30 October 2013

There Is No Teacher But the Enemy: On the Ender’s Game Boycott

“You're a monster.”
“Thanks. Does this mean I get a raise?”
--Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game


(Note: Potential triggers below. You have been warned.)

I’ve been thinking about Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game a bit lately. About my conscience and how clean I want it to be. About whether it’s really possible to separate artists from their art. About whether it’s ethical to do so, at least in terms of my own personal ethics.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, mostly because of a few things I encountered on social media. One of them was an acquaintance of mine concern-trolling about John Lennon’s history of violence in his younger days--a history he had remorsefully repudiated and worked very hard to correct by the end of his life. The other was, if I remember correctly, a screed on Tumblr pointing out that while people are quick to condemn Chris Brown and Bobby Brown for beating women, they are not so quick to do so for guys like Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson--which is honest to god bullshit. I have seen plenty of people in the media and elsewhere publicly excoriating Sheen and Gibson. I have in fact done just that on this very blog back in my “Notes From the News” days, when I was trying to turn this thing into a halfassed version of Pajiba. I very pointedly said that if he was just a regular asshole instead of a famous one, Sheen’s ass would be in jail. It’s also worth noting that Mel Gibson is to this day largely persona non grata in Hollywood. Nobody wants to work with him--something he’s whined about publicly more than once. At which point my heart bleeds purple piss at the injustice of it all, because boo. Fucking. Hoo.

(Translation: fuck you Mel, you racist piece of shit.)

It rankles, because I have enjoyed work by both Gibson and sheen--though not for a long, long time in either case, and with the benefit of hindsight nowhere near as much as I used to. And now, in light of their public (and frankly criminal) assholery, I find my enjoyment of their work has dwindled to nothing. Likewise, my admiration for the work of Roman Polanski has taken a nosedive in light of the fact that the man is an unrepentant pederast who likes to pretend that he has been somehow victimized by being convicted for drugging and anally raping an underage girl. And even though Lennon worked hard to overcome his demons, I find it difficult to reconcile the man as he is presented with the man as he really was. From an ethical standpoint I find it difficult at best to separate the artist from their work.

And yet, I listen to Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday without constantly judging them by their crippling addictions. I watch and love Marx Brothers movies without reflecting on Chico’s endless womanizing and gambling addiction, or Groucho’s verbal abuse of his wives, or Zeppo’s unbelievably terrible acting and time-stopping blandness, because holy shit folks. *yawn*

I could go on: Poe’s relentless alcoholism. Picasso’s terrible treatment of women. Faulkner’s philandering. Lovecraft’s open racism. Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Page’s predilections for teenage girls. John Belushi’s addictions and blatant misogyny. Dave Sim’s honestly frightening descent into not just misogyny but outright madness.

The gist is that there is a point, an internal line where each of us struggles to reconcile the artist against the art. Can I enjoy Miles Davis’ music or Richard Pryor’s comedy while knowing they were drug addicted assholes who treated people horribly? Yes. The question is (and this is a question I struggle with frequently): Should I? And if I do, how does that sort with my dislike of Rick James for the exact same reasons?

Orson Scott Card is one of the latest manifestations of this struggle, made worse by the fact that, once upon a time, when Ender’s Game and the Alvin Maker books were being written, he was one of the brightest lights of the SF world. At the time it was published, Ender’s Game won awards and critical accolades. Sequels followed, few of them (the first two or three especially) following anything like an expected path, especially Speaker For the Dead. For decades, Ender’s Game has been held up as a high water mark for military SF--to the point where the U. S. Marine Corps keeps it on a recommended reading list for the lower ranks.

And yet, at some point, the author of this high water mark went off the rails. Significantly, Dave Sim-style off the rails.

I won’t bore you with another long recap of the often-bizarre things Orson Scott Card has said and done during the latter half of his career. They’re a matter of public record, should one care to look them up. However some of the highlights include: near-future SF that is really just an arch-conservative screed drawn from the darkest depths of culture warrior paranoia; a half-assed rewrite of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that not only completely misses the point of the play, but injects such a virulent strain of homophobia into the proceedings that The Bard’s corpse is still probably facepalming over it; calling for the violent overthrow of the United States government if gays are allowed to marry; and, most recently, claiming that the government will create a national police force of young, urban men (ie, teh blackz), and use it to, uh, take over the country?

