The movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game is coming out this weekend.
No, I won’t be going to see it.
The novel is widely regarded as one of the the great science fiction novels of the 20th century. It has been popular and continued to sell well since it first hit the bookstores in the mid 1980’s.
I remember reading it as a teenager and finding it interesting; I cannot say that it was the ground-breaking and important experience of youth that many readers report (particularly young men who play a lot of videogames), but I do understand its appeal.
It is a pretty good science fiction novel. And when a pretty good science fiction novel is targeted on a youth audience, it usually hits them pretty hard.
I also read a lot of the short story digests in the field at that age, so I saw a lot of Card’s other work as well, and his name remained with me over the years in association with pleasant memories of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I never thought of him as a bad person or saw him in a bad light.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed in recent years to see the person he has become since 2001. I think a lot of people are. This article by Rany Jazayerli covers some important bases of the Ender’s Game Movie Kerfuffle, and explains in a very personal way why people became Orson Scott Card fans in the 1980’s, and why some of the people who became Card fans in the 1980’s have chosen to disregard the person he has become in the present.
There are a lot of people who choose to go see the new Ender’s Game movie in the theaters, rather than participate in the boycott.
I personally will not be going to see this film in the theaters. Nor will I buy a copy on DVD.
I might, if pressed by truly suicidal boredom, watch it someday if I am stuck on a nine-hour flight to Munich again. But you don’t even want to know the other movies I’ve sat through under similar circumstances, and I won’t tell you about it: I regard these acts of desperation as the film equivalent of cannibalizing your dead team mates after a plane crash in the Andes. Understandable, perhaps. Preferable to death. But not your finest moment, or something you brag about on your resume or bring up as a funny story at a dinner party.
At any rate, there is a lot of debate both in and out of the science fiction community about boycotting Ender’s Game, and people have brought up a lot of arguments in favor of seeing the movie regardless of how hateful Card has been in recent years in his published screeds against homosexuality, and in his political battles to oppose gay human rights.
None of these arguments have persuaded me, but I will list them briefly.
1. Ender’s Game is a good, well-written novel.
You’re right. And I hear John Wayne Gacy made a pretty decent clown.
2. Orson Scott Card didn’t used to be this crazy and mean.
Perhaps not. But who is he now? And do we want to reward him with millions of dollars of our money to be this person in public?
3. His opinions on gay rights don’t matter, and have no relationship to his fiction or work in other media.
If his opinions on gay rights didn’t matter, and if he didn’t want them to matter, he wouldn’t publish them in newspapers, and participate vigorously in political action groups. Orson Scott Card VERY MUCH wants his opinions on gay rights to matter, and to change the lives of gay men and women for the worse. He just wants to be given some kind of magical sacred cow status, wherein his opinions will inspire and inflame people who agree with him to hate gay people more vigorously, deny them equality and personal and public safety more aggressively, and support his work more passionately with their money and fandom…
….while people who DISAGREE with him do what, exactly?
Sit on our thumbs and feel guilty that we actually believe that gay men and women are human beings with human rights? And that we’re willing to do something as simple as NOT GO SEE A MOVIE in order to affirm their right to exist?
Sorry, Orsonites. But no dice. Absolutely none of this shit will fly.
Why I’m Not Buying It
I’ve been a professional writer for over two decades. People who think that social skills and political messages have nothing to do with a writer’s career, especially in the modern age, are dangerously deluding themselves.
The world does not owe ANY OF US money for being loathsome. Writers are no different from corporate CEO’s, politicians, comedians, actors and other celebrities who have a public voice nowadays. All of us are being held accountable, socially and financially, for our actions and words in the public sphere.
If you actually care about my opinion? I personally think this is a good thing. I think it gives all of us the chance to be better and more effective people. I think it gives us a chance to figure out what really matters to us and what we really believe in—if we believe in anything at all. I think it makes us accountable for our treatment of others and takes away a massive privilege shield which used to protect a lot of very spoiled people, and allow them to be extremely verbally and physically abusive without facing any consequences.
And I think it gives society as a whole a chance to change for the better much more rapidly than it did in the past.
As for Card personally being given a carte blanche to hurt people, or writers in general being given some status as sacred cows with no accountability?
No. I see the appeal of the proposed License to Run Amok, but I don’t find the idea workable.
Writing professionally is a pretty sweet gig. It has its down sides, to be sure, and some of them are doozies. But at the end of the day, writers get paid for being creative, and there are all sorts of additional perks. Like people being generally nice to us. Like people who love books or stories wanting to sleep with us, or even love us. Like people giving us free stuff, or a chance to travel.
