Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: The Film That Almost Wasn't (But Thankfully, Was)
Disney's 2018 panic-firing of James Gunn is what manipulative right-wing activists see as success.
Hello, dear readers. Parker here.
This past weekend, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. I loved it. As the end credits rolled, I found myself contemplating the reality that this movie almost didn't come into existence.
If you recall, Disney fired James Gunn, the writer and director of the Guardians franchise, back in July 2018 following a right-wing smear campaign. Gunn had been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration and consequently found himself targeted by right-wing media, proponents of the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory, and other factions of the so-called alt-right.
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At issue was a series of edgy joke tweets from 2008-20111, which Gunn had addressed and apologized for in the past. Still, Disney panicked in response to feigned right-wing anger and fired Gunn from Guardians 3.
Fortunately, the cast of Guardians came to Gunn's defense, publicly urging Disney to reinstate him. Among them was actor Dave Bautista, who portrays Drax the Destroyer in the series, who passionately defended the filmmaker. He voiced his concerns over Disney's decision and stated, "I will fulfill my legal obligations but [GOTG] without [Gunn] is not what I initially agreed to." He further stated that it was "quite nauseating to be employed by someone who would endorse a smear campaign by fascists #cybernazis."
In March 2019, Disney announced Gunn’s rehiring, and we were all gifted with the series conclusion as it was meant to be (plus a really great holiday special that had a true banger of a song in it). And to think, all of this could have been lost.
This isn’t new, and it wasn’t new at the time, either.
This was common for “Pizzagate” promoter Mike Cernovich, who leveraged his large online following to smear his perceived political opponents as endorsing things like sexual assault and child sexual abuse material.
On March 15, 2017, rapper Bow Wow tweeted, “Ayo @realDonaldTrump shut your punk ass up talking shit about my uncle @SnoopDogg before we pimp your wife and make her work for us.”
It was a horrible tweet! Obviously!
New York Times reporter Sopan Deb quote tweeted the post, writing, “The outrage from Breitbark News news is going to be through the woof.”
Breitbark News was a parody Twitter account that would tweet in the style of the conservative Breitbart News from a dog’s perspective. The joke Deb was making was obvious: a tweet from one rapper with a dog-related name (Bow Wow) tweeted in defense of another rapper with a dog-related name (Snoop Dogg), while attacking Donald and Melania Trump. Deb’s joke played on the two dog-related names, tagging in the parody account and saying that outrage would be “through the woof” (dog pun).
Cernovich launched a campaign to smear Deb as somehow thinking “sex slavery is hilarious” and urging his followers to contact the Times then-public editor Liz Spayd “to ask about [Deb’s] view that human trafficking is funny.” Spayd was inundated with emails from Cernovich’s supporters, and she responded by writing a post headlined, “Snoop Dogg, Bow Wow and an Ill-Advised Retweet.” In it, Spayd shared one of the messages she received from someone on the right (bolded emphasis mine):
I am writing regarding a tweet published yesterday by a Times writer Sopan Deb. It is atrocious to promote the threatening sexual slavery upon any woman, and criminal to threaten the First Lady in this way. Mr. Deb’s retweeting of this, along with his comment implying that someone’s offense at this would be inappropriate, reflects poorly on NYT. Please consider the outrage had someone made a similar remark about First Lady Obama: the Internet would have exploded with exhortations to tar, feather, and hang the person who made such a remark.
There is no reasonable possible reading of Deb’s tweet that would lead any person operating in good faith to conclude that he was somehow endorsing or promoting Bow Wow’s tweet. It was a smear campaign, and by writing a piece about it in which she sympathized with the ones participating in it, Spayd gave the right-wing campaign some additional fuel. For more on this incident, read this great 2017 write-up from Media Matters’ Matt Gertz.
Later that year, a similar campaign was launched to smear progressive commentator Sam Seder over a 2009 tweet responding to big names in Hollywood rushing to defend Roman Polanski. The gist of one of the “Free Polanski” petitions was that the filmmaker should be let off the hook for a 1977 child sex charge on account of his work as an artist. Naturally, a lot of regular people found this defense to be disgusting.
So where does Sam Seder fit in? Well, you see, he mocked the people in Hollywood who were defending Polanski. He tweeted, “Dont care re Polanski, but I hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/ a great sense of mise en scene.”
It was a sarcastic post highlighting the absurdity of Hollywood’s defense, not a genuine statement. This was obvious to everyone at the time. That same day, Jezebel published an article headlined, “Letters From Hollywood: Roman Polanski's Rape Of Child No Big Thing.” The context makes it obvious who Seder was mocking.
As his eight-year-old joke tweet was getting attention, Seder decided to simply delete it, which led Cernovich to write a blog post titled, “MSNBC Contributor Sam Seder Endorses Polanski’s Sex Crimes in a Now Deleted Tweet.” This was, obviously, the opposite of what Seder’s tweet was doing. Still, the campaign was effective, as MSNBC cut ties with Seder, though he would later be rehired.
For all the talk of “cancel culture,” and how it is somehow coded as a “left” thing, the right weaponizes it better than anyone.
Last week, I wrote about how right-wing rage at Target was part of a coordinated campaign to attack LGBTQ people. And it was while I sat in my chair waiting for the end-credit scene to play that I connected the dots to the Guardians fiasco. And yes, I’ve written about this before. Many, many, many times before, actually.
Still, it’s important to see this tactic, recognize how dishonest it is, and understand that for all the handwringing about “cancel culture” on the left, it’s the right that has successfully weaponized this to the point where they can, as self-described “theocratic fascist” Matt Walsh said:
Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it. We can't boycott every woke company or even most of them. But we can pick one, it hardly matters which, and target it with a ruthless boycott campaign. Claim one scalp then move onto the next.
They were able to get Bud Light to panic simply for… uh… doing a sponsored post on the social media page of a transgender influencer (seriously, that was the entirety of their outrage: a belief that trans people should not be hired by any company for any job). They’re able to do this because they have rich networks of supporters in hyperpartisan media willing to amplify messages to create controversy out of the truly uncontroversial.
I’m thankful that we got to see the Guardians series as it was meant to be seen, but there’s a lesson to be learned from the right-wing rage campaigns: if you push back, if you don’t cede ground, if you call them out for being disingenuous instead of trying to placate their phony concerns and fake anger, you can come out on top. Too many people and too many businesses still haven’t learned this crucial lesson.
Examples include: “New poll. 9-11 jokes. Always in poor taste, or sometimes funny? Additional question: More or less offensive than Holocaust jokes?,” “Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS,” “My new film: Jerkloose - A small town where beating off is illegal, & 1 high school kid jerks off in front of the others to show how fun it is,” “This hotel shower is the weakest ever. Felt like a three year old was peeing on my head,” etc. These were obviously jokes (maybe in poor taste, but they were jokes, and pretty consistent with what you might expect from someone who cut his teeth in the B-movie world of Troma Entertainment).