We’re all done for. Delete everything. Live in a cave

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn was fired over decade-old tweets about child abuse. People may change, but their social media timeline is always there

James Gunn:    Celebrities are not alone in being haunted by this record of late-night belligerence and misguided youthful sarcasm. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

James Gunn: Celebrities are not alone in being haunted by this record of late-night belligerence and misguided youthful sarcasm. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

 

The story of James Gunn’s firing from Guardians of the Galaxy takes in two truths that rub awkwardly against one another. 

The manner of his unmasking by an alt-right conspiracy theorist tells us troubling things about the current state of online discourse. Mike Cernovich, a regular host on the notoriously paranoid InfoWars website, must have ploughed through kilometres of tweets before happening upon Gunn’s squalid gags concerning paedophilia.

It may be pure coincidence that Gunn, director of both Guardians films, is a vocal critic of Donald Trump. It may also be true that the moon is made of Camembert. Either way, the man who drove the crackers Pizzagate conspiracy – arguing that high-ranking Democrats were involved in sex trafficking – managed to get Gunn sacked from Guardians of the Galaxy 3. Who will be next?

An alumnus of Troma Entertainment, a studio founded on boglands of bad taste, Gunn had long enjoyed shock for shock’s sake

The other necessary truth – not contradictory, but a tad incompatible – is that Disney had no saleable alternative but to remove Gunn from the project. Even the least queasy of the gags is probably too unpleasant to reproduce here. Just be assured that the repeated referencing of child abuse for comic effect borders on the obsessive. 

Whispered implications that the jokes, made close to a decade ago, stem from a genuine predilection towards paedophilia are almost certainly fantastic. An alumnus of Troma Entertainment, a studio founded on boglands of bad taste, Gunn had long enjoyed shock for shock’s sake and, as many have pointed out, actual paedophiles know better than to advertise their unhealthy desires on public platforms. That’s what the dark web is for.

“For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out,” Gunn said. “I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it.”

Squalid quips

All that noted, Guardians of the Galaxy is a sequence aimed at (as we rarely say these days) audiences of all ages. Such scandals never go away. Had Gunn remained as director he would, on the film’s release, have been repeatedly asked about those revelations back in 2018 that referenced squalid quips at the turn of the previous decade. Meanwhile Disney, an organisation that leans towards the liberal, is pursuing its efforts to buy bits of 20th Century Fox. The mere association, however ironically framed, with child sex abuse is not something the Mouse House wants to carry into negotiations.

Gunn’s defenestration has kicked up objections from some celebrities. Dave Bautista, who plays Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, said: “He’s made mistakes. We all have. I’m NOT ok with what’s happening to him.” The actor Selma Blair asked Disney to rehire Gunn and pointed Twitter followers towards a change.org petition arguing that case. “If people are punished despite changing, then what does that teach people about owning mistakes and evolving?” she said. Well, Selma. It teaches them that Hollywood is a ruthless bear pit where impressions and associations mean more than intentions and motivations. Never mind that Disney built its empire on stories of sinners gaining redemption (Pinocchio’s nose and all that). This is business.

Cernovich’s most recent campaign may cause other actors and directors to pause before speaking out against Donald Trump

The equally blackballed Roseanne Barr, sent to her room after her own, more recent, racist tweets, wasn’t entirely right when she piped up on the topic, but she wasn’t entirely wrong either. “I’m disgusted to read all of the support for James Gunn’s paedophile jokes,” she bellowed. “As the same people supported blacklisting me for a joke they didn’t even understand.” Was Barr not really joking? Is it harder to forgive a Trump supporter? Is the only significant difference the passage of time? These questions aren’t disingenuous. I really don’t know the answers.

Bloody footprints

We do know social media history now winds behind an advancing celebrity like a sequence of footprints that, if you go back far enough, often turns suspiciously bloody. Cernovich’s most recent campaign may cause other actors and directors to pause before speaking out against Donald Trump. An unspoken threat of blackmail hangs over every political utterance. Never mind the stuff you remembered and can delete. Who knows what you tweeted when drunk and lonely on Christmas Eve of 2009? You’d probably sack yourself if shown that horrible thing you posted about Deirdre in the dry cleaners after your suit came back missing a button. You could delete your account altogether. But these things leave a trace, don’t they?

Celebrities are not alone in being haunted by this record of late-night belligerence and misguided youthful sarcasm. A whole generation now moves towards the workforce after a decade of unmonitored, unedited public discourse. The stuff you would once have said only in the pub is available for any potential employer to peruse after you’ve behaved impeccably in the interview.

We’re all done for. Delete everything. Live in a cave. Communicate by pigeon.     

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