This may suprise some of you, but I wasn't always a well-adjusted*, mature** adult***. When I was a kid, I had a bit of a dumb streak. And by "kid," I mean well into my twenties.
Like most young men growing up in the 1990's, I was raised on television and warped social values. Our cultural sensitivities were nowhere near as developed then. We celebrated the raucousness of Jerry Springer and the Jerky Boys. We considered overt sexism to be the height of machismo. We (as a society) allowed rapists and pedophiles to hold high offices and run major companies.
Basically, we sucked (an expression equally steeped in a homophobic mentality).
In middle school, I saw the rise of the "edgelord," or the shock/shlock entertainers (in many ways, this was just an evolution of other provocateurs. The history of the entertainment industry is filled with them: Marcel Duchamp, Piero Manzoni, John Waters). Howard Stern and the Jerky Boys and the deconstructive cartoons all tested the boundaries of good taste--often going too far into the realm of discomfort.
This was an age when "dead baby" jokes made waves through many middle and high-schooler's lexicon. The aim of humor was no longer to titillate, but to disgust. Our palette darkened, reaching further into depravity to "out-do" the last ill-favored limerick.
I told those jokes because I didn't think about the very real trauma caused by infanticide. Most comedians dabbling in "bluer" humor don't worry about the reality of the joke. That's kind of the point. Reality can be heartbreaking, soul-crushing, and nothing to laugh at. The job of the comic is to shine a new light on an issue, to find humor where there ought be none.
This is all a long-winded way to lead into my main topic: The firing of James Gunn.
The past year has been a whirlwind of change and revelation in the entertainment industry. Norms of a hundred years are coming apart, and the vile and wicked are finally seeing some comeuppance. Harvey Weinstein might face actual jail time for a life of harassment, assault, and rape. Bill Cosby may spend what remains of his life behind bars. Actors with a history of being the "tortured genius" may finally stop getting roles, opening up space for "talented people who also understand that this is a business place and it has no room for their bullshit."
Unfortunately, bad actors always find a way to cash in on a trend. In the wake of #MeToo and the firing of Rosanne Barr (for abhorrent, racist comments), an alt-right machine went to work attacking the past of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.
The pile-on was disgusting to watch, not the least because of the forces leading the charge: Pizzagate conspiracy nuts with a history of racist, misogynistic, and vile speeches. These were the voices that called for Gunn's destruction, and--in a sadly understandable act of capitulation--Disney complied.
Now, the tweets that led to the pink slip were absolutely disgusting. Shock humor tends to be, and it goes without saying that Gunn went too far in this blue humor. He admitted such...six years ago. In fact, in numerous interviews, Gunn has expressed his regret over his previous mindset as an "edgelord' entertainer. Like many growing up in the 80s and 90s (and as someone steeped in 70s culture), he felt pushing the boundaries of good taste was his way of standing out. It wasn't until he started seeing success that he shed that persona in favor of his truer, more empathetic self.
The point of all this isn't to defend the jokes. We shouldn't. In fact, we should call out anyone for making those kinds of jokes. It's not okay. We, as a society, need to have boundaries on good taste, and these were well beyond that. But these tweets are from ten years ago. By firing Gunn for transgressions a decade in the past, we set a fairly abysmal precedent.
There is no reason to improve yourself, because your past can still be used to condemn you.
If we don't allow people to make mistakes, to learn from them, and to grow into better members of society, then how the hell do we expect anyone to make it? We are human. It is in our nature to err.
NOTE: This is not an excuse for the Weinsteins of the world. There is a HUGE difference between making really bad jokes and being a serial sexual predator.
I worry about what this moves means for the future. I worry that people like these alt-right trolls have such sway over multi-billion-dollar empires. I worry that we are heading down a path with no easy exits.
Treat each other kindly. Remember that we've all made mistakes in the past. Ask forgiveness, and mean it, and work to make yourself a better person. And if you have the chance and make it to the top, don't forget to turn around and help those behind you.