The Complexities of Internet Social Justice in Green Arrow 43

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Spencer: The internet can be a powerful tool for justice, often simply because it allows information to get to more people than ever before, faster than ever before. It allows the voices of the oppressed and downtrodden to be heard, and I think the #metoo movement may be the greatest sign of this: great things have been accomplished, impossible targets have been taken down, thanks to the platform for social justice the internet provided.

Like any tool, though, the internet’s platform can also be misused. Let’s look at the recent situation where Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was fired by Disney. I’m not condoning Gunn’s offending tweets, though it should be noted that Gunn acknowledged and apologized for them years ago and never did anything like them again, and Disney was well aware of those tweets when they hired him. What’s significant about this situation is that Gunn’s firing was orchestrated in poor faith, by an alt-right goon who couldn’t have cared less about Gunn’s tweets; he wanted Gunn fired for criticizing the president, and the tweets were the easiest way to do it. He took a platform for social justice and misused it to serve his own agenda, and it’s scary not only that there’s no safeguard against this, but that organizations like Disney can’t see the difference; they simply bow to the “Court of Public Opinion” no matter who’s behind it.

This danger is front-and-center in Green Arrow 43, an issue that finds Oliver and company facing an internet vigilante, an angry public, and a tricky moral dilemma.

Ollie is (unsurprisingly) fond of said internet vigilante, Citizen, at first; it isn’t until Citizen’s straight-up executed fatcat businessman Jubal Slade live on the internet (beheading him with a guillotine; how’s that for some loaded political symbolism?) that Ollie comes around to the danger he poses.

What terrifies Dinah is that the public seems to be thoroughly on Citizen’s side. Writers Julie and Shawna Benson make it easy to see why; at the beginning of the issue they show us Slade’s attempt to destroy a tenement with its residents still inside it, after all. The public are rightfully tired of Slade and want justice, which the Bensons and artist Javier Fernandez highlight in the form of their digital responses, the hearts, smilies, and thumbs-up they leave on Citizen’s broadcast.

If those digital responses are a sign of the public’s anguish, they’re also a reminder of how absolutely effortless it’s become for the public to condemn someone. Slade needed to be taken down, but did he deserve to die? It’s almost a moot point, because Citizen’s next target is none other than Oliver Queen, Green Arrow himself! Readers know how noble Oliver is, and the Bensons open the issue with a reminder that Oliver has only become the man he is because he was allowed to make mistakes, grow, and learn from them. Citizen and the people of Seattle are not only less informed, but seemingly not interested; their desire for swift justice shuns complexity, betrays them, and condemns an ally.

At this point in the story readers can’t be sure if Citizen’s acting in good faith or not, but either way, their crusade is creating more dilemmas than it’s solving. Citizen highlights how the internet can bring people together, make their voices heard, and bring justice to the untouchable, but it also highlights how the public can quickly become a mob and lose perspective, and how even the most genuine crusaders and crusades can be co-opted by those with seedy agendas. How can anyone navigate such tricky waters? I’m eager to see how Oliver (and the Green Arrow creative team) attempt to.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

One comment on “The Complexities of Internet Social Justice in Green Arrow 43

  1. Honestly, I think the biggest thing with the James Gunn situation is not the fact that an alt-right goon was responsible, even though I have known about and followed the career of Cernovich since 2014 and known for years that he has a strong claim on being the worst person on the planet. It is a truly massive, truly important aspect of the situation, because we can’t let people like Cernovich decide the lives of people for daring to stand up to his hateful ideology through disingenuous assaults. We can’t let villains like Cernovich win.

    But the most important thing is that accountability only means something if we account for how people change. If we give space for redemption. James Gunn deserved to be held accountable for his tweets. They are indefensible, and not even his experiences with a paedophile in his childhood, justify it. But he was held accountable years ago, apologised and honestly changed.
    From everything we can see, the James Gunn of today is a wildly different person. There may be some secrets in his private life that justify his firing, in which case, he should be fired. But there is nothing public that justifies this. His public image has been one of decency and morality, to the point that, long before the firing, he and fellow Marvel director Scott Derickson have actually been praised for their role in the MeToo movement as the perfect example of male allyship. Accountability only means something if there is space for redemption, if it is used to improve the world. Not if it is used to take down people who have done the work to become better people and made the world a better place, if only in a tiny way, by their spot in the public spotlight.

    It takes a lot for me to hate something more than the mere existence of Cernovich, but that is what is truly wrong with James Gunn’s firing. The corruption of the concept of accountability. And while I don’t expect better from the Cernovichs in the world, the fact that Disney and many others have let accountability and redemption be corrupted like this is truly awful, and this, more than any other reason, is why Disney need to rehire James Gunn. Though not letting Mike Cernovich’s disingenuous attacks succeed is also reason enough.

    Also, while it is the least important aspect of the conversation by several orders of magnitude, I am amazed that somehow Disney managed to find a way to screw over the Guardians worse than Infinity War, considering that they were the franchise screwed over the most by Avengers: Infinity War

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