The James Gunn situation is basically a Kobayashi Maru. Nothing good will come of it and there’s no discussion on the topic that doesn’t end with “James Gunn is cancelled.” Even now, in 2018, we are still incapable of discussing nuance. We can’t dive into the reasons why these tweets were dredged up in the first place nor why anyone didn’t give a shit about them before. That Disney impulsively fired James Gunn, that we are now choosing to be morally righteous about this is emblematic of our bloodthirsty desire to burn anyone at the stake any given week, fuck the ramifications. Many assume that by cancelling James Gunn we’ve gotten rid of a parasite in the Me Too era. No one realizes that equating bad tweets with Me Too is as dangerous and acidic as the alt-right trolling that has emerged as the voice of reason.
To discuss James Gunn without Mike Cernovich is to be woefully ignorant about the situation. That’s half of the story. Because, and this will need constant reiterating, these tweets have always existed. No one cared. And even when people DID care, James Gunn owned up to his past and apologized, which he did again. He didn’t deflect and say he got “hacked.” He admitted his past articles and tweets were tasteless, that he was trying to make a name for himself at a time when rape and pedophilia weren’t exactly taboo. (Hell, I remember when Holocaust and dead baby jokes were a thing.) This isn’t hard to believe. Twitter was a very different place 10 years ago.
This is crucial to understanding why the outrage is overblown. These are tweets taken out of context; all of them are deliberately offensive, retrieved from a less-politicized, less-confrontational time on Twitter when it was a playground for would-be comedians. (It was practically a testing ground for on-stage material, until comedians realized Twitter was its own stage.) Offending in as little as 140 characters was the trend, and it has only gotten worse with memes i.e. Millie Bobby Brown. The difference is that James Gunn was no longer engaged in edgelord, shock-jock humor. Roseanne Barr was tweeting propaganda and bigotry all the way through her show’s revival. They weren’t jokes; they were part of her belief system which is exactly why Barr can shut the fuck up forever.
Gunn’s tweets weren’t shocking to me just as they weren’t funny. What was shocking was how no one gave a shit about who orchestrated this and why. It’s possible to be pissed off about James Gunn’s tweets while also being conscious of the way said tweets were weaponized by an opportunist asshole. This is not hard. You are just being stubborn, on top of letting an alt-right troll colonize the high ground. That alone is more troubling than a rolling list of provocative tweets.
A Lesson in Alt-Right Trolling
To understand Mike Cernovich is to go all the way back to the polarizing time of Gamergate. This is crucial to the James Gunn situation because Gamergate is essentially where the alt-right was born; it set the stage for the would-be trolling and take down of anyone with an opposing viewpoint. Gamergate was infamous for its silencing of female critics. Cernovich and fellow alt-right compatriot Milo Yiannopolous amplified gaming’s worst impulses towards misogynistic rage, rallying a base that would commit to whatever outrage deserved their attention. (In this New Yorker profile, Cernovich regularly livestreams with his followers like an online rally, saying, “We need to get a hashtag going.”)
Cernovich and Yiannopolous could’ve given two shits about video games or ethics in gaming journalism. The supposed narrative of the movement fit exactly with the agenda they were pushing into the mainstream, so they positioned themselves as key voices. (One of Yianopolous’ popular slogans is “FEMINISM IS CANCER.”) Decrying feminism and progressivism in gaming, viewing inclusion as a threat towards a white male-dominated medium, and otherwise enabling hate speech as a viable form of expression (turning common decency into a mode of censorship). This meant that any angry gamer was justified in using derogatory slang against women and minorities. This would pave the way for hate campaigns towards individual targets, Yiannopolous with Leslie Jones (Milo weaponizing the notion of “ruined childhoods” to wage an all-out hate campaign against Jones), and Cernovich with James Gunn.
