More Perspectives on the Orson Scott Card / Ender’s Game Thing

by sketchyfeminist

Well, the movie’s been out for ten days and this is a little behind-the-times, but I still think this topic is an interesting one. Also, apparently the jury is still out on whether or not the film was financially successful, as we won’t really, really know until it gets a sequel or it doesn’t.*

Here are some things that other people think about Ender’s Game:

  • Susan Karlin’sr Fast Company article, “Art Vs. Artist,” reports on how the movie’s director, pro-gay advocate Gavin Hood, was able to reconcile his views with his knowledge of Card’s anti-gay sentiment.
  • Rany Jazayerli, in the powerful article, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” shares how much Orson Scott Card’s writing, which preaches tolerance and compassion, has meant to him in his own life. Jazayerli also reminds us that Card’s intolerant stances are not limited to anti-gay sentiment.
  • Ana Mardoll has an Ender’s Game Film Corner on her blog. Her analysis of the movie looks at some of its problematic gender and racial representations.

These things are all worth reading for different reasons. (Well, if you’re interested in the whole OSC / Ender’s Game controversy, anyway. If not, pshaw.) The “Stanger in a Strange Land”** piece is especially moving. I do, however, take issue with a couple of arguments that come up in Karlin’s and Jazayerli’s articles. Please keep in mind that I am very deliberately singling out these arguments from two articles which I, on the whole, like and respect very much. I think both articles have a good sense of balance and nuance, and both do a pretty decent job acknowledging different sides of the debate which has accompanied the Ender’s Game movie release.

But this is my blog, and I reserve the right to pick all the nits I want in the service of making a point, so here goes.

Here is a quote from Jazayerli’s article:

I respect those who choose to boycott the movie, but I also politely think they’re missing the boat (and, from the early reviews, a pretty good film). It’s not just that I think boycotting a movie is kind of an intolerant way to combat intolerance. It’s not just that if we’re going to boycott a work of art because of the behavior of the artist, there are better places to start than with a man who has expressed hateful words but hasn’t broken any laws.9

Oh, and that 9? Leads to this footnote:

9 Roman Polanski was arrested on charges of raping a 13-year-old girl and has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1977.

And then Jazayerli sums up his argument like this:

No, the main reason boycotting Ender’s Game is counterproductive is that the theme of the story itself is the best repudiation of everything for which Card has come to stand.

Three problems. Problem the first: The author mentions that he thinks “boycotting a movie is kind of an intolerant way to combat intolerance.” I don’t like this, because it seems predicated on some kind of implicit assumption that I owe Lionsgate and the Ender’s Game filmmakers a ticket purchase just because they happen to have made a good movie with a good message. (If it is either of those things.) There are lots of good movies with good messages out there that I have not purchased a ticket for because, meh, I just didn’t feel like it. But since I didn’t really have a reason those other times, those judgments are apparently not subject to the same moral scrutiny.

And as far as boycotts being intolerant in and of themselves? Well, all situations are different, and I guess they can be. But they’re fundamentally organized not-buying. I can see how some boycotts could be organized with intent to harm (say, for example, on a smaller scale, against business owners who depend upon a regular clientele for their day-to-day living expenses). But it’s hard for me to accept that a film with a hundred million dollar budget is somehow supposed to be the underdog here. I’m sure those producers and actors will muddle through somehow. (And even if they were starving street artists, I’d still resent being told I owed them money for something I didn’t request in the first place. I’d be more likely to give said money, but I’d still be resentful about it.)

Problem the second (Yes, I’m only on one of three. I am long-winded!): Jazayerli’s claim that “if we’re going to boycott a work of art because of the behavior of the artist,” it would be better to start with Roman Polanski, who “was arrested on charges of raping a 13-year-old girl” than with Orson Scott Card, who says bigoted stuff, seems to be based on the premise that people who take a stand on one important issue are somehow obligated to take a stand on other important issues, or else they’re hypocrites. Let me be clear: taking a stand against rape is a very, very good thing to do. At the same time, I do not enjoy “My Cause is Better Than Your Cause” competitions. (Examples of this kind of rhetoric I heard during my own childhood include: “Why do you care about animal rights when there are children being abused?” “Why do you care about prison reform when so many innocent people need help?” and “Why do you care about sexism in America when there are other places where women have no rights at all?”) The rhetorical question, “Why do you care about Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay rhetoric when Roman Polanski probably raped a child?” is not a fair one, in part because it implies that you can only care about one or the other.

