ago enough to take everything away from him? Furthermore, the tweets were a matter of pubic record for years: did Disney really not search Gunn’s history to see examples of his past public behavior? Did Gunn really not consider, in his years of reflection, that these tweets were terrible and should be purged before they got him in trouble? Apparently not, although I’m sure both parties will consider that a high priority moving forward. We’ve seen people get in trouble for bad tweets, even ones that were many years old (I remember Trevor Noah’s sexist “controversy,” do you?), but this is the first time I can remember that a studio actually had to respond to it in such a strong manner. Like with Roseanne before him, Disney has shown they are willing to cut ties with people they deem to be even a little bit controversial…for better or worse, really.
Of course, I can’t ignore the political angle of this, which adds just another shit nugget to the entirety of the proceedings. The main reason these tweets came to light in the first place was due to a concentrated effort of right-wing trolls (led by human diarrhea bag Mike Cernovich) to basically knock Gunn down a peg, and show that the outspoken director was guilty of his own bad behavior in the past. I want to make it clear: nothing that Cernovich or his ilk do, in my mind, is “right.” But the unfortunate, ugly truth of the matter is that this outcry had the desired effect — Gunn lost his job, and has been Publically Shamed on the Internet™. This counts as a gross win for them, but should we just pretend this is better than it is, because it benefits a bunch of people who are awful?
While there’s certainly a part of me that wants to rally against the forces that conspired to take down Gunn, it’s a lot harder to do that when actually looking at some of the tweets that he made. Would it not be hypocritical of me to cheer on the collapse of Roseanne Barr, while at the same time trying to defend Gunn and his actions? One of my least favorite things in the whole goddamn world is hypocrisy, and there’s plenty of that all-over today. Case in point: the alt-right cheering on the public shaming of an “enemy” over the “jokes” he made, when the same fuckers probably would be bemoaning about policial correctness and “social justice warriors” if it was someone they viewed to be on their side. Equally as hypocritical is some of the response I’ve seen from more left-leaning people: now they are the ones using the tactics of “it was a long time ago!” and “they were just jokes!” and a myriad of other ways of rationalizing Gunn’s behavior. That shit hasn’t excused past people celebrities who were Publically Shamed on the Internet™, and I don’t think it’s right to give Gunn the benefit of the doubt just because we like him.
On the same token…they were tweets. From a decade ago. And I’m not comfortably completely crucifying the man over them. But if it was someone I disliked…would I be? Would we all be? This matter is complicated as hell, and I’m not sure who is right or wrong here, or even if there is a true right or wrong. This kind of situation requires more nuance than I, or probably anyone sounding off on Twitter and the rest of the internet, can probably muster. All I know is that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is going to suffer big time for this, and that Marvel is going to have to work hard on restoring the damage to the brand. I return to the business and fanboy matters because, honestly, that’s all I can rationalize without feeling like I am wrong in some way. Because when it comes to the mortality and ethics of what happened here today, I’ll reiterate:
Fuck if I know.
Also published on Medium.