James Gunn, redemption, and the statute of limitations on tasteless jokes

July 24th, 2018

I don't usually follow celebrity news. I don't care what celebrity is breaking up with or dating whatever other celebrity. Although, I occasionally follow entertainment news. You know, who is working on what movie and stuff like that. So, for those that don't even follow that, one story that's been of interest to me lately is Disney firing James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 because Mike Cerovich, a conservative blogger, dug up some decade-old tweets Gunn had made that joked about pedophilia, 9/11, and rape. One such joke was: "The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!'” Which, I think, is a pretty clear tongue-in-cheek way of saying, "There's nothing good about rape." But, rape jokes in an of themselves are problematic enough for some. Although it should be noted that some, far more recent tweets of Cernovich's include: "Date rape does not exist. " and "Have you guys ever tried ‘raping’ a girl without using force? Try it. It’s basically impossible,” So he's not exactly the good guy here. At all. In any way shape or form.

Now, Cerovich's whole angle was an attempt to point out liberal hypocrisy. If a conservative like, say, Roseanne Barr is going to be fired for a tweet, the same standard should be held for liberals like Gunn. Okay. That's fair. But the Barr/Gunn comparison falls apart for a few reasons.
1) Barr's tweet was a couple months ago. Not 8-10 years ago.
2) He'd apologized, grown, and actually apparently been supportive of causes for victims of the type of stuff he'd made tasteless, tongue-in-cheek jokes about. Rossane's most recent response was "I thought the bitch was white."

Another point Cerovich tried to clumsily make is how is this different than Trump's "Grab 'em by the pussy" comment from 10 years ago being unearthed? Well, for one, Trump didn't apologize. He made excuses, "It was just locker room talk." Melania said Billy Bush goaded him into saying it. (He wants us to believe that he can stand up to dictators like Putin and Kim, but he can't handle Billy Bush?). Add to that the fact that around the time that cropped up his defense against sexual assault accusations was that he'd never do that to those women because they were too ugly shows that he hasn't realized his mistakes or grown as a person in those 10 years. He's still very much the same man who brags about pussy grabbing.

So the question I keep asking myself is: "What is the statute of limitations on bad jokes?" Comedy is hard. Edgy comedy is harder because no one agrees on where the edge is. Art and comedy are learning processes to be sure. So is the message we want to be sending "Never fuck up ever. Mistakes are unacceptable. Missteps will not be tolerated. You aren't allowed to grow or learn or change. Who you are now is who you will always be seen as. You mess up in anyway whatsoever it will destroy you ten years later."

I propose that no. No. That's not the message we want to send. I don't think art or comedy should always be played safe either. Lest we ruin what makes them special in the first place.

Now I have played with edgy humor in the past. If you were connected to Drake University between the years of 2004-2007, this is well documented. It's a fine line to walk, mocking the perpetrators of horrible acts. Sometimes the line between a joke about racists and a racist joke isn't as clear to others as it is to the one writing it. It's not a tight-rope you're going to walk across on your first try. The stuff we create when developing our craft won't be perfect and will be rife with missteps.

That said, I think forgiveness is contingent upon recognition of those missteps and showing you've grown as a person. Gunn appears to have done that. Barr and Trump have not.