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Opinion

James Gunn Loses His Galaxy

“When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” George W. Bush used to irritably tell reporters covering his 2000 presidential campaign, refusing to go into details about his famously boozy (and allegedly coke-addled) years of partying hard before Jesus and parenthood sobered him up. America gave him a pass on his misbehavior and handed him control of the nukes anyway, but Dubya didn’t work for Disney. Nor was he running for president in the era of internet trolls.

Times sure have changed. Even though nobody was ever going to put director James Gunn in command of America’s nuclear arsenal, he was in charge of Hollywood’s nearest equivalent to one: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, with the first two installments raking in a combined $1.6 billion worldwide. As it turned out, though, Gunn had been young and irresponsible, too. Between 2008 and 2012, when he was a mere lad in his early 40s, he was into posting aggressively sick jokes on Twitter about pedophilia, molestation and so on. That kind of “provocation” was part of his brand before Marvel, which means Disney gave him a more family-friendly—but still irreverent—outlet for his sense of humor.

Thanks to those tweets resurfacing, Disney canned Gunn’s ass last Friday. That’s what can happen when you anger Mike Cernovich, the alt-right bottom-feeder and InfoWars regular who’s most notorious for boosting “Pizzagate,” the surreally outlandish conspiracy theory about a child-sex-trafficking ring supposedly run by prominent Democrats out of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor. Everybody except right-wing loons knew it was nonsense, but right-wing loons number in the millions these days. One of them, 28-year-old Edgar Welch, decided to “self-investigate” in December of 2016 by entering the suspect pizzeria with an AR-15 and opening fire. It’s only dumb luck that Welch’s aim turned out to be every bit as shaky as his grasp on reality.
Needless to say, Cernovich has never atoned for this inadvertent—well, let’s hope so—incitement to murder, although he did tell HuffPost recently that he’s been “a very good boy” since Pizzagate. Nowadays, he targets journalists and other marquee names who offend him by raking up old social-media posts of theirs that he can hype up into proof of their moral rot, no matter how trivial or past their sell-by date the japes or meltdowns are. Once Gunn’s anti-Trump Twitter posts got his goat, Cernovich made sure Mr. Guardians of the Galaxy’s not-so-old pedophile jokes went viral.

They really are pretty vile, too. Because nothing ever leaves the Internet, Gunn should have known (and probably did) that they’d get him in hot water sooner or later. He’d already recanted and apologized in 2012 after GLAAD called him out for anti-gay, sexist blog posts in the same puerile vein.

Both then and now, his chastened regret seems genuine enough—that is, not exclusively motivated by panic at losing his lucrative gig. Predictably, but maybe sincerely, the Guardians franchise’s cast members have gone public with testimony that James Gunn as he is today is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being they’ve ever known.
Did Disney have much choice except to can him anyway? Probably not, considering that no other entertainment conglomerate is so protective of its image or so ready to cut its losses whenever controversy rears its ugly head. Besides, in today’s zero-tolerance environment, swift amputation is the most realistic form of damage control, from Roseanne and Kevin Spacey to Al Franken and Matt Lauer. Funnily enough, the only entity exempt from this calculus is Donald Trump’s White House, where the soiled likes of Scott Pruitt can do the boiling-frog bit for months before their boss reluctantly concedes that they’re cooked.

Cernovich and his alt-right cohorts wanted a scalp, and they got one. No one believes he felt any genuine moral outrage, and it’s preposterous that he can even get away with faking it. Along with the usual racist swill about “white genocide,” his own online history is a sewer of rape advocacy and brutal fantasies-or-are-they about sexual violence against women: “I like choking a woman right up until her eyes almost go lifeless,” he wrote in a 2011 blog post. Unlike Gunn’s gross tweets, these don’t seem to be intended as jokes—and unlike Gunn, Cernovich has never paid any penalty for them in his own sordid media bailiwick.

Note the key term: “business decisions.” That’s exactly what firing him was—nothing less, nothing more.

He was even arrested for rape in 2003, a charge later reduced to misdemeanor battery. For that matter, his fixation on pedophilia also seems to go deeper than Gunn’s ever did. Sure, we could give him the benefit of the doubt by guessing he’s just concluded it’s the ideal smear tactic, in the same more or less random way Joe McCarthy discovered that yelling “Communist!” was guaranteed to get him a platform. But he sure does seem fascinated with the subject.

However, once he dug up Gunn’s tweets, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Disney CEO Bob Iger would tell the media, “This is a political attack on James Gunn by a foul man out to bring down anybody critical of Donald Trump. Mike Cernovich doesn’t give a damn about the moral issues involved, so please don’t be fooled. Our own disgust at Mr. Gunn’s disgraceful antics online several years ago is a disgust we believe Mr. Gunn now shares, and we want to give him a chance to make amends for it. Next stop, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3!”

Instead, Gunn himself issued a statement expressing his regret, apologizing to “everyone inside my industry and beyond,” vowing to be a better person and saying, “I understand and accept the business decisions taken today.” Note the key term: “business decisions.” That’s exactly what firing him was—nothing less, nothing more. Not only does Gunn know that, but so does Cernovich, and it was his ace in the hole. He must be cackling at the beautiful dreamers petitioning Disney to reinstate Gunn at the helm of Guardians of the Galaxy. While we may not care much for either of them, we’re also not in any doubt about which one is a worse human being.

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