Cernovich is most famous for Pizzagate – a debunked conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign manager were running a child-sex ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in D.C. (For one thing, the pizzeria didn’t even have a basement.) But it’s the firing of MSNBC reporter Sam Seder that demonstrated Cernovich’s proclivity for weaponizing liberal outrage. MSNBC gave in to the smear campaign, of a satirical tweet aimed at mocking Roman Polanski’s release from detention in Switzerland that was dredged up to be taken purposefully out of context and used as a “smoking gun.” Within 24 hours, MSNBC severed ties with Seder by choosing not to renew his contract – a decision that received significant backlash for fear that Seder’s firing would incentivize more smear campaigns of the like. (Go figure.) MSNBC would later realize they were being played and eventually reversed their decision. Nonetheless, this bad faith trolling became a prelude for James Gunn.
Cernovich made a name for himself by waging war on feminism and diversity and literally anyone he deems “the opposition,” which is currently anyone who’s anti-Trump. With James Gunn, one of the most fervent critics of the Trump administration, Cernovich found a treasure trove of bad tweets which, like Sam Seder, he knew he could use as a mirror to the left’s own moral standard. How convenient it is to silence a Trump critic in the process.
Everything Is Gamergate
Thing is, Cernovich and his base don’t hold themselves any higher. Do you think this is him being righteous about rape and pedophilia, or Twitter etiquette for that matter? Him, a rape apologist, a pedophile pusher (with his own history of disgusting tweets) and he’s the one pointing the finger at James Gunn. Credibility is of the utmost importance in basic reporting. It removes the possibility of ulterior motives and pushing agendas. (Cernovich has essentially graduated from peddling a pedophile-ring at a pizzeria to an underground pedophile network in Hollywood.) I wouldn’t be writing this if it was an everyday Twitter user who unearthed Gunn’s old tweets; someone with nothing to gain, no motivation behind a weird dive into the past – all of which Cernovich fails. This alone should’ve been enough to capsize his campaign. It didn’t.
The situation could’ve opened the discussion about Twitter etiquette in the past, the merits of offensive humor (joking versus advocating a belief system), or whether provocative, quippy tweets are confessional of actual inappropriate behavior. We glossed over any meaningful conversation and erred on the side of PEDOPHILE JOKES = PEDOPHILIA. There’s a reason why the GOTG cast members have separated the tweets from James Gunn. Because it’s not and it shouldn’t be emblematic of the change he’s made as a person since then. The constant mention of 10,000 rape tweets is insane. Not only is that an outrageous exaggeration, but it posits that you can put a numerical value on someone’s “badness.”
The sad truth is that it didn’t matter that James Gunn owned up to these tweets before (which renders our demand for apologies completely moot), and it certainly didn’t matter that this was a smear campaign designed to make us hold ourselves accountable. Since there was so much noise equating tweets with actual pedophilia and rape, it became legitimate grounds to cancel him. This is the moral jump Cernovich was counting on, that people would soon draw the comparison towards Me Too and take care of the rest. Do you think this scares Cernovich, or emboldens him?
An absurdist theater has revealed itself on Twitter. The insane trolling and violent meme-ing have led to this. We can no longer tell the difference between pedophilia and tweets. Defining rape is an actual ideological battle now. We have proven ourselves capable of manipulation, our outrage now something that can be weaponized. Cernovich stumbled upon something that I don’t think even he could’ve anticipated. We want to cancel people. It’s the only thing that can provide us with any sense of solidarity on social media. Dragging and public shaming doesn’t cut it anymore. Everything is Weinstein. Everything is Gamergate. Or its nothing.
Disney, For All Its Might, Can’t Stand Up to a Mob
It’s debatable whether James Gunn deserved to be fired. To some, that will read as me saying Gunn should’ve walked away scot-free and round and round we go on the absurdist hate train. There are other ways to hold someone accountable. This is a teachable moment for James Gunn, not a cause to condemn him. Should something have been done in-house between Gunn and Marvel Studios and Disney? Absolutely. Removing him as director seemed like the best course of action. (Using his script for Vol. 3 is the only compromise.)
“Severing ties” with James Gunn was a poor attempt at damage control. Disney’s Alan Horn perhaps feared “pedophilia and rape” being in the same sentence as Disney, but their haste to be preemptive only ensures that this will be a talking point for years to come. If they really wanted to avoid bad press, removing Gunn from future Marvel press tours seemed like the next logical move. Other high-profile figures got to go on press junkets despite scandals far worse than offensive tweets. Jeffrey Tambor, despite allegations, got to go on press for Arrested Development’s current season before that disastrous NYT interview. (Up until then, he was slated for the show’s UK tour as well.)
