Wednesday, 25 July 2018

James Gunn, Twitter, & How Times Change

The Guardians of the Galaxy films are perfection: funny, emotional, action-packed, colourful, and full of talented and creative people. As a huge fan, I've found myself wondering more and more what Vol. 3 will bring (particularly after the events of Avengers: Infinity War), and I've thought many times that the films are as good as they are because all elements come together in just such a way that they create something special. If one of these elements were to fall out of place, I've caught myself thinking, these films automatically would not be as good.

This brings me to several days ago, when I opened the Twitter app and came across a tweet that said something along the lines of 'Petition for Taika Waititi to direct GotG3!' At first, I was confused. Why would we need Taika when we already have James Gunn to complete the trilogy? I brushed it off as somebody's funny little fantasy and moved on.

But the further down my feed I scrolled, the more information was revealed, and my little Guardians-obsessed heart stopped when I finally caught sight of a headline stating that James Gunn had been fired by Disney and Marvel, and would no longer be directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Now, that may sound overly-dramatic, but I can say with full confidence that I was absolutely heartbroken to hear this news. I didn't realise why he had been fired until a few tweets later. A decade ago, he had posted a series of controversial tweets which have recently been unearthed and condemned.

It's a controversial subject that has divided opinion to say the least. In the very short period of time since the news broke, I have seen people either claiming that James did nothing wrong or that he should basically be hanged for his crimes. In typical me-fashion, I find myself able to see both sides of the argument, although for once, there is no question about which side I am on. But a topic like this, one that has so many layers to it, clearly needs to be broken down. So let's do just that.

First, let's go over the negatives. The tweets are...extremely questionable, to say the least. I was prepared to fully side with James until I read a collection of the decade-old tweets. I am a hard person to offend, but some things he said were quite shocking, although far from the worst thing I have ever seen on the Internet. I get that we're not grading on a curve here and that just because it's slightly less awful it doesn't make it right, but still. I can understand fully why people took offence to those posts. I understand that James was in his forties at the time and should probably have known better than to tweet jokes about such topics, especially so many jokes. Plenty of people have been throwing around the number 10,000 in terms of how many tweets were actually published to his page, but I have yet to see concrete proof that this is the number of offensive tweets on his page. I also accept that the sense of humour he once had does not gel well with Disney's current image.

But there are some questions we must now ask, such as, 'Why was this issue not brought up a decade ago, when these tweets were actually posted online?' Because, simply put, 2008 was a different time. This incident has encouraged the idea that a lot can change over a long period of time, but it is not only people that can change a great deal in ten years. Society as a whole can change too. In 2008, the year that I started secondary school, I remember that edgy jokes in the corridors were the norm, and plenty of offensive terms were thrown around. I even said a few myself, just because I thought it was the cool thing to do at the time. Of course, society moved on and I grew up, and we all realised that these things were offensive and - dare I even say the word - problematic. Now, ten years later, we have made some steady progress as a society, and that is why plenty of us can look back over our old behaviours and say, 'Wow, I sure am glad I'm not like that anymore!' James Gunn himself has supposedly done this before, since he stated in his apology on Twitter, 'As I have discussed publicly many times, as I've developed as a person, so has my work and humour.' Marvel apparently knew about his controversial past before they brought him in to work on Guardians. So why is he being demonised for it now?

Because this is what Disney does, apparently. The exact same cycle of events happened when PewDiePie's content was exposed as being supposedly 'anti-Semitic', when he was simply using the Nazi imagery for humorous purposes and hyperbole. The Wall Street Journal piled the pressure on Disney to sever ties with him, and so Disney caved. I wrote a whole article about this earlier this year, which was more just an excuse to rant about how much I despise Logan Paul, but which nevertheless makes a point that I am trying to make here. Comedy and jokes are subjective. A creative persona does not necessarily represent what the person behind it is truly like. Just because a joke does not make you laugh, that does not automatically make it wrong. Yes, jokes may be taken out of context and used in less-than-desirable scenarios, such as when groups of real online neo-Nazis began using PewDiePie's content as propaganda, but these incidents are few and far between, I find. It is often difficult to discern the reasoning behind a joke, and I feel like this is why the first reaction to a disrespectful joke is outrage because it is just the default setting in this day and age. In my view, dark humour often seems to come from a place of superiority, to make fun of the individuals who commit the heinous acts about which they joke, especially in this era of online comedy. I follow a plethora of creators who joke about taboo topics simply to convey that they are above others. PewDiePie used Nazi imagery to make fun of their behaviour, to prove that he found such acts unbelievably stupid, essentially to prove that he was not, and would never be, a Nazi.  Admittedly, James Gunn's tweets were not posted during the more 'woke' era of edgy comedy, and his intent was to shock in order to gain popularity as a writer and actor. In the age of the Internet, it is harder to use sheer shock value to appeal to the masses, and yet, it seems that this worked. James has become very successful.

