As for Sarah Silverman, her entire career has been built on saying shocking and provocative things. Her archived tweet was posted by conservative website Townhall on Wednesday under the headline, "Disney Voice Actress and Comedian Sarah Silverman Also Joked About Molesting Children."
It seems pretty clear that Disney is getting a shout-out in that headline because they are thus far the only corporate entity to take the bait and strike against someone for past mis-tweets when they fired James Gunn for his own decade-old tweets.
"Rick & Morty" creator Dan Harmon emerged relatively unscathed -- though he did delete his Twitter account -- after a 2009 parody video of him raping a baby doll was resurfaced, with his network saying in a statement that Harmon had apologized and "understands there is no place for this type of content here at Adult Swim."
Harmon said in a statement, "In 2009, I made a 'pilot' which strove to parody the series 'Dexter' and only succeeded in offending. I quickly realized the content was way too distasteful and took the video down immediately. Nobody should ever have to see what you saw and for that, I sincerely apologize."
He did not address his reasons for deleting his Twitter page. TooFab reached out to Harmon for comment, but he declined.
These are just the latest developments in an escalating war over words and history between the alt-right and liberal celebrities that only seems to be escalating, and it's a worrisome trend.
Trolls who have been combing through the social media archives of some of Donald Trump's most vocal critics have become emboldened by Disney's firing of James Gunn over old tweets they found. The "bad joke" tweets gained new exposure thanks to alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich via his personal website.
Most famous for the ridiculous "Pizzagate" claim that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party were running a child trafficking ring out of the basement of a pizza place in New York that had no basement, Cernovich finally achieved success in his trolling of left-leaning celebrities when he shared a series old James Gunn tweets that the director had previously apologized for in 2012, as The Hollywood Reporter covered at the time, to his sizable following.
The tweets in question were attempts at shock humor related to pedophilia and rape, and as the story began to gain traction, Disney responded by immediately firing Gunn from the forthcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," stating that his comments were not in line with the company's values, and that they were "indefensible."
"My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative," Gunn said in a statement of his own. "I have regretted them for many years since -- not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don't reflect the person I am today or have been for some time."
Maybe he should have just deleted his entire Twitter history, as Rian Johnson did on Wednesday. The "Star Wars" director purged 20,000 tweets from his Twitter archives, admitting it was a pre-emptive strike. "If trolls scrutinizing it for ammunition is the new normal, this seems like a 'why not?' move," he explained in a new tweet later.
No official directive at all, and I don't think I've ever tweeted anything that bad. But it's nine years of stuff written largely off the cuff as ephemera, if trolls scrutinizing it for ammunition is the new normal, this seems like a “why not?” move.
The move also makes sense when you consider that Disney is his boss as well, and they've just proven themselves intolerant of anything potentially controversial in someone's past. While Johnson won't be back for "Episode IX," THR reports he has been contracted to helm a new "Star Wars" trilogy, so he's chosen to adopt the "better safe than sorry" mantra. Johnson declined to comment for this story.
While it's easy to understand his Twitter deletion, it's also problematic in that Johnson is essentially acknowledging that these alt-right trolls are currently winning this new battleground where anything you have ever said or done can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion.
With Disney emboldening them to strike harder and faster, these types of trolling tactics seem to be escalating. Since the takedown of Gunn proved successful, trolls started resurfacing old tweets and jokes from other notable Donald Trump critics like Trevor Noah, Patton Oswalt, Anthony Jeselnik, Michael Ian Black and the aforementioned Harmon and Silverman.
Silverman seemed surprised when her provocative past was resurfaced by conservative site Townhall. Their article compared her jokes to Gunn's, while calling out her support of a petition to have Disney re-hire Gunn. She responded to the uproar with a scathing commentary about the lack of humor in today's "fake-clutching their pearls" era.
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 national threat to people fake-clutching their pearls (whilst ranting the country's too PC)
If you notice a common thread between these targets, it's that they're all comedians, so jokes is their stock-in-trade. It's not hard to find provocative jokes on their social media platforms, and comedians are known for pushing the line when it comes to humor. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Nevertheless, these are jokes, so is it fair to judge them as if they are not, as the alt-right seems to be doing?
Ringleader Cernovich, who has his own problematic past with rape-apology tweets that are not jokes, as detailed by TheWrap, tweeted that he was tired of the "it's just jokes" argument while turning his sights on comedian Michael Ian Black.
I'm done with “it's just jokes.” This has to stop. I won't be lied to by fake news. This is all in the open. https://t.co/aNIpFDh1yC
But there is such a thing as jokes and these tweets were at least intended to be funny. Your mileage may vary on whether they are, but it doesn't change the intent. It's also worth noting that social values have evolved dramatically in the past year or so with #MeToo and Times's Up, leading to a greater sensitivity to provocative comments and behavior.
