“Boring art” – Defending voices that carry from attacks by right-wing extremists

Boring Art is now the default choice of film studios.

Here’s a lesson about not making any more of it…

In the earliest dawn of civilisation the role of the artist was as a provocateur.

It happens that filmmakers who are provocative are under attack on all sides, from CEOs of liberal corporations, to right-wing activists.

The Hollywood Reporter recently came out in defence of James Gunn, the Guardians of the Galaxy director who started his career making bad taste Troma movies. Lots of blood, lots of gore, lots of weird humour and provocative themes. It was around that time the director threw out a few taboo jokes on Twitter. Nobody cared. Audiences loved the movies though, so it followed that corporate machinery comes knocking on his door – after all they’re in the business of making money from what people like. James Gunn was the spice they needed, to reboot a couple of franchises, or as the Hollywood Reporter puts it –

“The reason why you rope him in to write the reboot of Dawn of the Dead is because he’ll write in a zombie infant. The reason why you let him draft your live-action Scooby-Doo flick is because he’ll make it a horror picture…. It was punk. It was about shock and volume.”

There are a lot of people who haven’t followed Gunn’s career or earlier pieces, and it shows in the discourse around his firing. Too spicy for Disney or the general public, many of whom find a taboo subject absolutely impossible to look past.

I think this situation calls for us to look at the complexities and nuances.

Here, my friends, I genuinely believe we have a colleague who has been treated unfairly and his life ruined.

An act, a downfall

Gunn’s downfall began in a politically motivated personal attack by a right-wing conspiracy theorist. It is part of a wider ongoing attack on the liberal leaning filmmaking industry by shady organisations. I am a Brit, and I have no direct experience of US politics but it seems they are in a bad shape at the moment… when artists can be attacked for a fictional act or character, you know the enlightenment and constitution is on the back foot.

As the Hollywood Reporter says, the very things that made Gunn so interesting as a filmmaker came from that place of provocation. There are sadly some very bad people abusing this right to be a punk, to be a provocateur and this is the alt-right. As far as I can make out, as a British filmmaker from the other-side of the Atlantic, the alt-right in America is committed to attacking political correctness, one of the only things they are good for. Those who speak freely on the alt-right (often offensively) feel that people like Rosanne Barr shouldn’t have been fired for racist Tweets, thinly veiled as jokes. In revenge, they wish liberals like Gunn to suffer the same fate and Disney allowed them to succeed.

The difference is, Gunn’s bad taste Twitter jokes were made under the guise of an act, an extreme character, a fictional pervert version of himself. Rosanne Barr is in a lot of people’s views, a real-life racist. If we’re to start firing actors for what the fictional version of themselves said on a stage, we’re well on our way to dystopia. Believe me, although Gunn is a director not an actor, it’s exactly what has happened here…

Further complicating the situation, Gunn’s bad taste jokes act was over 10 years ago, and since then he’s “changed as a person” or as I like to call it “lost his edge”.

The apology was corporation appeasing toothless nonsense.

“Many people who have followed my career know, when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.”

But why apologise at all? When the jokes were initially published, nobody cared. Since then James Gunn has matured into a top-flight film director with a number of hits under the bridge. I don’t see much to apologise for there. What’s sadly not under the bridge, is Twitter. It sticks around like a ball and chain ready to be brought out of context at any moment by any number of right-wing extremists.

In the aftermath of Disney firing Gunn, I took to my own forum here at EOSHD to defend a colleague from attack, expecting broad agreement. I didn’t get it. The push-back on the post all centred around the subject material he used in some fictional jokes… People just could NOT see beyond those two nasty words… rape and paedophilia. I may as well have been defending a real life child rapist. I was not.

Disney have made a huge error

Rather than standing up for their talent, under attack from a right wing enemy, they came straight out and fired him. Took him out and shot his career to death in front of the baying public, very few of who understood the context.

If right wing extremists want to get away with their racism, it seems all they have to do is normalise attacks on the arts and the strategy is working. The President of the United States directly employs it himself… And he himself, is key to an unlikely solution. Whether you agree or not with his ethics or politics (hardly anyone in the filmmaking industry does) there’s a vivid light shone by Mr Trump as President. In the UK for his visit… huge protests…he’s an unbelievably unpopular figure in this country, in Ireland and also in Europe. But what he shows is that by setting the moral bar unrealistically high, you suffocate like Clinton did under silly little scandals and outrages. If you set the bar at a low level (in the case of the Tea Party movement and Trump’s administration), you don’t have to worry about being done-in by an email or a Tweet. Ideally, people  should set the bar at a HUMAN level, neither at the level of a robot (or corporation like Disney) intolerant of mistakes or mishaps or one-off offensive behaviours, but not so low that you normalise racism.

If the film industry and wider creative industries don’t fix their politically correct, risk-averse corporate culture, they will wither and die. Fixing this problem starts with the defence of talents like James Gunn and Pixar’s John Lasseter, both of whom have been treated like criminals by their own studios..

Corporate America is 100% to blame. The same corporate American that gave us Clinton and Trump.