As Maureen Johnson said at the time, "I don't know where Orson Scott Card goes from here, except maybe to declare war on the moon.".

In the middle of all this, a long-gestating film adaptation of Ender’s Game has been in the works, winding up being produced by Lions Gate. The movie debuts Friday. It’s gotten good reviews so far, and based on the trailer looks like a damn good adaptation. And to its credit, Lions Gate has gone out of its way to distance itself and the movie from Card, going so far as to organize benefits for LGBT charities as an anodyne against Card opening his mouth and unintentionally sabotaging the film every couple of weeks.

Despite all this, there is a semi-organized boycott of the film planned, and it’s sizable enough to potentially impact its opening weekend earnings. And of course there is the inevitable blowback from people who are saying alternately that a) Card has nothing to do with the movie apart from having written the book it’s based on. b) Card is entitled to his opinions, why can’t we just stop censoring him, and c) the boycotters are the real bigots, because the people who made the movie are going to suffer if it doesn’t make money so you should support the actors and the crew, you bigotty bigot you.

I’m going to address these, briefly, point by point:

a) Card may not have anything to do with the movie, but the boycotters rightly point out that enough new people may come to Card through this movie to buy his books without realizing that he has, as mentioned above, gone significantly off the rails, and people who might not want to support him financially could unintentionally wind up doing so without foreknowledge of the man and his current sociopolitical leanings.

b) Given that Card seems to clamber up onto his soapbox at will and has no trouble expressing his opinions, I fail to see where he is being censored. He is indeed free to express his opinions, cracked as they may be. What he is not is free from criticism if people disagree with the positions he takes--and as a better man than you or I once said, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” What these people seem to think is that Card can say what he wants without being held responsible for it. That is, putting it kindly bullshit. It is not the way the real world works. Words and actions have consequences--as Card, who recently lost a writing job at DC Comics because his positions were having a detrimental effect on that company’s bottom line, has been finding out.

c) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAH, no. Don’t be dense. Boycotting a movie most assuredly does not make one a bigot--unless that movie is Exodus and one is George Lincoln Rockwell. See, here’s the thing: that whole “you’re the bigot for speaking out against someone else’s bigotry” is a favorite argument of those who wish to escape the consequences of their own intolerant, bigoted  views and/or actions, because it’s easier to hang a funhouse mirror in front of one's accusers than it is to look in a mirror to see if their accusations are true. It’s a tu quoque argument, a logical fallacy that speaks of poor logic and reasoning, especially in this situation. Here’s why: the crew, actors, director, and producers of the Ender’s Game movie have already been paid. They belong to unions that make sure they receive a set rate of pay for the work they do, as a matter of fact. I guarantee you that your “support” of them means not damn thing one to any man Jack or woman Jill of them.

And really, in the end, what do you think you are supporting by naming as bigots the people who speak out against intolerance? Whether you like it or not, whether the cast or the crew or the producers or Lions Gate likes it or not, Ender’s Game is closely associated with a man who said, in part: “Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage…” Speaking out against that is, I assure you, not an act of bigotry, but of pure patriotism.

And I guess in that, I have my answer. I cannot separate Orson Scott Card from Ender’s Game any more than I could separate Roman Polanski from The Pianist or Chinatown. It passes that line in me which I will not cross. I will not see the movie--my apologies to the cast and crew, as I understand from the early reviews that they did a great job all around. But I cannot in good conscience support Orson Scott Card, even indirectly. 

You who are reading this may feel differently, and you know, that’s all right. I understand even if I don’t agree. You may not think of it as supporting Card, or you may not care as much about it as I do, and that’s fine--you don’t have to engage in a long winded act of justification as I have done here. I’m not judging anyone who goes to see the movie. I hope you have a good time and that the popcorn is tasty. 

As for me: I’m going to spend some more time in quiet contemplation of my decision, and of that line inside me. Because that's one tough goddamn line to assay.

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