We need to talk about: James Gunn, Sarah Silverman and dorks upset about ancient bad taste tweets

In 'We Need To Talk About...', the new weekly column from NME's Jordan Bassett, J-to-the-B vents his spleen on the topical issues that matter the most (or the least, if it happens to be a slow news day). This week: why sadsack douchebags should quit crushing careers with dumb tweets people posted, like, a decade ago. Log off Twitter, you dork

The people that do well on social media are often oddballs in real life. Outspoken and confident in 180 characters, awkward and wimpish when it comes to actual human interaction. This is pretty useful for those of us that spend as little time on Twitter as possible (with regular shameful lapses). Let the dorks outdork each other online while the rest of us take a nice walk in the park, or even have an actual conversation with an actual person.

Our online selves are not our real selves – we know this by now. The Crocket Lab in the Psychology Department at Yale University in America has explored the fact that the brain sends reward signals when you express ‘moral outrage’ – or, in other words, call out someone’s bullshit. The Lab was looking at real-world instances and the real world, my friends, is a tough old place for a dork to navigate. Call out someone’s bullshit and it could turn into handbags at dawn (to coin a phrase that will probably get me cancelled on Twitter).

On social media, though, you can glean those delicious reward signals without putting yourself in harm’s way. A further report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Sates of America (not a snappy name, but good for filling weekly column word counts) found that each moral and emotional word increases the chances of retweet by 20%. Think of the mathematical possibilities! I’ve hatched a plan to tweet the phrase “Won’t anyone think of the children?” seven and-half times and break the internet. Anyway, all this may explain the fate that befell Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.

Now, I could barely care less about a children’s sci-fi movie and care even less about its director. But I do like bad taste jokes almost as much as I hate the unrelenting age of outrage. James Gunn, who helmed two successful Guardians movies, was sacked from the second sequel this month because it turns out he tweeted some dumb, bad taste jokes as long as a decade ago. They were dug out by some alt-right douchebag because Gunn criticised Donald Trump; this successfully riled up dorks that patrol the perimeters of the internet, searching for things to get upset about. A tweet James Gunn sent into the world on March 12, 2011: “This hotel shower is the weakest ever. Felt like a three-year-old was peeing on my head.” A tweet James Gunn sent into the world on July 11, 2012: “Three Men And A Baby They Had Sex With #unromantic movies.”

Are these good jokes? They are not good jokes. For a better example of someone being pulled up for a paedo LOL, see the recent trouble that comedian Sarah Silverman had with the people of the internet. “Hey, is it considered molestation if the child makes the first move?” she asked her followers on July 7 in 2009, “I’m gonna need a quick answer on this.” Like, that’s a good joke. And, like a virtue signalling ghost, the backlash has arisen to haunt her a couple of times now.

She was moved to defend herself when the nine year old joke first resurfaced back in February, and again last week, when she struck out at detractors with the missive: “Some very odd people R saying I’m a pedo, re: a joke from a time not that long ago when hard absurd jokes by comedians were acknowledged for what they were — jokes — not a disengenuous [sic] national threat to people fake-clutching their pearls (whilst ranting the country’s too PC)”. Silverman was hitting back at dorks as they bathed in the bubbly afterglow of moral outrage. Marvel, owned by Disney, fired James Gunn because they (and Mickey, presumably) feared said dorks. As a publicist recently told a friend of mine: “Don’t fuck with the mouse.”

Sarah Silverman is a comedian. It is – quite literally – her job to make outrageous statements. Before he made the family friendly Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, James Gunn made movies and TV shows for Troma, the bad taste, low-budget film studio that found infamy in the 1990s. See Tromeo And Juliet, in which the female lead gives caesarean birth to a litter of rats. He also published, in 2011, a decidedly off-colour, would-be humorous blog post headlined ‘The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With’. It was a different time.

Minnie and Mickey Mouse must have known who they’d hired when they added James Gunn to the payroll. Perhaps they simply hadn’t counted on the dorks weighing in with decade-old tweets. The Twitter storm wouldn’t matter if we could just close our accounts and leave them to duke it out, but when virtue signalling has clear real-world implications and a person loses their actual job, we should seriously reconsider the whole cycle of outrage, whereby a person can be cancelled for a meaningless, supposed transgression in a previous age.

For their part, the Guardians cast has produced a petition requesting that Gunn be reinstated. Although I don’t support James Gunn’s inappropriate jokes from years ago,” Chris Pratt wrote on Instagram, “he is a good man.” When airhead A-list actors start having actual opinions, the situation must be really out of hand. This nonsense can be avoided. It’s easy, really – don’t be a dork. Log off social media, start a fight with a stranger and get your reward signal IRL.