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The Problem With James Gunn's Ouster

Roseanne Barr controversy is likely what started this, but we can't compare the two: columnists
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2018 3:18 PM CDT
The Problem With James Gunn's Ouster
In this Nov. 11, 2017 file photo, filmmaker James Gunn arrives at the 9th annual Governors Awards in Los Angeles.   (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

(Newser) – Disney fired Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn Friday after offensive tweets Gunn made a decade ago were surfaced by conservative provocateur Mike Cernovich, and the reactions are rolling in. On Vulture, Mark Harris notes that we likely have the Roseanne Barr controversy to thank for this; it was ABC (a Disney-owned network) that canceled her show after Barr compared Valerie Jarrett to an ape on Twitter. Barr was a hero to the right-wing thanks to her support for President Trump, and her supporters quickly cast her firing as the result of a smear campaign by the liberal media. In their view, "blatant racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim rhetoric" can all be filed under the same "not politically correct" umbrella that so-called "snowflakes" can't handle, Harris writes. Thus, Cernovich seemed to be saying, "If you can get someone fired by saying their words are offensive, we can too." The problem, in Harris' view, is that Gunn's "lame," albeit tasteless, jokes can't truly be compared to attacks on minorities, the LGBTQ community, or women—and by insisting they're the same thing, we're heading down a scary path. More:

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  • Harris points out that Barr, too, had a history of offensive statements on social media before ABC revived her show; the tweet that got her fired was a current-day one. And on Forbes, Dani Di Placido makes a similar point. "The thing is, these tweets have always been publicly available. And I assume the House of Mouse has pretty stringent hiring practices, so you’d think that Disney knew about Gunn’s bad taste before they hired him," Di Placido writes. While acknowledging that the "black humor involving rape and pedophilia" Gunn often posted back in those days was not funny and can't really be defended, Di Placido points out that many in the entertainment business have made their own offensive jokes online. "It’s interesting to see both sides of the political spectrum weaponize words."
  • At the National Review, David French agrees that there is a difference between Barr and Gunn, and argues for a few "commonsense principles" moving forward—because "we’re rapidly reaching a point where we’re telling our most creative and interesting people that they can never, ever speak outside the lines," he writes, "and the lines often shift by the year (or the month.) This is exactly the recipe for cultural stagnation and endless, miserable cultural conflict."
  • Harris echoes that in his piece. "In the wake of [Disney's] merger with 21st Century Fox, it’s going to be responsible for more of what we watch than any other company in America," he writes, meaning that the company needs a better strategy for what type of speech to punish than simply "anything that offends someone is by definition offensive." If Disney allows "professional internet trolls" like Cernovich to decide what is and is not acceptable, "how can any creative artist believe that Disney has their back?" Di Placido has that same concern: "Gunn was pretty damn good at what he did, despite, or perhaps because of, his twisted sense of humor," and without him, the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not nearly as bright.

  • During his attack on Gunn, Cernovich claimed to have examples of a hundred more showbiz types tweeting jokes about pedophilia. And indeed, on Friday he was already surfacing past tweets from comedians Michael Ian Black and Patton Oswalt, the Wrap reports. Black responded in a series of lengthy tweets, among them one in which he told Cernovich, "There’s a qualitative difference between a comedian making jokes - even offensive jokes (me)- and somebody being charged with rape in 2003 (you)."
  • Charged with rape? In a 2016 story, the New Yorker explained that Cernovich was accused of raping a woman he knew; the charge was ultimately dropped but he was ordered to do community service for misdemeanor battery. His record was later expunged.
  • For more on Cernovich, the Huffington Post has a lengthy explainer on his background (including his roles in Gamergate and Pizzagate) and how he "keeps getting people fired." His favorite targets are members of the media. It also takes a look at Cernovich's own history of offensive online posts, calling him a "rape apologist."
  • The Wrap also has a background piece introducing readers to Cernovich; Cernovich actually spoke to the site for the piece, promising that more in the entertainment industry will lose their jobs.
  • How did Cernovich zero in on Gunn? Per the Daily Dot, it started when Gunn defended Mark Duplass for suggesting people follow conservative pundit Ben Shapiro on Twitter (which was its own storm of controversy) and, in doing so, slammed "traitors & racists" in the US. The Mary Sue has a rundown of that whole "mess." USA Today also has an explainer.

  • Gunn's colleagues are reacting to news of his firing: People and IndieWire round up tweets from Guardians stars and others, many of whom seem to be defending Gunn. (Chris Pratt, for example, tweeted a Bible verse urging people to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.")
  • Selma Blair, not a member of the Guardians crew but a friend of Gunn's, took to Twitter to circulate a petition urging Disney to rehire him, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The tweet, which has apparently since been deleted, asked, "If people are punished despite changing, then what does that teach people about owning mistakes and evolving? This man is one of the good ones."
  • Of course, not everyone is defending Gunn: Ted Cruz thinks he should be held legally responsible for his old tweets, Vulture reports. "Child rape is no laughing matter," the senator tweeted. "As Texas SG, I handled far too many child sexual assaults. Truly evil. I’m glad Disney fired him, but if these tweets are true, he needs to be prosecuted."
  • Twitchy points out that some on the right are arguing Gunn shouldn't have been fired (among them Shapiro himself, Glenn Beck, and Robby Soave at Reason). But, writing at Twitchy, Brett T. points out that this is hardly the first time someone has been kept from a job due to "old, out-of-context tweets"; it's happened to people on both sides of the political aisle.
(Read more Disney stories.)

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