Like being allowed to talk at conventions, and sign books…and have our opinions published in newspapers.
Our status as writers gives us privilege and power, in other words. And we are most definitely accountable for how we choose to use that power, especially if use it to actively harm other human beings.
Our end of the deal is not that hard. All we have to do, to keep our jobs and our privileges, is to create good work. And of course, to do what every other human being on earth has to do, to get along–which is exercise the minimal social skills that it takes to avoid making everyone actively loathe us so badly that they cannot feel good about giving us a paycheck.
I don’t think there is any person on this planet, no matter how sweet or nice or milquetoast they are, who does not hold SOME view that could offend someone. And I do not think that there is any person on this planet who could not hurt SOMEONE or alienate SOMEONE by venting their opinions loudly and vehemently in some kind of public forum, like a column in a newspaper.
Some people think that this means that the audience needs to treat us all like brain-damaged children, and give no weight to our publicly stated opinions, and “choose” to not be offended by anything we do or say.
I disagree. I think that what this means is that we actually need to take responsibility for OURSELVES. I think it means that maybe, possibly, we need to think before we open our mouths. And we need to make a choice about the audience we wish to have, and how we wish to be seen by others, and the values and views we wish to support. And if we absolutely can’t put a filter on before we speak–and in some professions, like stand-up comedy, putting on that filter too strongly might be bad for the work we do, because Inhibition is the Death of Comedy–then we need to learn the art of apologizing and actually meaning it.
If we can’t honestly apologize for our opinions because we believe that we are morally in the right, then we need to be willing to face the other consequences of standing up for what we believe. And these consequences can be profound.
Orson Scott Card is choosing the audience by which he wishes to be supported, when he publishes these manifestos about putting homosexuals in camps, or having them killed. And he is choosing, very deliberately and without a gun to his head, to alienate and drive away some potential supporters of his work.
That is his prerogative. And frankly, I do the same on a daily basis. I guarantee you that I would have more money in the bank if I would drop the whole “feminism” thing and just stop telling people in general, and gamers in particular, that they are bad people when they treat women and girls like either meat or feces.
I guarantee you that a writer like David Gerrold would have more money and fame if he would have stayed in the closet and let the problems of other people, gay or straight, be THEIR problems, rather than standing up for gay rights or marriage equality.
I guarantee you that any non-white author you could name would make more money and enjoy more fame if they refused to express any public anger or outrage over racism in the world around us, in the genres in which they work, etc..
And yet, I choose to stand up and be heard as a feminist because I am a rational adult and I am able to decide for myself whether standing up for the rights of women in public is worth more to me than money.
As it so happens, it is Card’s prerogative to do the same. Homophobia is the hill upon which he has chosen to die.
I’m not going to deny him that right. I am actually willing to respect Card’s right to publish these hateful opinions. But having the right to publish an opinion is NOT a right to have me your pay your bills regardless of what you do and say.
Full disclosure? I think Card’s opinions are Genuine, Grade-A, Indistinguishable-From-Nazi Bullshit. I personally had a lot of my family tree wiped out in the Holocaust. I will not EVER let “put them in camps” and “they’re all rapists/child molesters” rhetoric pass in the public sphere without comment or opposition while I remain alive.
To do so would be to behave like all those people in the 1920’s and ‘30’s did—all those people who blew off this kind of public madness when it was spoken and published in public as “not my problem” or “people just talking”. To put it bluntly: fuck that noise. Those people did the wrong thing. They killed millions with their cowardice. Because talk becomes action, and action becomes death. It becomes the death of innocent people. It has before, it will again, as soon as we allow it.
Upshot of all this is simple: I do not hold Orson Scott Card to any standard to which I am not myself being held on a daily basis. There are plenty of people who don’t want to give me their money because I am not only a woman, but a feminist, and they don’t want to see My Kind making games or writing books or really doing anything at all but stripping in a night club, making sandwiches in a kitchen, or pushing up daisies.
Those people withhold their money from my projects regardless of their merit as art, because they want to see me give up, starve, or apologize for believing that women are human beings with human rights. If I want their money, at minimum I have to shut up.
But I won’t.
Withholding my money from Orson Scott Card’s coffers is by far the most civilized and gentle possible response to his public views. I have physically fought with people for advocating violence against homosexuals, much less failed to empty my goddamn wallet into their pockets. So really, truly, and sincerely? Screw him, screw his book, screw his movie.
He might well be a good novelist; I am unwilling to argue the point.
Leni Reifenstahl was arguably the greatest film director of her generation, too. Didn’t help her career any, and I see no reason that Orson’s career should not suffer for his choice to be a loud, proud, highly politically active bigot.