Reflections on the James Gunn Scenario

James Gunn is one of the only public figures to largely survive ‘being canceled.’ Gunn, the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, was fired by Disney in 2018 for a series of bad-faith tweets from a decade prior. His misguided humor led him to make jokes about rape, child abuse, and pedophila — the content of these jokes reflects the movies he made for Troma Entertainment, the exploitation-horror B-movie studio which has been known to commonly reuse a “penis monster” throughout their filmography. 

He publicly apologized for these tweets years before being fired, but after angrily tweeting about Donald Trump, the alt-right Pizziagate conspircist Mike Cernovich dug up the old tweets and got Disney to fire him. Twitter blew up — both in support and condemnation of Gunn, and in 2019, Disney, citing Gunn’s repentance and admirable post-firing character, rehired Gunn to work on the third installment of Guardians

Over a year later, with Gunn’s Suicide Squad (2020) wrapping up production and Guardians’ about to start, his story slipped by and Hollywood moved on. It’s an important andedoct in our liberal woke-shame setting: he is the only one to seriously make it out unharmed. But the illustration is still helpful. After all, even J.K. Rowling has been ‘canceled’ by Twitter’s woke police after a comment that offended the transgender community. 

So, how did James Gunn go from being fired to having millions online begging for his rehiring, and more importantly, remaining out of the spotlight? He changed. Gunn apologized years before those tweets came to fruition after realizing that to be funny, and even being an artist, did not entail the B-movie type edgy material that Troma had primed him for. 

Gunn’s story interests me because it seems so isolated. Cancel culture woke shaming encourages toxicity by communicating to the reprobate that changing will only confirm their mass cancelation. Gunn’s story, on the other hand, actually suggests that shitty people can become good, that the reprobate can repent, that people aren’t the crimes they have committed. (This is also the story of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) — a group of criminals break out of a prison that represents their current situation and they have to set aside their struggles with their previous selves in order to do something good: save the galaxy.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that this must extend to all. Gunn is perhaps an easier case to let slide because it was just humor. He never committed any crimes. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have consequences for their actions, and I’m also not suggesting this as a response to #MeToo. All I’m saying is it would be nice if large portions of American consumers could recognize that change can be a wonderful thing.

American pop culture could use a few more Gunns.

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