Nov 30, 2012

The James Gunn Controversy



[Note: I started to write this post before James Gunn issued his apology statement. Rather than rewriting the entire thing, I decided to leave it as-is with an addendum attached to the end.]

It was my day off and on my day off I try to keep internet viewing to a minimum. I’m online quite a bit already, as you may well know. But I hopped on Twitter, as I often do, to see what the day had to offer in the way of geek news. It seemed my Editor at TheMarySue.com, Susana Polo, had stumbled upon something that bothered her. Indie director/writer James Gunn, hired by Disney/Marvel to bring The Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen, had written a post titled, “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want To Have Sex With.”

The title itself didn’t strike me as anything unusual for the comic internet (of which I wasn’t aware Gunn was an active participant in) In 2010, I myself wrote a list about wanting to have sex with Batman, but once I read the content of Gunn’s list I realized why Susana had written the piece.

Gunn posted the list on his own website on February 11, 2011 so why was this just becoming a big deal now? Two reasons: One, someone on Tumblr came across the post, didn’t appreciate it, and wrote about it. It spread. Two: Because Gunn is now responsible for a big-budget film from Disney/Marvel, which means there are more people invested in his career.

After both Gunn and actor Rainn Wilson asked their followings online to vote in Gunn’s second annual poll of this kind, he whittled down the list of his 300 nominees to 50, and wrote about them. What followed was at best, the kind of immature sexual talk you’d hear in an 8th grade locker room, at worst, some seriously homophobic and misogynistic remarks. I won’t bother copy/pasting them here as some people who’ve done that have been accused of taking his words out of context. You could read the list on his website. But it was removed sometime between the night of Tuesday November 27, 2012 and when Susana started writing her post the following morning.

But if you do want to read it, and I warn you, there’s some extreme, trigger-y language, the page iscached on Google. There was also a follow-up list where Gunn gave just his own top superheroes he’d like to have sex with. Also deleted. Also cached.

To me, that’s telling. It would be one thing if, when he realized how many people were offended by the list, removed them from his website and replaced them with an apology. Something like…
I removed the posts in question from my website because, while coming from a place of humor, I realize I am now in a position of power and people in power have a responsibility. People in power have influence and what they say matters.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, since the list was brought into brighter light, he hasn’t addressed it at all. Even after The Hollywood Reporter picked up the story and asked both Gunn and Marvel for comments. Neither Marvel, nor their parent company Disney, has issued a statement.

At face value, having not been familiar with Gunn’s work or personality, the list comes off as a disgusting man making misogynistic remarks about fictional women and homophobic remarks about their male counterparts.

Many have defended Gunn’s words claiming if you look at his past work and behavior, this is his brand of humor and he does not truly feel this way about women or homosexuals. They claim it’s purely satire.

But it’s not.

I’m not saying the list wasn’t made entirely in jest (a type of jest that offends me personally), I’m just saying this is absolutely not satire. And don’t forget, satire does not equal comedy. It can be written as humorous, but satire does not equal comedy.

Merriam-Webster has two definitions of the word:
1. a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn 
2. wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
What human vice is Gunn holding up to ridicule or criticism here? What vice or folly is he using sarcasm or irony to deflect? The one answer I’ve heard to those questions is Gunn was attempting to ridicule the many comic fans online who write this type of gross list regularly but if that was his intent, he failed. The list is not satire, at best, it’s base humor.

But that’s neither here nor there. Why? Because Gunn hasn’t spoken out on the subject closing in on 48 hours after it started making waves. Someone started apetition to get him removed from The Guardians of the Galaxy film. I don’t agree with that sentiment, especially not before hearing the man out. People who have met him or know him personally have defended him, saying he was just “being stupid,” and I can believe that but I’d like to hear Gunn say it himself.

I also find it odd to call into question Gunn’s friendship with Joss Whedon. I have plenty of friends who make jokes I find offensive or who have opinions squarely opposed to my own, that doesn’t mean they aren’t my friends. So no, I don’t feel Whedon should get involved, least of all before Gunn says anything.