Bryan Singer, on the heels of Days of Future Past, was embroiled in his own sexual assault scandal and was removed from the film’s promotion tour. Fox stood and continues to stand by him despite allegations of his predatory behavior. Singer remains prolific as ever, having directed Bohemian Rhapsody as well as having his name attached to the upcoming Dark Phoenix along with the X-Men television spinoffs Legion and The Gifted. My point is that this zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior is a joke because it somehow applies to offensive tweeting but not sexual assault allegations.
Is Disney so tight on financial resources that they couldn’t have brought in counseling or an investigation to ensure that James Gunn’s past is behind him? There are a multitude of ways Disney could have resolved this. Firing him makes Disney look worse than any one of Gunn’s old tweets. It shows that Disney, one of the largest media conglomerates won’t do their due diligence as far as who is waging this smear campaign (nor are they willing to stand up to disingenuous trolling) AND that Disney didn’t do their due diligence in hiring James Gunn. You’re telling me with their empire and financial pull, they couldn’t dedicate one person with a Mouse hat to do a porous dive on James Gunn’s Troma background?
Tweets > Abuse
The thing that pisses me off the most is that the Mouse House had a scandal featuring one of its own and no one gave a shit. John Lasseter, Chief Executive of Pixar was accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. Despite these allegations, Disney has allowed him to finish the year after which he will resign. Such is symptomatic of a new development in both Hollywood and cancel culture. Tweets are way more scandalous than abuse. How sad is that, that if John Lasseter had just tweeted tasteless jokes then he would’ve been fired, but since employees at Pixar came out with allegations of abuse (which Time’s Up is all about) he somehow gets special treatment. That’s the most painful casualty in all of this, that our attention has diverted to terrible tweets on Twitter over actual beliefs and behavior.
This is peak cancel culture. Disgusting jokes about rape and pedophilia IS rape, IS pedophilia. It’s bad, but these tweets being on the level of an actual crime is ridiculously overblown. That the cast is supporting James Gunn means they are FOR pedophilia (this includes Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel so y’all gotta cancel them too), and for me to even say James Gunn should have received some other form of punishment is somehow me endorsing rape culture. (Marvel Studios, too, is pushing for Gunn’s reinstatement so according to Twitter logic, the entire MCU is cancelled.) The damage is done. We think ourselves righteous for cancelling James Gunn but the truth is we’ve chosen the easy way out. We’ve avoided the hard conversations and opted to burn James Gunn and his supporters at the stake. The climate right now is either cancel the person or you’re part of the problem. That sounds a lot like the bigotry and mindlessness of Cernovich’s base.
No matter what becomes of James Gunn’s relationship with Marvel, his name will draw the ire of the Twitter mob, which, in my view, is a notch above the Tiki-torch mob in Charlottesville. Nuance has had its day. The Guardians cast is now “problematic,” and anyone who throws their support to James Gunn is now against Time’s Up. I don’t think we want to head down this road, but the gloating and the cheering of Gunn’s ostracization signifies that there’s no going back.
I didn’t quite understand what Tarana Burke meant when she stated that the Me Too movement needed reframing. I thought it was a good thing that it opened discussions on dating and social etiquette, etc. I know now what she means. This constant lopping up of Me Too regarding anything high-profile and controversial opens the movement to too broad a narrative that it will be virtually impossible to keep our eyes on systemic abuse. It risks survivor stories getting lost in the shuffle of moment-to-moment controversies. (Even sadder, it already has.) It will truly lead to a witch hunt of behavior on social media as opposed to prosecuting monsters in the workplace. It means rape isn’t nearly as problematic as a case of offensive tweets. It means that nothing will matter, only when the mob says it does.
Disney, by caving in to the trolling, has become an accomplice in an alt-right smear campaign. By association, so are we. Congratulations, we have become the alt-right.
Following Thanos’ finger snap, the Mad Titan is sent to a dimension within the soul stone where a young Gamora awaits.
“Did you do it?” she asks.
“What did it cost?”