Judging the present by the standards of the past is problematic with every generation and always has been. Racism used to be acceptable and even the law of the land, as was sexism. As society evolved, people were given the opportunity to do the same. Should they have been forever judged for the less-enlightened views they once held? Thank goodness there was no social media back then!
Comedy has adapted and evolved with those changes, too, and continues to do so. And comedy works best when it is pushing that envelope and, yes, sometimes making us uncomfortable. When asked when it is ever funny to joke about pedophilia, Black came back with a reasoned response.
Sometimes those jokes work, sometimes not. Comics often push the line because either we're trying to make a larger point or, as is often the case, just trying to get a rise out of people. I have always believed nothing is off limits, but I understand why some people disagree.
Some play it safe. But some go as far as they can. Those are the comedians I always admired. Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, etc. If they had Twitter, do you think they'd face backlash? Of course. And I know what they'd say - fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
He also called out the potential hypocrisy of Cernovich spearheading these campaigns against jokes about sexual assault considering his own checkered past in that area. Beyond those rape-apology tweets, which remain on his Twitter feed, Cernovich was charged with raping a woman he knew in 2003, as reported by The New Yorker.
Wow. This is quite a comedown from James Gunn. Mike, we've had this conversation before. There's a qualitative difference between a comedian making jokes - even offensive jokes (me)- and somebody being charged with rape in 2003 (you). https://t.co/b5U7ITKkU7
That charge was reduced to misdemeanor battery and Cernovich was ordered to do community service (his record has since been expunged), but it is a perfect testament to the hypocrisy of someone targeting someone else for things in their history when their own past isn't squeaky clean. Cernovich has not responded to a request for involvement in this piece.
It's also important to note that, at least in some cases, this outrage isn't even real. Sure, the anger is real but it has nothing to do with morality or decency or even the content of these tweets. These alt-right trolls are angry that notable Hollywood figures are attacking the right with their big social media platforms, and they're angry that conservative comedian Roseanne Barr was fired for something she tweeted, as evidenced by Cernovich's tweet comparing Barr and Gunn.
Calling the James Gunn / Roseanne matter a "double standard" doesn't begin to describe it.
If the rape-apology tweets from Cernovich's own past aren't indication enough that these attacks are solely politically motivated, Slate presents an extensive article breaking down his checkered past in targeting his opponents using these same tactics.
On top of that, a quick exploration of one of the specific attacks against Patton Oswalt makes it abundantly clear. as it was intentionally taken out of context to disparage his character. Below is one of the five-year-old tweets most often used in the current attacks against Oswalt, as Paste noted.
Rap is performed by monkeys in expensive clothes. Sorry if I offended you, white conservatives, but it's the truth.
It looks bad, but this was part of a series of two-part joke tweets Oswalt constructed purposefully to look offensive if only the second tweet was read. They were written before Twitter allowed tweets to be strung together in a series and when it's word limit was 140 characters. Here's the full exchange:
And I'm sorry, but I fucking HATE FOX NEWS. Bunch of race-baiting corporate shills. All of their medieval, fact-free clapt
Read together, the context is clear, as is the joke, with Oswalt even dumping on alt-right darlings Fox News. But it's too easy to bait people who won't bother to comb through Oswalt's Twitter archives with just the second part of that joke, which is the tactic being employed here by the alt-right troll community.
After stringing together a five-part apology on July 19th, James Gunn's Twitter feed has not been updated since. One of Donald Trump's most frequent online critics has gone silent.
While many of his films' stars and other colleagues in Hollywood have come out in his defense, his most surprising supporter may be conservative radio host and Daily Wire's editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro. He even went so far as to call Gunn an asshole in his defense of him.
I think @JamesGunn is an a**hole, as my exchange with him earlier this week made clear. I also think that firing him for vile old joke tweets is bad precedent and a mistake. There is no limiting principle to the outrage mob. https://t.co/wtSFzrIUER
Nevertheless, Shapiro joins a growing number of columns and articles about the dangerous precedent Disney has set by firing Gunn for jokes he made (and apologized for) nearly a decade ago when he was at a very different place in his life and career. And not just because it's emboldened alt-right trolls to keep digging, as evidenced by the slew of new targets to emerge in the past week.
It's dangerous because these attacks are politically motivated. These are surgical strikes not with the intention of exposing genuinely alarming content, but with the purpose of destroying careers and silencing voices of opposition. Disney's firing of Gunn just tells these trolls and others like them that these tactics work.