James Gunn is the director of Guardians of the Galaxy. He was slated to not only fill out the rest of that series but perhaps take over the entire Marvel franchise after the final Avengers film. Now he’s out of a job over decade-old disgusting tweets regarding rape, monkeys ejaculating on children, and similarly horrifying material. The tweets are purely loathsome.
That doesn’t mean he should have lost his job at Disney. Gunn says that his tweets were “outrageous and taboo,” adding, “As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.” If everyone in Hollywood lost their jobs for saying loathsome things, there would be a lot of people in Hollywood about to lose their jobs (virtually every major comedian, for starters).
With that said, there are really two questions we need to unpack here. First, should Disney have fired Gunn? Second, were people right to call for Gunn’s head?
As to the first question, we need to examine a few factors: How much did Disney know about those prior activities before firing him? And how much did Gunn’s prior activities impact the current project? Now, Gunn had worked for years on Troma Entertainment, where he made “schlock” complete with disgusting jokes like Tromeo and Juliet. (Some of those jokes find their way into the first Guardians of the Galaxy film – e.g. the reference to Star-Lord’s ship being covered in semen.) So Disney knew about a lot of this when they hired him in the first place; there were news stories about his past years ago, and he apologized for such jokes in 2012. If he had tweeted out new monkey masturbation jokes today, Disney would have great cause to fire him. As to his repulsive old tweets hurting the current project, Gunn is a director and writer, not a mainline actor, so the answer would be nearly zero. How many directors are currently working who have done far worse than Gunn, with no impact to the bottom line?
Contrast the situation with Roseanne. Roseanne was a well-known crazy person for decades before ABC hired her. ABC firing Roseanne for old tweets would have been ridiculous and inappropriate. But Roseanne also played herself in the series, so when she made a new racist reference about Valerie Jarrett, her persona was inseparable from her character. Roseanne was Roseanne. That was my argument for why ABC wasn’t wrong to dump her.
This brings us to the second question: were people wrong to call for Gunn’s head?
Here, I think the question is slightly complex. In a vacuum, the answer would be yes – trying to get people fired based on perspectives that don’t actually impact their work is presenting a more and more serious problem for society at large.
But we’re not in a vacuum. We’re living in a highly contentious time where the Left routinely attempts to destroy lives by pointing out politically “unpalatable” past statements (see, e.g., Bari Weiss, Kevin Williamson, or me – any person or position the Left dislikes results in the Left’s attempt to end a career).
And this is where it’s important for those who were calling for Gunn’s head to be clear about why they were doing so. There is a decent reason to enforce the Left’s rules against members of the Left: mutually assured destruction. If the Left wants to play this game, then the Right will also play this game. The Left cannot live without fear of consequences for trying to destroy anyone they dislike through sheer mob outrage.
I do fear, however, that everyone is falling in love with the mob mentality, and that if one side disarms, the other side will merely run roughshod over them. Everyone is far too gleeful about scalps these days. That bespeaks a country full of folks interested in first use of rhetorical nuclear weaponry rather than a country full of people who would like, in the end, to go back to their daily business without having to worry about ending other people’s careers.
Without a limiting principle, the outrage machine will simply destroy us all.