This week, Disney announced the quickfire dismissal of James Gunn, who directed the Guardians of the Galaxy films for their Marvel subsidiary. The decision was prompted by the resurfacing of some of Gunn’s old tweets – some from as far back as 2008 – which contained several repugnant jokes on topics from paedophilia to rape.
The ‘jokes’ are certainly deplorable (‘The Expendables was so manly I fucked the shit out of the little pussy boy next to me!’), but they’re also absolutely reflective of the sort of humour that the Internet used to indulge on a much wider basis than is the case today. Indeed, the fact that the tweets have existed for as long as 10 years without Gunn being reprimanded for them just goes to show the social change in morality – in part due to the overarching presence of #MeToo.
On this occasion, though, it was not the ‘snowflakes’ or ‘lib-tards’ who were clamouring for Gunn’s dismissal. In fact, the tweets were purposefully resurfaced by alt-right internet trolls – with notorious ‘Pizzagate’ instigator (and men’s rights-advocate, etc. etc.) Mike Cernovich leading the charge.
Do alt-right internet trolls actually have a sense of moral accountability? Have we had it wrong this whole time? Their newfound offense over Gunn’s tweets would certainly appear to suggest so. You and I know better though, and the reason for targeting Gunn instead lies in his persistent online criticism of Donald Trump. “We have a President who’s an operative for a foreign nation… We have immigrant children still held w/out parents,” Gunn tweeted last week – a lambasting which proved too much for Cernovich and the MAGA brigade.
Rather than conducting a thorough internal review of the case, Disney acted almost immediately – firing Gunn from the upcoming Guardians Vol. 3. Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, cited that the tweets were simply “indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values”. Values that, on the basis of John Lasseter and Johnny Depp’s continued employment and reverence by Disney, apparently don’t extend to actual crimes of sexual violence and harassment.
As well as lacking consistency, Disney have clearly only fired Gunn due to the aforementioned online pressure. When a corporation as massive as Disney hires a new filmmaker for their global franchise, they’re going to properly vet them. It doesn’t take Sam Spade to flick through someone’s Twitter feed (clearly, all you need is a few bigots in their moms’ basements). In fact, Gunn himself has repeatedly owned up to his gross missteps – apologising initially in 2012 before the first Guardians was released, and even discussing his past behaviour just last year. See, Disney didn’t need an alt-right mob to show them – they’ve been well aware of Gunn’s past for a long time.
Yet, the past is precisely what Disney seemed to have overlooked entirely. The Gunn who tweeted about underage sex and ‘trannies’ was the one regrettably trying to be provocative and risqué in his humour for the sake of online exposure. This is something he’s subsequently recognised, and has actively sought to change in himself, observing that ‘today I try and root my work in love and connection and less in anger.’ Gunn was one of these guys – the intolerant, hateful ‘edgelords’ who find a depraved humour in the ridicule of others. His development since, which is reflected as much in his empathetic filmmaking as it plainly is in his now-progressive Twitter feed, can be seen as a testament to actively bettering yourself – particularly in contrast to the insufferable prototype that thrives amongst the alt-right.
With Disney not of this particular mantra, however, filmmakers and artists will now be concerned about their own careers – at risk of old tweets being dug up by internet trolls looking for another scalp to claim. On the surface, Disney have acted to preserve their brand’s family-friendly integrity; in reality, they’ve added fire to the alt-right’s online flame. Empowering the internet mob will prove to be a dangerous act indeed.