UPDATE: For more proof of how dishonest these folks are being, read this piece about the true nature of one of the tweets they’re trying to nail Patton Oswalt with.
Oh, cool: Disney’s decision to fire James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 emboldened the far right trolls who sought out his old jokes on Twitter. Who saw that coming, other than every single person who’s paying attention?
Quick refresher: Gunn, who came up through the Troma edgelord world of intentionally abrasive and disgusting humor, made a number of terrible jokes about rape and pedophilia on Twitter between 2008 and 2011. Mike Cernovich, an alt-right troll, conspiracy monger, men’s rights activist, and all-around far right opportunist who has accused multiple people he disagrees with of pedophilia, including pushing the absurd Pizzagate conspiracy about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party running a child trafficking ring out of a DC pizza place’s nonexistent basement, publicized those old tweets last week and used them to get Gunn fired from the Marvel franchise he’s worked on for the last six years. Pretty much anybody who defended Gunn opened themselves up to harassment on Twitter from alt-right accounts, of which there is notable overlap with Cernovich’s followers.
Gunn became the target of the alt-right because of his criticism of Donald Trump and vocal support of social justice issues. And once they succeeded in getting Gunn fired from his blockbuster franchise, Cernovich and his ilk moved on to other prominent Trump critics who have made similar jokes online, including stand-up comedians like Patton Oswalt, Michael Ian Black, Sarah Silverman and Anthony Jeselnik. (We’re not going to link to any of this stuff, but it’s easy to find with a quick Twitter search.) It’s a disingenuous attempt to silence and disgrace people with different political beliefs by misrepresenting their words and fundamentally misunderstanding comedy, and the next front in the culture wars waged by obnoxious hacks and liars like Cernovich.
These attempts to punish comedians are a direct reaction to Roseanne Barr getting fired from her ABC show for writing a racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. Barr’s tweet might have been intended as a joke, but there’s a significant difference between what she wrote and what Cernovich and his followers are trying to pin on these other comedians. Barr’s tweet was brand new, was written while she was actively on an ABC show, was transparently racist, was directed at a specific individual, and also reinforced the larger issue of Barr using Twitter to propagate outlandish conspiracy theories and support the racist policies of the Trump administration. Meanwhile the jokes that Cernovich and others have used to target Oswalt, Silverman and Black are generally absurd comments with no specific targets and that often clearly follow established joke structure. Barr performed actual racism in her racist tweet, whereas none of these comedians committed pedophilia or rape by joking about them. Some of the tweets singled out to ruin these comics aren’t even about pedophilia or rape—one of the tweets included in a screenshot of multiple “offensive” Michael Ian Black tweets merely mentions pizza, which, to a Pizzagater, is apparently proof of a crime. These guys have better watch out: Mike Cernovich is coming for ‘em.
I’m not defending any of these jokes from Black and the rest based on their merit as jokes. They’re generally dumb and obvious and exist solely to shock, and none of them are actually funny. Black himself would tell you that they’re dumb and bad, most likely. But, again, they’re obviously jokes, made by professional comedians, and that treat their controversial topics in generalized terms that avoid specifics. If you’re familiar with Michael Ian Black, and read those tweets in the voice of one of his smarmy, insincere characters, you could never mistake them for anything other than transparent jokes. Sarah Silverman’s entire career is built on saying shocking and outrageous things, and this tweet from 2009 is entirely in line with that. Arguing that these jokes are proof of actual crimes or criminal intent, no matter how willfully dishonest that argument is, ignores what a certain strand of comedy (and comedian) aim to accomplish.
Of course the people complaining about these comedians aren’t good faith actors. They’re being openly and proudly disingenuous about the whole thing, and don’t care about how blatantly inconsistent and insincere they appear. Many of them are the kind of far right agitators who cry censorship whenever anybody is punished for being publicly racist or homophobic. They’re trying to exploit the kind of legitimate outrage that erupts over incidents like Barr’s racism in order to ruin the reputations of public figures who they disagree with. And by caving to their demands with James Gunn, Disney has enabled and encouraged them.
In a sense Disney was backed into a corner. Gunn isn’t actually a comedian. Many of his questionable tweets scan as jokes, but since his job isn’t trying to make people laugh, it’s a little weird that he felt so comfortable sharing such dark jokes on such a public forum. Some of the tweets, on their surface, seem damning, and it’s not a surprise that a family-friendly company like Disney would want to distance themselves from the man who wrote them, no matter how long ago they were written and how much money he’s made for them since.
This wasn’t a case of legitimate outrage, though. This was a targeted campaign by a political troll and bad actor who was simply looking to collect the scalp of a prominent liberal, and firing James Gunn will just make him try harder. Mike Cernovich, a man who was accused of rape in 2003 and was convicted of the reduced charge of misdemeanor battery, who later tweeted that date rape doesn’t exist, who endorsed the white supremacist belief that “diversity is code for white genocide,” who did as much to spread the vicious lies of Pizzagate as anybody else (lies that lead to real world violence as a Pizzagate believer shot up the restaurant at the center of the conspiracy), who often accuses those who anger or oppose him of pedophilia, has regularly proven that the facts and any concept of basic human decency will not stop him from spreading hate and lies to get attention. Anything that elevates his profile, no matter how much extra attention it brings to his criminal history and long list of disgusting public statements, is a victory for Cernovich, and Disney gave him one of his biggest boosts yet by firing Gunn. And now he’s using that enhanced profile to try and silence other comedians who criticize Donald Trump and the far right.
To see some of Cernovich’s most egregious tweets, check out this piece by Luke O’Brien at the Huffington Post.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections and also writes about theme parks. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.