There are people who spend more time advocating for same-sex marriage rights than raising rape awareness. This does not make them bad people. There are people who spend more time protecting endangered species than collecting food for the hungry. This does not make them bad people. I’m not saying that all causes are “equal,” though I’m sure that many of us evaluate them differently, through the different lenses of our own lived experiences. I am saying that people advocate for different things for different reasons. When someone takes a stand about an issue important to them, pointing out that there is an even more important issue they could be taking a stand about strikes me as counterproductive.

And just to state the obvious: There are people boycotting Ender’s Game who were already boycotting Roman Polanski’s work. In a Venn diagram, the “Not Giving Money to the Anti-Gay Bigot” camp would totally overlap the “Not Giving Money to the Probable Rapist” camp. These are not mutually exclusive positions to take.

Venn Diagram showing the intersection of "Does not Give Money to Bigots" with "Does Not Give Money to Rapists"

There is totally an overlap here, people.

Problem the third: That whole third block quote really bothers me. Here it is again, in case you need a reminder and don’t like scrolling up:

No, the main reason boycotting Ender’s Game is counterproductive is that the theme of the story itself is the best repudiation of everything for which Card has come to stand.

Apparently, I am supposed to think that if this boycott causes fewer people to see the movie (thus causing Card to make less money), then bigotry wins.

For my part, I’m pretty sure that, if/when Card makes scads and scads of money off this film and the publicity for him that it generates, Card (an actual, outspoken bigot) wins. Thus sending the message that bigotry is not so bad for the bank. Meaning that bigotry still wins.

Whichever way you jump, you’re supporting bigotry, now. Welcome to the Bigotry Morton’s Fork. Bigotry wins.***

Yeah, the whole, “but paying for and seeing the movie would be the really, truly tolerant thing to do” line of reasoning just bugs me.

And here’s Gavin Hood on Card, via Karlin’s “Art vs. Artist” article:

“But art frequently–in fact, usually–rises above the failings of its creators,” Hood adds. “And the author is saying things on the issue of gay marriage that have nothing to do with our movie. I thought, ‘If I chuck this now, he’s won.’ I like his art. I’ll be damned if I can’t support his art even though the artist is someone I disagree with on a particular issue. That has nothing to do with the art that I’m exploring right now.”

See, if you don’t make the movie, Card wins but … how is he not winning if you do make the movie? And while the idea of “supporting art” is a nice and abstract one, you are still literally supporting the artist if you are helping him make money. That’s a very concrete kind of support.

The article closes on this note:

“The ideas of compassion and tolerance are worth putting out into the world,” says Hood. “And ironically, the opposite views that Orson holds now actually contribute to the debate. If I hadn’t made the film, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. So it kind of proves the point, that art actually can rise above the framings of its creators and generate a positive conversation.

“Everyone has to make his own decision about whether they can see art separately from the artist,” he adds. “I think we have to, or we’d have to throw out a lot of art.”

The movie’s a good thing, see, because it’s gotten us talking. Well, OK, but I do think it’s kind of funny that in these conversations, the in-support-of-Ender’s Game camp talks about the book like it was the only decent SF novel about tolerance and understanding that they could find. (It’s a good one and, yes, a seminal one, but it’s still not the only one.)

And that great sound bite at the end? About the willingness and/or ability to “see art separately” from the artist? Works great for me until I remember that this is not a conversation only about seeing, but about financially supporting. It’s not just an abstract morality thought experiment or a matter of perception. How and if we support the Ender’s Game movie is a thing that has concrete, monetary consequences.

* * *

* Bwah ha ha! Now the pressure’s on to make Speaker for the Dead. Speaker for the Dead is my favorite book in the series, and would be incredibly difficult to turn into a film.

** And when is that book going to get a movie treatment?

*** “I win, so I win”– Lucifer to Dean in “The End,” Supernatural Season 5, Episode 4; Written by Steve Boyum and directed by Jeremy Carver.