ďThe Internet's not written in pencil, Mark, it's written in ink.Ē
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), The Social Network
James Gunn has garnered many defenders since Disney fired him as director of The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. On June 30, the entire Guardians cast called for Gunnís reinstatement. An online petition for Gunnís rehiring has, by last count, 300,000 signatures.
For those few not paying attention over the past couple of weeks, Gunn was fired after a right-wing media troll, Mike Cernovich, spotlighted many of Gunnís tweets from 2009-2010, joking about pedophilia and rape. Cernovich was allegedly targeting Gunn for the latterís criticism of President Trump. Just a couple of months ago, ABC had cancelled Roseanne Barrís show after she posted a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett. Cernovich and other right-wing pundits called Disney hypocritical for jettisoning Barr while keeping Gunn. Both Barr and Gunn had subsequently apologized for their tweets.
Film journalist and author Mark Harris encapsulated much of the outrage at Gunnís firing in a recent column, opining that, ďThe outrage with which Cernovich went after Gunn is a calculated posture, a way of saying, ĎIf you can get someone fired by saying their words are offensive, we can too.í That approach depends, for its effectiveness, on a deliberate refusal to draw any categorical distinctions. It insists on a world in which punishment should be weighed not by the intensity of the offense but by the noise level of those who are (or act) offended.Ē
Many of the arguments that Harris, and others have made for Gunn boil down to the following:
The first four statements are all true in my book, while I am willing to take the word of those who know Gunn that he is a good person who is not accurately represented by those tweets. Add in that this is a struggle between a maverick director and a huge corporation, and itís all too easy to come down on Gunnís side. Then why canít I?
For one thing, pedophilia crosses a line. Iíve laughed at many comedians who have pushed boundaries, whether itís Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor or Chris Rock. But everyone has a line somewhere, and for me and many others, sexual contact with a child is it. In my day job I have been exposed to enough stories and hard data to understand the damage that child sexual abuse incurs. Admittedly humor is subjective, but pedophilia is just not funny.
Then thereís the fact that Gunn didnít just make these jokes, he felt the need to post them online. Posting anything online carries a risk. The quote from The Social Network at the top is right on the money. The Internet is permanent, and using it as a forum is different from talking to friends, or even a live performance. Using it means you are in effect opening yourself to the possibility that anyone can see what you are posting at any time, even many years later. Gunn made the decision to post this material, not once but at least 15 times. He did so not when he was in high school, college or any other time when you could say, ďHe was just a kid.Ē Gunn was in his early 40s, long past the age where he should have known better.
Granted, Gunnís postings were nowhere near as troubling as Barrís or Cernovichís. Certainly thereís a distinction between Barrís posting a racist tweet while she was starring on a hit TV show, and Gunnís postings long before he became a successful director. Add to that the hypocrisy of those condemning Gunn while ignoring Cernovichís history, or worse yet, supporting Roy Moore, who was accused of pedophilia by multiple women, in his US Senate campaign. Still, does the fact that someone else did something worse sufficiently exonerate Gunn? Does the many faults of his accusers weaken the quality of the evidence? None of his accusersí shortcomings really changes the facts about Gunnís case.
Others aim their fire at Disney. Harris wrote that, ďIf the studio didnít know about them (the tweets) already, the reason can only be that it simply wasnít paying attention.Ē Actor-Director Bobcat Goldthwait, a friend of Gunnís, pointed out that Disney once distributed Powder, directed by Victor Salva, who was previously convicted of molesting a 12-year-old. Disney is also letting its animation head, John Lasseter, accused of sexual harassment, take his sweet time leaving the company. Yes, Disney should have known about the tweets. And, no Disney never should have let Salva anywhere near a film set. Disney is also likely going too soft on Lasseter. But does Disneyís not investigating Gunn beforehand, or letting others off way too easy, mean they are wrong on Gunn? Certainly the companyís evolving standards show an inconsistency, and a lack of character. Still, just as with his accusers, none of Disneyís shortcomings changes the facts with Gunn.
Keep in mind Disney is still a company known for family-friendly entrainment. An employee has posted many offensive statements, including some about hurting children, in a public forum. Gunn has a constitutionally protected right to make his statements, but he does not have a constitutionally protected right to work for Disney.
Gunn is, to some degree, a victim of circumstance. In the current climate, where the legitimate #MeToo issues have sometimes spiraled into ďgotchaĒ trolling, his tweets were found at the wrong time. He did suffer from a false equivalency to Barr and others. But if I am going to feel sorry for people, it will be the cast and crew of the Guardians movies who have been thrown into disarray through no fault of their own. I also feel for the fans, who appreciated and supported Gunnís irreverent style. But not so much for Gunn. Yes, he was a victim of circumstance but also of his own actions. Maybe he didnít pour gasoline on the flame, but he lit the match.
August 1, 2018