Saturday, July 21, 2018

On the firing of James Gunn

Oh man.

James Gunn has been sacked from directing Guardians of the Galaxy 3 over tweets he issued ten years ago. 

I love the Guardians of the Galaxy movies: Gunn's consistently delivered highly-entertaining, funny blockbusters for Marvel. It's a big loss for the studio.

As I understand it, Gunn defended a friend of his (Mark Duplass) who advocated people follow a conservative pundit (Ben Shapiro). Left-wingers pointed out Gunn's old posts in an attempt to shut him up. Right-wingers then picked up on these old tweets and used them to torpedo Gunn's career, as Gunn has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump. 

Gunn isn't the first person to be destroyed by tweets, even long forgotten ones, and he won't be the last. I remember reading a New York Times article awhile back about Justine Sacco's online annihilation. And this article more recently, which goes into altruistic punishment.

Internet morals crusaders are not the social good they purport to be. They take umbrage over a perceived ethical failing and then organize an online mob to take down their chosen target.

Their indignation is their justification, their inflated accusations their proof. 

They will deliberately misconstrue what someone has written in order to get into a lather of self-righteousness, which allows them to participate in a (delusional) battle against evil, while simultaneously signaling their own moral superiority.

They're like sharks gathering when they detect blood in the water: people are overeager now to find a poorly worded statement, or a joke they can pretend is meant seriously, or someone exhibiting a momentary lapse in judgement. 

In Gunn's case, this was (or seems to be) a deliberate political take-down. It's not about what he said, it's about shutting him up and punishing him for being an advocate. It's intimidation, and creates a climate of fear in which people are afraid to speak, lest their lives and careers be destroyed. 

Because it works: despite delivering successful films, Gunn's now out on his ass. 

I imagine he'll recover, eventually.

Online mob justice churns my stomach. 

It's all about making the crusaders feel relevant and important and virtuous. That it destroys lives is inconsequential to them, as they've already labelled their target The Other, a pathogen, a boil in need of lancing.

But these moral crusaders can be weaponized, and set upon a selected target, by the unscrupulous.

All of what's happened, from the preening, moralizing mob to deliberate political assassination, is straightforward. 

Gunn's tweets, on the other hand, perplex me: why on earth did he make it so easy for them? 

I remember years ago reading comments of Gunn's, which I remember finding elitist and kind of sneering. I enjoyed the heck out of his films, but I didn't pay much attention to him as a person after that. 

I had no idea of the extent to which he went to offend people.

South Park makes off-color jokes all the time. But they're actually jokes. Gunn wrote about watching child porn and ejaculating all over his own face.

That's it. That's the joke.

He made statements designed to offend and garner attention and opprobrium. 

It's the shock-jock technique, and it can be wildly successful. People build careers on it. Certain personality types delight in pressing other people's buttons. Yet as much as I admire some of Gunn's films, his shock-jock efforts leave a something to be desired.

What on earth was he thinking? 

Disney doesn't go well with child-rape jokes. It's not their brand.

Did Gunn ever consider the consequences of making such outlandish statements? What were they supposed to accomplish? Was it some kind of stealth freedom of speech advocacy thing? I am not the audience because I just don't get it.

I did get the impression that Gunn was slated to take over the whole Marvel franchise, and I imagine he'd have done a great job. Now Disney is faced with a highly-motivated political activist group trotting out his child-rape tweets before millions of Americans on an ongoing basis. 

As a brand, I just don't see Disney being very keen on the fallout from that. 

After the Weinstein scandal broke, I read a site called Crazy Days and Nights. It's a compilation of naughty and downright repugnant behavior going on in Hollywood behind the scenes, including pedophilia. The site broke the Weinstein story before the mainstream press picked up on it.

I don't know how much on the site is true, but it does get ugly. According to the site, some TV shows were created expressly to facilitate molesting minors. That's horrifying, yet somehow cynically plausible. This is the sort of thing that sick people would attempt. They infiltrate the Boy Scouts for much the same reason.

The ironic thing here is that Gunn may lose everything over 'joke' tweets about pedophilia, while actual pedophiles in Hollywood parrot virtuous platitudes while molesting kids behind closed doors. 


And what level of virtue do we demand of our creative class? Some creatives are eccentric, some are crazy, some are crazy eccentric. Some are damaged people, striving desperately for external validation.

Should we dump all their work because they have tweet Tourettes? 

Where do we draw the line? 

We cannot excuse crime, no matter how gifted someone is. They must be prosecuted just as everyone should be. And yet, what of their work? Does it invalidate it?


Caravaggio was a murderer, but he was also a brilliant painter.

I enjoyed The Pianist, but Polanski...?

Can we admire the work while trying to keep the flawed (or even vile) creator in perspective?

I'm sorry I won't get to see Gunn's third installment of the Guardian's franchise.

What a shame.

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