Some jokes are never funny.
Thankfully, our society still repulses at the atrocious jokes James Gunn made several years ago. His past jokes are simply inexcusable. I won’t share them in this story. I think they are terrible and Gunn should never have attempted that kind of humor.
So know that I am in no way, shape, or form, defending the jokes. The jokes are indefensible. But what I am defending, and the argument I’d like to make, is that Gunn apologized years ago for his behavior, and the outrage culture today, hinders repentance, while encouraging white-washing of a person’s past.
Since Disney fired him from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, stars, coworkers, and more have come to his defense, with stars of the franchise even releasing a joint statement asking Disney to reinstate the beleaguered director.
I want point out that not all the arguments in his defense are valid. Pointing out that the man who uncovered Gunn’s tweets has equally, if not even more offensive tweets, does not negate the severity of Gunn’s tweets. It only shows that Mike Cernovich, the man who uncovered them, acted hypocritically.
And neither is lamenting the loss of free speech, as some have done. Gunn did not lose his free speech. He made public jokes that got him fired by a corporation, not the government. Freedom of speech protects Americans from government reprisal, not corporations looking to keep an image.
I argue that we are dealing with a man who already apologized for his crass past, that Disney knew about the past and weathered the same storm when they hired him to direct the first Guardians, and society shouldn’t be too quick to cast the first stone at a man who apologized and clearly changed his ways.
First, look at the man who made the tweets. James Gunn grew up in the Troma film industry. If you know that industry, then you know his tweets from the past, though terrible, are far tamer than the films he wrote. He made plenty of mistakes and said he thought he needed to make those jokes because he thought he was a “provocateur”.
I heard some say he should have deleted those tweets before the people who never saw them, or his apology afterwards, could see. That doesn’t sit well with me. I would rather know someone did something bad, than continue in blissful ignorance. And in this case, it shows he owned up to his mistakes.
It’s telling that Cernovich had to search back eight years to find tweets offensive enough to collect. It’s also interesting they were around the same time as his blog received public criticism for being sexist. He penned a public apology, then moved on. One way to tell if an apology is authentic, is to see if a person continues doing the same thing for which they apologized. Notice again, Cernovich went eight years back to find those tweets. I think his public apology back then covers these offensive tweets made around the same time.
Second, Disney knew all about this when they hired him for the first Guardians of the Galaxy, yet still hired him. Disney has the right to hire and fire whomever it will, but I find it upsetting that they would weather the first round of storms before hiring him, then fire him when tweets from the same time period resurface.
And it is not as if Disney has not previously hired controversial talent. I wonder if Disney remembers Donald Glover’s rape jokes, Or when they hired Jon Watts for Spider-Man Homecoming whose previous film was in the midst of controversy for depicting several children being murdered in grisly and grotesque manners. Or when two of the cast of Avengers made a sexist joke at Scarlett Johansson’s expense.
This event looks to continue the “HR-ification” of social media, where twitter handles, no longer run by the person, but by a group of individuals who approve or disapprove the person’s thoughts. Thinking before you speak is good advice, something I strive for more. “Give it five minutes” before you speak can hold back many tasteless jokes and fiery rhetoric made in the heat of the moment. But outrage is our currency on Twitter, and people can make a quick buck by revealing something unsavory from a person’s past; whether they apologized for it or not, doesn’t matter. Culture has a short memory, and an even shorter attention span. And like taxes, apologies must be paid again for the same bit of social media real estate. It doesn’t matter if you apologized seven years earlier; the bill always comes back around.
Many think they are Paul Revere, cracking their phone screens with the hoof beats of their thumbs as they gallop to carry their “hot-take” from their mind to the world. However, we are not warned “The British are coming,” we are warned that our heroes made bad, tasteless jokes or hold political opinions not our own. In other words, we are warned that our heroes are human.
The main issue comes down to when are apologies enough, and when aren’t they?
Gunn caught flak when he took the director position in Guardians of the Galaxy for his comments made on his social media platforms, including his blog. He promptly apologized and everything seemed to move on. In many ways, he grew as a person (at least from what it looked like on his social media presence. Only God knows the heart). His tweets are less crass and generally, better and more thought out than earlier. Compare his tweets from eight years ago to the ones today and you will see a changed man in many ways. It looks like he took it to heart. And the profusion of friends, relatives, colleagues, and journalists and fans coming to his defense, tells me he’s grown much since making those tweets.
But is confession enough? If not, how many acts of penance must Gunn perform in order for pop culture to accept him in their arms again?
I don’t know.
Confession and forgiving one another is an immensely important part of my Christian faith, and so I am encouraged when I read what looks to be genuine apologies and change in people. I hope that Lord-willing, he will continue to grow as a person, and make more films. I hope it doesn’t rain his career.
All I can say is, apology accepted, Mr. Gunn.