Disney fired Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn from the franchise’s third installment over years-old tweets on Friday, proving once again that corporations still don’t know how to react to bad-faith social media campaigns from the right.
The tweets that Gunn’s critics focused on are often offensive or disturbing, especially by the standards of 2018. A number of Gunn’s jokes mention pedophilia, rape, or young people in sexual situations.
In 2009, for example, Gunn tweeted that he liked it “when little boys touch me in my silly place.” In others, he mentioned the mystery-solving Hardy Boys being fisted by their uncle, a monkey ejaculating on a child, and Shel Silverstein’s “Giving Tree” giving a blowjob to the book’s protagonist.
In a statement on the firing, the chairman of Disney Studios said Gunn’s tweets represent “offensive attitudes and statements.”
But Gunn’s history of making distasteful remarks nearly a decade ago was already public in Hollywood, after Gunn apologized in 2012 for remarks he made about women and LGBT people in blog posts.
Instead, Gunn was fired today because of a social media crusade led by right-wing social media personality and former Pizzagate conspiracy theory promoter Mike Cernovich. Gunn’s firing proves that businesses still haven’t figured out how to tell when they’re facing a genuine controversy — and when they’re just getting played by right-wing activists.
The online right targeted Gunn in the aftermath of mumblecore director Mark Duplass praising conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. Duplass eventually backed off his tweeted admiration for Shapiro following an online backlash from the left, prompting Gunn to tweet in Duplass’s defense while also calling Shapiro an “asshole” and saying Trump was “an operative for a foreign nation.”
That set Cernovich and fellow former Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec to resurfacing Gunn’s old tweets, with screenshots of the tweets quickly garnering thousands of retweets.
Shapiro himself, meanwhile, wrote in a Daily Wire post Friday that despite Gunn’s “purely loathsome” tweets, he should not have been fired.
Cernovich, who rose to prominence on the right in the Gamergate campaign aimed at women working in video games, has plenty of writings of his own that are far more disturbing than Gunn’s tweets. Cernovich has claimed, among other things, that “date rape does not exist at all” and that good sex “closely resembles rape.”
Despite his own bizarre past statements about sex, though, Cernovich has become a dedicated practitioner at the online art of accusing political opponents of sex crimes. Along with pushing the dangerous Pizzagate smear, Cernovich regularly accuses his critics, including me, of being sex criminals.
At this point, though, good faith isn’t required for a conservative social media takedown. After seeing figures like Google engineer James Damore fired for what their supporters see as mere political differences, many on the right have subscribed to what conservative writer Kurt Schlichter has termed “the new rules.”
As long as conservatives get fired for their political opinions, in their view, they can use campaigns to get liberals fired for the same.
Cernovich’s claims were quickly picked up in the rest of the right-wing media. One of the central contentions in the case against Gunn, for example, has been an archived version of a blog post Gunn wrote in 2010 entitled “Video: 100 Pubescent Girls Touch Themselves.”
In the blog post, Gunn said he’d received the video, which was no longer available in the archived version, from Huston Huddleston, a prominent Hollywood sci-fi memorabilia collector.
“I just came all over my own face!!” Gunn wrote.
Since the video embed is broken in the archived version, it’s unclear what video Gunn posted. Still, the title alone was enough for many in the right-wing media, with Breitbart noting that they “would not view the video.” Complicating matters for Gunn, Huddleston was actually arrested on child porn charges eight years later, in 2018.
As it turns out, though, the video embedded in Gunn’s post wasn’t the child porn people claimed it was — it was just a video of a choir of young women singing the 1990 pop song “I Touch Myself.” Gunn had made another bad joke that his critics would take advantage of years later.
While Disney may think they’ve ended the controversy by firing Gunn, this is just the beginning for Cernovich, who told The Daily Beast that Gunn’s firing means it’s now time for “an open investigation into all of Hollywood.”