Monday, April 08, 2019

Son of a Gunn: Checking the Urine Content of Your Local Digital Swimming Pool

So, you're a giant megacorporation and you've fired a talented director from one of your most profitable movie franchises based on a targeted campaign of hate from a real-life lewd, crude, rude, bag of pre-chewed food dude. What do you do? Trick question: If you're Disney, you can do whatever the fuck you want, completely unchecked by law, reason, or decency.

Last July, Disney fired director James Gunn from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. III film for some off-colour jokes he made on Twitter a decade previous. This was based largely on a malicious and converted effort led by Mike Cernovich, Internet troll, conspiracy theorist, men's rights activist, and all-around despicable human being.

A little less than a month ago, Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn seemed to completely reverse course as Disney announced that they had rehired Gunn for the Guardians Vol. III gig. While this seems like a victory for James Gunn, audiences and fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and decency at large, I still can't help but feel like there are no real winners here.

As I detailed at length before, there were several issues at play in Disney's arbitrary decision to fire Gunn:

  1. It was a decision made seemingly in direct response to a campaign led by Mike Cernovich, a man described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as having made his career on trolling the liberal establishment by accusing people of pedophilia or child sex trafficking. This was the man in whose opinion Disney seemed to put an incredible amount of stock.
  2. It was an incredible overreach by a corporation in applying consequences in terms of employment based on the private actions of an individual in their own time that caused no discernible harm and broke no legal or ethical boundaries. The precedent they set for employers, especially large corporations, was troubling at best.
  3. It was a violation of fundamental principles of privacy and social boundaries that are integral to the agency and empowerment of all individuals living in a civilized society.
On a superficial level as a fan of Gunn's first two Guardians films, I'm happy that he'll get to at least close out his trilogy. On the other hand, what does it mean for Gunn to go back to working for Disney? He seems based on his output like he's very emotionally invested in the stories he's telling, so in terms of the Art, it's a win for him. But Disney's also made it very clear that they have a very strict purity test that might slip you up even if you stay up cramming for it the night before. They have this leverage over him now; they've fired him once on a whim, what's to stop them from firing him again for whatever reason some random shit disturber on the Internet cooks up and that Alan Horn decides sounds like a good idea in the moment?

Yes, we're hiring a new director. Just mind the pile of
corpses on your way in, dear.
My first instinct was Gunn should have refused Disney's offer to bring him back into the MCU fold on principle. I know that's easy for me to say when it's not my potential magnum opus on the line, but by cutting ties with Disney despite them wanting to rehire him back, it would have shown Disney that there were consequences for their actions. That they don't just get to treat people however they want (read: like shit) and still get what they want. Disney's behaviour is reminiscent of an abusive partner that makes your life miserable yet somehow winds up manipulating you into begging them to take you back. 

James Gunn, on the other hand, was the consummate adult in the room. He was incredibly sincere, writing a heartfelt apology for the tweets (which he'd already done years earlier, before Disney had ever even hired him). He never lashed out at people, or go into flame wars with random assholes on Twitter. The cast of the Guardians films released an open letter of support for the director. Dave Bautista (who plays Drax) especially was pretty vocal about his support for Gunn, threatening to quit the franchise if they didn't use his script for the third installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy films.

It was an emotional display of contrition and solidarity among people who it seems genuinely care about each other. Still, I couldn't help but picture the execs at Disney sitting back in their board room chairs like a bunch of James Bond villains, watching the whole thing unfolding on a towering 108-inch screen with giant, shit-eating grins tugging at the corners of their mouths. In their twisted minds you could practically see the words forming out of the black ooze: "Dance, puppets, dance!"

If James Gunn had stuck to his guns and told Disney to go fuck themselves, it might have only been a moral victory. Though in the face of a lumbering giant such as Disney, that may be the only kind of victory we have at our disposal at the moment. Despite reports by Deadline that Disney hadn't already been in talks with other directors to take on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. III, (which is highly doubtful considering the amount of cash the MCU represents for the company), they would have brought somebody else on eventually to helm the thing. No matter what Gunn did, Disney was going to get their way. And that's the real really troubling thing in this tale of capitalism and corporate greed run amok; Disney is a company with the money and incumbent power to do whatever the hell they want for whatever reason they claim with zero checks or balances and no political or social will to hold the people running that company accountable to any degree. 

There's no easy answer to the Disney problem (though, the US government enforcing some of its antitrust laws might be a good place to start), and I don't bear Gunn any ill will for his decision to return to the Disney fold, because from a purely practical point of view he's reuniting with people and not reconciling with a corporation. It just sucks that what seems like a victory for Gunn and fans of his films is laced with the unmistakable pall of capitulation. 

The waters are murky now, though, and morally, it's easy to pass judgement, but it's much harder to crystallize ideals into practical actions that feel completely morally justified. In an episode of Newsradio, Joe (Joe Rogan) humourously pointed out that "You can't take something off the Internet. It's like taking pee out of a swimming pool." The same principle applies here in an ethical sense; Disney decided to empty its (considerable) bladder into our common cultural swimming pool, and the result is a solution that's still palatable and sanitized, but disgusting nonetheless. I'm not sure what the right answer is, I only know that Disney's actions through the whole affair left a lot to be desired and a pretty terrible aftertaste. 


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