23 July 2018

Disney were wrong to fire James Gunn

James Gunn was fired from directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 because he criticised Donald Trump.

There's a lot of context and additional information behind this whole shitty situation that I'm hoping to get to in a second, but ultimately, that's exactly what has happened here. After repeatedly speaking out against Trump on Twitter, known alt-right (read: Neo-Nazi) Internet personality Mike Cernovich dug out some old, bad taste tweets made by Gunn and screamed about it until someone was stupid enough to listen. The people stupid enough to listen were Disney, and Gunn was fired. He's the latest victim of a culture war that's been particularly ugly since 2014, all because Cernovich, a self-confessed rapist and all-round piece of shit, didn't like someone speaking out against an equally awful human being.

To be crystal clear, I don't think the tweets in questions are worth defending, because at best they're painfully unfunny, designed simply to shock and offended rather than entertain. But importantly - and the main reason why Disney were wrong to fire him - Gunn doesn't think they're worth defending either. You can and probably should take issue with some of what he said, but in the decade since he wrote them James Gunn has gone from being a fairly average provocateur to someone who is bursting at the seams with empathy for his fellow man, and ignoring that change to crucify him for being imperfect in the first place is... well, stupid at best, and actively harmful at worst.

You see, we talk about the way that society and its values change over time at lot these days, but an often unremarked upon aspect of that is how the Internet has increased the rate at which the Overton Window can shift tenfold. Words and ideas that were perfectly acceptable a few years ago simply aren't now, and while that's by and large a very good thing for anyone who isn't a bigot, it also means that the Internet's habit of archiving everything forever becomes a bit of problem. You might well be totally ashamed of things you said a decade ago and would never say now, but as far as the Internet is concerned, that's still you, regardless of how you might've changed in the time since.

Is that fair? I certainly don't think so, especially as someone who has gone through a similar change in attitude over the last decade or so as Gunn has. Being edgy and provocative used to be seen as cool - over time we collectively grew tired of it, and now we know better. Gunn has adapted to that change not by digging his heels in and refusing to budge as a lesser man might, but by reflecting on who he once was, apologising multiple times and - most importantly of all - genuinely growing as a person in the process. The James Gunn of today is not the same person as the James Gunn of a decade ago, and the message we send out by punishing him regardless is that his attempts as self-improvement have ultimately been futile. And if there's no way to escape the person you once were, why even bother trying?

Of course, it's no coincidence that the only people that kind of thinking helps are the exact people who attacked Gunn in the first place. Unlike Gunn, they did dig their heels in when societal progress came knocking, and now they're angry that the world no longer revolves around them and them alone. They've all said far worse things far more recently, and that's a level of hypocrisy that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that none of them are acting in good faith. They couldn't care less what Gunn has said in the past - the only thing they care about is that others might, and that gives them a weapon they can use against him.

And by cowing to the demands of these troglodytes, Disney are sending a message loud and clear. "Go ahead, dig up decades old dirt on anyone you don't like, and regardless of how they might've changed in the time since, we'll act exactly as you wish". How long will it be until Cernovich and his ilk have another target in their site? And what happens when it isn't someone with the wealth or fame required to survive a hit like this but just an average Joe who made one tweet too many? It's a frankly terrifying situation to be in, and enough to make anyone whose politics, attitude or even sense of humour has changed over time more than a little worried about making their voice heard - which is, of course, exactly what they want. This isn't about Gunn no more than it is about his tweets - it's about sending a message that criticising Trump makes you a target, a message that Disney have been more than happy to reinforce, deliberately or not.

(Side note: I think the silence from the usual right wing "free speech" warriors on all this is pretty telling. When someone they like says something overtly bigoted, they're screaming about the right to free speech. But when a Trump critic is fired after an organised campaign centred around decade old tweets? Crickets. Just something to think about.)

So, how do you fight that? How do you beat an enemy who is playing dirty, using your own moral and ethical standards against you while refusing to apply the same to themselves? The answer is simple, if seemingly unpopular with those who were all to happy to throw James Gunn to the wolves - we just need to recognise and accept that no one is born perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, and as long as a person accepts that what they did was wrong and makes changes accordingly, I don't believe that we should hold those failings against them, especially when they're as harmless as some bad jokes from ten years ago. Personal growth is something that should be celebrated, not punished, but until we're ready to actually forgive those that deserve forgiveness, this is a battle that we're only ever going to lose.

Will Disney see sense here? I have no idea, to be honest - we're kind of in uncharted waters, especially with the recent support Gunn has received from various Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 cast members. But it's long since due that somebody take a stand against this kind of disingenuous, politically-motivated hit job, and I really hope that here is where it ends. No, James Gunn isn't perfect. He's made mistakes. But I'm willing to bet that you have too, and I very much doubt you'd be happy having the person you were a decade ago used against you today.


No comments :

Post a Comment