(Editor’s note: The Following is an opinion article about the James Gunn situation by our movie reviewer, Lawrence Napoli)
James Gunn, Branding and What it Takes to Make it in Hollywood
James Gunn has been banished from the MCU by Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. The formerly celebrated director of The Guardians of the Galaxy films has been fired from the production of Volume 3 and will no longer have input to Marvel’s expanding cinematic universe moving forward. A coordinated effort between alt-right, independent media personalities Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich shed light on a series of deplorable tweets from Gunn between the years of 2008 to 2011 that centered on distasteful jokes regarding rape and pedophilia. The sheer volume and sordid nature of the tweets simply made it impossible for Gunn to ever be affiliated with any production stemming from the Disney brand. Gunn’s official response to his firing accepted his termination as well as responsibility for his words.
My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time.
Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse. To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all. – James Gunn
In light of the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the emergence of #metoo, the downfall of Bill Cosby, as well as the alleged sexual misconduct of Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Stone, Matt Laurer, Charlie Rose, Ryan Seacrest and others, the situation involving yet another Hollywood celebrity in shame seems old hat and completely expected. The real surprise to this revelation was its spontaneous nature seeing how the closest any representative of the MCU has been to public scandal was Robert Downey Jr.’s issues with substance abuse which were categorically overwritten as part of his professional comeback which began with the first Iron Man back in 2008. If anyone felt Disney’s corporate practices to ensure the most holistic, family oriented and child friendly brand were absurdly pervasive before, professionals looking to work with this media colossus in the future are certain to find a level of scrutiny to ethos that will redefine “intensity.”
What does this mean to the MCU?
Fans of the MCU have encountered the first chink in the glistening armor that is the entertainment gold standard constructed by Kevin Feige. As such, the sub franchise of Guardians of the Galaxy will undergo an unscheduled, yet significant transformation because a new director will be in charge of Volume 3. Chances are that person will have new ideas to plot and character that will deviate from James Gunn’s vision; a singular vision that was widely credited for upgrading the niche appeal of the Guardians in the comics to mainstream prominence in the films. It remains to be seen if this change will be good or bad, but it will be different.
What does this mean to Hollywood?
Exposing “celebrities behaving badly” has been trending for a while thanks to the arrogance of bad players at the top of the industry never thinking their misdeeds would be revealed. Hollywood continues to get constant reminders to beware of certain scandal because it can end careers and while critics of “the Hollywood elite” will point to James Gunn as yet another example of liberal corruption, I would temper that talking point with some observations.
As revolting as Gunn’s tweets may be, these do not compare to sexual assault. As shameful as they were, they do not single out individuals like those who have been targets of harassment. Crime and punishment playing out in the court of public opinion as opposed to a court of law is establishing a dangerous precedent in the professional world where the only benchmark for justice is doing anything to protect profits regardless of collateral damage. Careers lost in the process are considered little more than afterthoughts. Even worse is the fact that while private employers have every right to dismiss employees in accordance to contractual stipulations or at will employment, there is no enforceable standard to subjective, summary punishment whenever Entity X decrees it to be so. Case in point: nobody is touching Charlie Rose with a 10 foot pole while Ryan Seacrest is still comfortably employed.
This is a raw deal that Hollywood is going to continue muddling through until a blockbuster lawsuit is filed that will ultimately confirm or reject this practice, but paranoia and sensitivity are likely to increase because that is the current trend and trends dictate reality these days.
What does this mean to us “normies?”
As if we needed yet another reminder of the dangers of the internet and social media, James Gunn has once again reminded us that whatever posts on the internet, stays on the internet in some form or another, for all time, whether we like it or not. Beware of what you put out there because a harmless joke to you could be construed as “indefensible” by others and potentially used against you.
We should also take this moment as a cautionary tale about rushing to judgment and not just because having kneejerk reactions, dialing it up to 11 and lighting up the internet with the most toxic, vulgar and violent language possible to sound off isn’t something that ought to be considered “the right thing to do,” despite having the legal rights to do so. Having these kinds of reactions in our blogs, posts and videos feed the narrative shock and awe beast that, chances are, is being manipulated to achieve a desired effect regular individuals have no influence over. Emotionally charged reactions can be instantly weaponized in social media and with the right commentary, exposure and affiliation can be harnessed by those in power to turn us all into unwilling foot soldiers for someone else’s crusade. Yes, express yourself, but don’t feed the trolls. Knowing the difference is in our own self interest.
As Peter Bart states in his article “Indicted by Media But not by Law, Can Scandal-Scarred Men Return?” for Deadline:
Repugnant behavior should be forcefully rebuked. On the other hand, are we in danger of re-living mistakes of the Hollywood Blacklist era when lives and careers were permanently destroyed by what proved, in some cases, to be frivolous and self-serving allegations?”
Critics of “the Hollywood elite” have never before had more ammunition to shred the credibility of their product by exposure to subsets of their character. Individuals like Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich may claim the moral high ground as watchdogs for the people, but they also have an agenda they profit from. Both have made allegations of impropriety of several individuals in media whether they are substantiated or not and defamation lawsuits for slander and libel to counter flagrant misrepresentations aren’t always slam dunks in court. They know they operate in the ethically ambiguous with little accountability and tremendous influence to shape public opinion. We, the consumers, will never have the ability to influence the decisions of private industry, but we can control how we enter the fray of mob mentality. Will we be quick to grab our torches and pitchforks to feed the frenzy or will we gather information and express our opinions more responsibly?
What does it take to make it in Hollywood?
The ever increasing line of Hollywood personalities getting knocked out of the game thanks to their own efforts is revealing a disturbing pattern of behavior in men that have achieved success, fame and some semblance of fortune in the industry. The infallibility of power’s ability to corrupt the truly weak and undisciplined at their core has never before made so obvious to the common masses thanks to the global allure of the Hollywood lifestyle and product. While the bad players that have been “outed” still represent a minority, the list of jerks grows every week with no indication of slowing down anytime soon. I cannot help but ask, “Do you need to be a genuine asshole to make it in Hollywood?”
In the heat of the moment, the answer seems to be yes especially if we look to measuring “success” in other industries as well as government. A certain cutthroat aggressiveness as opposed to genuine talent appears to be the prerequisite to not only get in the game, but to thrive. Behind closed doors, this demeanor is referred to as hustle. Out in the exposed, politically correct world, this is admonished as bad optics. But the answer should never be “yes” to make it in Hollywood or anywhere else for that matter. If human beings are to conduct themselves in accordance to any semblance of ethics, morality, honor or conscience we should resist any temptation to admire the asshole, the bully, the loudmouth because odds are, the only value they bring to anyone is exactly what you see and nothing else.
Hollywood is no more a cesspool of sexual predators than the US government is for sycophants, liars and traitors. Yet there they are with more being exposed every day. The truth is assholes are everywhere and the desire to get ahead by taking advantage and cutting corners has never been greater in today’s culture of instant gratification. Sometimes they are rewarded, sometimes not. The fact is you don’t need to be an asshole to make it in Hollywood, but it can help.