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James Gunn's gonzo Troma past comes back to haunt him as the House of Mouse walks away

Hypocritical Hype Machine



In the early aughts I went through an obsessive phase of watching any film released by Troma, the production company behind low budget fare like The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die, Killer Condom, and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. I was particularly a fan of Troma's co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, a lifelong champion of independent filmmaking and button-pushing. Like South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone (whose first film Cannibal:The Musical was distributed through Troma) if there was anything out there that felt corrupt, puritanical, or hypocritical, Kaufman was happy to inject his own tasteless, transgressive response to it in his films. An anti-social production company that never pretended to be anything else, Troma is not for everyone.

Take for instance, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV. Within 20 minutes of intentional overacting, there were fat jokes, broad stereotypes, dick jokes, drug abuse, rape, constant farting, gore, and gratuitous shots of naked women while news reporters sensationalize everything. There were also cameos by Corey Feldman, Ron Jeremy, Hugh Hefner, Eli Roth, Lemmy from Motörhead, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf of Howard Stern fame, and Marvel's very own Stan Lee. In one of the film's many meta-scenes, a Stephen Hawking-ish Dr. Flem Hocking addresses the audience while scantily clad women make fun of his handicap. Dr. Hocking was portrayed by none other than James Gunn (the writer/director behind the two Guardians Of The Galaxy films and, at one point, the upcoming third outing).

I liked the idea more than the film's wince-inducing execution. Citizen Toxie and particularly James Gunn, have been coming to mind a lot lately. While working at Troma, Kaufman took Gunn under his gonzo wing. Eventually he'd write and associate direct Tromeo And Juliet, one of the most popular films in the company's catalog. Cut to almost 15 years later, Gunn's career had taken off so well that he helmed the Marvel/Disney production Guardians Of The Galaxy. Some audience members were giddy to see Kaufman's prisoner cameo. It was like a semi-private joke for those of us weirdos in the Troma Army — one of its outrageous own had infiltrated the House of Mouse.

OK, but why the history lesson? This year, while penning the third Guardians movie, Gunn, like many of us, took to the Twitterverse, a place where we can talk loudly and carry an imaginary big stick, to vent about or even tweet directly to the president. Not surprisingly, conflict ensued, prompting alt-right rockstars Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich, in a BS move of selective sensitivity, to unearth old tweets by Gunn from 2009–2012. The tweets were tasteless, unfunny jokes about rape and pedophilia that were posted with an intent on being, like most Troma films, provocative. Gunn was fired soon after with Disney chairman Alan Horn stating, "The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James' Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio's values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,"

Values? What values do you speak of, Mr. Horn? The same values that brought us the slavery-was-satisfactual film, Song Of The South? The values of Walt, who has been alleged to be a fascist, misogynist, and/or anti-semite? Those values? You're telling us that Disney, a Fortune 100 company looking at a $232 million film (just a piece of a much larger franchise), did not know the background of the guy steering the ship? That's pretty funny knowing that nowadays, even just for PR sake, everyone's public personas are easy-picking. I would've assumed that the Dis would have done its due diligence and anal-retentively watched the gleefully offensive movies where Gunn got his start. That or you're being completely disingenuous. I'd like to say I'd boycott Disney, but that's near impossible since y'all own damn near everything now.

So, here's more unwanted full disclosure, since I was a misanthropic middle-schooler, I was always more of a Bugs Bunny person than a Mickey Mouse person. To me, that saccharine false joy needed to have a giant Acme anvil dropped on its head.

Selfishly, I'd like to see Gunn get his job back. He posted a lengthy, contrite response. And while I don't think he's hurting for cash, it'd be nice to see him complete what he started.

If Disney can overlook Walt's rumored prejudice and boast its Academy Award for "Zip a Dee Doo Da," surely it doesn't take an imagineer to pretend that one of its director's near-decade-old offensive jokes never happened.

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