Different people see different things when looking at his post. I get that. But in an industry already hostile to women, something like this from a prominent member sets a bad example. Jokes like the ones Gunn wrote become indoctrinated into our culture in such a way that they become acceptable to some people and bad behavior continues to perpetuate. Women being raped because men think they can “turn” them is something that happens too often in our society and by continuing to treat it lightly, we reinforce that way of thinking.

Do I think calling for his job and/or head is the correct response? No. When controversial things like this pop up online, some people discuss civilly why it bothers them, but others take it and run to a very dark place. I don’t necessarily blame them, the things said in Gunn’s list are extremely sensitive in nature and people themselves are sensitive to that depending on their life experience.

Then the situation escalates when people who don’t see X, Y, or Z as a problem, accuse those who do of being overly sensitive, or *gasp * having feelings about something. I’m sure you’ve seen it plenty of times on message boards and social media. Someone says they are really offended by something and another person tells them:
1. It’s not a big deal. 
2. You’re looking at this all wrong. 
3.  Aren’t there more important things to complain about in this world? 
4. That bitch just needs some dick.
Number four happens to women who speak out online more than you can possibly imagine.

But in defense of those who have serious issues with what Gunn wrote, and wrote an intelligent response, saying something is homophobic or misogynist isn't the same as saying the person themselves is homophobic or misogynist. Most people forget that. People can say things they don’t realize are inherently offensive.

I agreed with Susana’s assessment and am glad she raised the profile of this post from long ago. What Gunn wrote was extremely problematic and needed to be discussed. I, for one, hope we never stop.

[Addendum]


I’m extremely happy Gunn issued his apology and take it at face value. Some will suspect he only responded because the issue was picked up by GLAAD and the Human RightsCampaign but I take what he said to heart as that’s what I would hope people would do if I were in his position. Being a public figure is a difficult thing but I think Gunn’s words displayed his intent without him having to “explain the joke” as it were. He said he was sorry, not that he was sorry we were offended, which is a backhanded apology used by many these days in replace of the real thing. And apologized for those who were hurt by his words. He promised to be better on all accounts in the future and I think that’s all we can ask of him. 

If you'd like, you can also read Susana's follow-up post on The Mary Sue.

5 comments:

Vinnie Bartilucci said...

It wasn't supposed to be satire. It was just supposed to be funny. There's a subtle difference. You could say it was supposed to be funny by being over the top (which it was), but that's not quite satire.

Gunn has done great work in the past, and on monday everybody was looking forward to seeing his version of GotG, On Wednesday, he was a monster, and clearly his opinions about gay people (shared two years ago, and never again) rendered him unable to write a movie about aliens, and a raccoon. And now that he's apologized, he's a hero again. Until, of course, someone trolls back through everything he's ever written and finds more "Evidence" of his evil, evil heart.

The Internet only has two speeds; indifference and Worst Thing Ever. Look how fast news of Wonder Woman's name being changed to "Iris" raced across the planet. By the time Geoff Johns woke up in California, it had already built from a whisper to a scream. Both Johns and Heinberg had to make public statements about it before the Internet got up and walked away on the project, just like they did when the pictures of Diana in long pants appeared, and had to be hastily erased.

This was not "nothing to be worried about", per se. If it had indeed been shown to be indicative of his true and honest thoughts, then yes, it would have been something to be discussed. Rationally and Calmly. It was not the earth-shaking calamity that its coverage suggested it was.

Part of the problem is that it's so easy to his "copy" (or, and you'll have noticed by now, "comment") that one can participate in a controversy much easier than one ever could before. And as a result, a lot more people participate. Each participation is less than they would have to in a real-world situation, but a whole lot of people doing next to nothing ends up being more than a few people doing a little, and everyone else not bothering because it's cold out.

There's all those numbers BETWEEN 0 and 11. If the Internet used them on occasion, more might get done.

Harkness of Darkness said...

I will admit that I did sign the petition to have him removed because of those remarks and because they were issued in such obvious poor taste and judgement. A person responsible for and having such high influence over fans in the genre should have more care with how they publicly address some issues.

I will also admit that, like Gunn, I am not perfect and have done/said things in the past that present me thinks were in poor taste/judgment (or just downright stupid). And I have apologized for them and tried to be better about it - which he is obviously doing.

So, in light of that, I requested to have my name removed from that petition.