When the Guardians cast expressed their sympathy for James Gunn on Twitter, some were more outspoken than others and came under heavier fire. One Twitter user demanded that Dave Bautista explain his reasoning behind standing by James and claiming that people change while simultaneously condemning Trump during the 2016 presidential election for his 'grab 'em by the pussy' remark, which was made in 2005. Although this argument seems convincing on the surface, it doesn't really hold that much weight. For one thing, Dave and James know each other personally, and Dave is therefore aware of what he is truly like as a person, meaning that he can recognise how he has changed, and can also see when he is being slandered, which is why he was quick to call out people who were calling James a pedophile with no evidence but decade-old jokes to back up their claims. Another way to look at it is that, while James has improved himself and his sense of humour has matured, Trump has proved himself during his presidency to be just as misogynistic now as he was when the clip emerged, providing strong evidence that he has not changed at all. I think the same thing when I see Chris Brown fans crying about how people keep dragging up the fact that he assaulted Rihanna, but it's for the simple reason that he continues to be disrespectful and abusive to women to this day, meaning that he cannot learn from the past, improve as a person, and at least attempt to rectify his mistakes. If there is evidence that a person is improving themselves, it is ridiculous to bring up their past and shove it in their face.

And let us not forget that the person who exposed James' old tweets was an alt-right conspiracy theorist by the name of Mike Cernovich. By preying on the leftist fans of Disney and James Gunn, he managed to wrongfully discredit a man who has apologised for his past behaviour, who has spent the latter part of his career creating spectacular art, and who is often quick to speak out about important issues on his own social media platforms. In short, he made people believe that James Gunn's past was more important than his future, and that we should judge him by who he was, not who he will become or even who he is now. Oh, and Mike here also has a history of joking about rape on Twitter. Do I even need to point out the hypocrisy in this scenario?

I think that this is the point that I have been trying to make in this very long piece. Nobody in this world is perfect, and if we condemn everybody who has ever uttered an offensive word in a comedic way or has made an edgy joke or has done something that someone else - anyone else - might deem inappropriate, we will run out of people to look up to. We will run out of artists whose work we admire, and we will discourage everybody from maturing and admitting to their previous mistakes. By the Internet's standards, if you're imperfect in any way, you're automatically 'cancelled'. This mentality is what leads people to sanitise their pasts, deleting old tweets and pushing things under the rug, not because those tweets are still representative of their personality in the present day, but because they believe that they will be called out and bullied if they are ever found. Everybody has regrets and has made bad decisions or mistakes, but it is unfair to remind a person who is attempting to leave their past behind to become a better version of themselves of how little you think of them just because of who they once were.

And yes, I will state this here for the record because there will always be somebody who takes things out of context or will get riled up upon reading this: everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and if you were personally offended by James' tweets, that's not a bad thing. But please remember that, when it comes to comedy, offence is taken, not given, and I urge you to please consider what I have written about people changing and improving from their past behaviour the next time that somebody is condemned on any kind of social media. If it were you, you would be quick to defend yourself and try to convince the faceless mob of Twitter trolls that you have changed, and that your past behaviour does not represent you anymore. Please do not be so quick to lose faith in people before you understand their journey. They might just surprise you.

(For all...no people who were wondering about the challenge, watch this space. May or may not be completing it. I just know that I've had plenty of ideas for blog posts while I've been confined to the challenge, and I simply had to write about this because, when both Guardians of the Galaxy and Internet culture are involved in the same topic, how could I not write about it? Also, if you fancy reading a similar but vastly more coherent post about this, check out this post from my former English & Creative Writing friend and fellow blogger Emily.)
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