I think the ability to admit when you've made a mistake, clearly articulate that you understand what that mistake was and that you realize now the hurt it has caused and will do better - that's the sign of someone who deserves the opportunity to prove it.

I'm glad he made the apology. I'm glad he owned it and didn't try to BS his way out of it. And I don't care why he chose to apologize. If pressure made him realize it was asinine, so what? He still did the right thing, and that's what matters in the end.

So, because one good action deserves another, my request to remove my name as sent to Petition.org:

"I recently signed a petition to have James Gunn removed from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie based on some rather sexist/homophobic remarks he made regarding comic book heroines/heroes.

Since then, he has publicly come out and addressed the issue in a manner that I felt was both respectful and contrite.

His ability to take responsibility for his actions and make the appropriate apologies shows that he deserves the opportunity to prove that he is better than his mistakes and worth taking a risk on.

Based on this, I would like to remove my name from this petition.

When a person makes a mistake and refuses to own it, THEN I think having removing them from a position of influence is necessary. But when a person makes a mistake and then admits it, states clearly WHY it was wrong, and apologizes to those harmed and makes steps to correct it - that too should be acknowledged and respected.

Mr Gunn has exhibited that he is both aware of and responsible for his mistakes and willing to take the steps necessary to repairing the damage he caused.

I, for one, am willing to give him the opportunity to prove himself.

Please remove my name from this petition."

Harkness of Darkness said...

I will admit that I did sign the petition to have him removed because of those remarks and because they were issued in such obvious poor taste and judgement. A person responsible for and having such high influence over fans in the genre should have more care with how they publicly address some issues.

I will also admit that, like Gunn, I am not perfect and have done/said things in the past that present me thinks were in poor taste/judgment (or just downright stupid). And I have apologized for them and tried to be better about it - which he is obviously doing.

So, in light of that, I requested to have my name removed from that petition.

I think the ability to admit when you've made a mistake, clearly articulate that you understand what that mistake was and that you realize now the hurt it has caused and will do better - that's the sign of someone who deserves the opportunity to prove it.

I'm glad he made the apology. I'm glad he owned it and didn't try to BS his way out of it. And I don't care why he chose to apologize. If pressure made him realize it was asinine, so what? He still did the right thing, and that's what matters in the end.

So, because one good action deserves another, my request to remove my name as sent to Petition.org:

"I recently signed a petition to have James Gunn removed from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie based on some rather sexist/homophobic remarks he made regarding comic book heroines/heroes.

Since then, he has publicly come out and addressed the issue in a manner that I felt was both respectful and contrite.

His ability to take responsibility for his actions and make the appropriate apologies shows that he deserves the opportunity to prove that he is better than his mistakes and worth taking a risk on.

Based on this, I would like to remove my name from this petition.

When a person makes a mistake and refuses to own it, THEN I think having removing them from a position of influence is necessary. But when a person makes a mistake and then admits it, states clearly WHY it was wrong, and apologizes to those harmed and makes steps to correct it - that too should be acknowledged and respected.

Mr Gunn has exhibited that he is both aware of and responsible for his mistakes and willing to take the steps necessary to repairing the damage he caused.

I, for one, am willing to give him the opportunity to prove himself.

Please remove my name from this petition."

Jack said...

I really enjoyed this post. You took a current issue and broke it down in a way that not only covers all the facets, but issues and opinion of your own.

In particular, I like the way you handled your opinion... it was a reasoned and well thought-out stance. The fact that you managed to make it amusing was really great, too!

I'm curious, have you considered that Gunn might have had a ton of fun writing that post (with the thought that few people would read it, or even just his friends) and had forgotten it existed? He kind of said so in his response, I'm just curious if that had crossed your mind.

Regards,
-J

Jack said...

Greetings,

I really enjoyed this post. I think you did a great job of taking a current nerd issue and really breaking it down. You presented a well thought and reasoned argument as to why you think people are being unfair.

All I have to say is that it's the internet, people tend to be way more extreme here. I'm curious if it had occurred to you that he wrote that article a long time ago and had forgotten he did it. It could be one of those things that was really fun at the time, but he never expected anyone to read it. It kinda sound that way from his response, I'm just curious if you thought of that.

Love your blog, keep posting!

-J