Consequences and the Limits of Tolerance: Boycotting Card

Raymond Chandler has a quote that I can’t find at the moment; boiled down to its essence it’s basically along the lines of, “never meet your idols,” but Chandler-ized. (He also had a few choice things to say about critical writing which, combined with the fact that I read the alleged quote in Chandler’s collected letters, means he’s got me coming and going.) The idea is that nothing can come of knowing any personal information about those you admire from afar, be they artists, celebrities or politicians. We are all human, and getting close enough to see the peeling paint only tarnishes your positive regard.

Fans of science fiction novelist and National Organization for Marriage board member Orson Scott Card have known the truth of this for years. Card’s Ender’s Game is a classic of young adult and science fiction, a part of the canon, hugely influential since its publication. Card himself is incredibly prolific, with multiple books in the Ender’s Game universe alone, and many others besides.

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He also possesses notoriously reactionary political views, and he has not been shy, over the years, about expressing them; to wit:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.
– Orson Scott Card, “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality,” Sunstone Magazine, Feb 1990″

I will grant that 23 years is a long enough time for a person to mellow. However, even without taking expressions such as this into account, Card serves on the board for the National Organization for Marriage, an organization whose politics are as reactionary as their name is ironic (the notion of an organization for marriage being against marriages of a certain, shall we say, flavor is positively Orwellian).

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Fans of Card have had to grapple with these views, and reconcile them with their enjoyment of his works. The sequels to Ender’s Game-Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide and Children of the Mind-preach understanding and coexistence with a number of alien species; meanwhile, Card himself bridles at the notion of sharing a society with certain members of his own. (Anecdote: I knew a young homosexual gentleman in college who had gone to school with one of Card’s children. The young man’s name was distinctive, and Card named a character in one of his novels after him. Any time I read Card expressing an anti-gay viewpoint I think of the fact that one of his characters shares his name with a gay man, and am thankful for a life that at times renders irony not a bloodless bit of lexical trickery but a visceral pleasure.) Some fans make their peace with this and try to concentrate on the song and not the singer; others reject Card’s fiction. I can only presume, based on the law of averages, that there is a third group who both loves what Card writes and what he thinks about “the gays.”

And, to be clear, up to this point I don’t have a dog in the fight, nor should anyone. “He/she writes/sings/acts good but thinks dumb shit,” is as old as written/sung/acted shit. Ezra Pound and Roald Dahl both expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, for instance. Any creator you care to name probably believes something with which you disagree, and this is to the good, because art is one of the ways we become exposed to the vastness of human experience, and if we were all ideologically identical our Saturday nights at the movies would get really boring. All things being equal, if all Card was doing was saying dumb shit, then whatever; it might be that his retrograde views, so public and so controversial, alchemize with whatever other beliefs he has, and that his works are a product of this alchemy. In other words, we might get worse books out of him if he started loving the gays. All we have when we go to the blank page is ourselves, after all.

It may warm Card's heart, but I feel somewhat differently

Welcome to the Sochi Olympics

We’ll come back to this in a moment. There’s a buzz about the 2014 Olympics, set to be held in Russia, a country that has been ostentatiously throwing its weight around when it comes to oppression of the LGBT community, and whose draconian laws would allow for prosecution and punishment even of foreign individuals who expressed pro-gay views. This is obviously some backwards-ass shit, and many are calling for action. Stephen Fry wrote an open letter to David Cameron and the IOC, in which he likens Putin’s LGBT persecution with Hitler’s persecution of the Jews during Berlin’s hosting of the 1936 Olympics and says, “[a]n absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on [sic] Sochi is simply essential.” George Takei suggests moving the Olympics out of Sochi altogether, arguing that, while a boycott of the Olympics would unduly punish the athletes who trained so hard for it, Russia’s laws are a clear safety concern for those LGBT athletes who attend.

Meanwhile, Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage have called for a boycott of Russian vodka, most notably Stoli, the most iconic of the Russian vodkas, in order to protest Russia’s policies. John Aravosis goes over a little Boycott 101 here, outlining the Dump Stoli movement’s impact in raising awareness of this issue and spurring outrage against the Russian government’s anti-gay crackdown. All of which feels timely to me because, a little closer to home, a different boycott has been brewing.

Back to Orson who, as you may have guess, is also being boycotted, by the folks over at Skip Ender’s Game. Card’s history of anti-gay activism, which is laid out in Chuck Wendig’s post over on his personal blog about why he’s not seeing the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, is the sticking point for these folks. Wendig takes Card to task in particular for Card’s response to the boycott, the full text of which is below:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state. Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute. – Orson Scott Card

There are a number of things to be said about this (for instance, in 1984 the gay population of the US was being decimated by the AIDS epidemic, in part because discrimination against homosexuals was still okay in the eyes of our leaders; more to the point, the Stonewall riots pre-date Card’s timeline by roughly 15 years, so his assertion that these “political issues” did not exist in 1984 is a little suspect, unless he was referring to gay marriage in specific or, I suppose, talking about 1984 the novel). What it puts me in mind of an ancient, by internet standards, video by J Smooth called, “How to Tell People They Sound Racist.” J is usually on-point, but he especially so in this video, which is three minutes long and worth a watch. His main point is, “I don’t care about what you are, I care about what you did,” the larger context being that if you call someone a racist in an argument then they can, and will, frequently use this to derail the actual argument and take the focus off of whatever harmful action prompted the accusation in the first place.

Card isn’t, to be fair, telling people to knock it off and stop calling him a bigot, but he’s dodging the question of what it is that he did in the years between the publication of Ender’s Game and the present day; “what he did” is relentlessly and tirelessly advocate for LGBT Americans to be second-class citizens; through donations, through his membership on boards of organizations opposing gay marriage, through op-eds written in support of his own twisted and exclusionary morality. Only when he is found, by the Supreme Court in specific and history in general, to be in the wrong does he call for “tolerance,” and there’s a tone here that implies that what he’s really asking for is for LGBT folks, and LGBT allies, to forget the Golden Rule; i.e. for them not to treat him as he’s been treating them. It’s not an admission of guilt, but there is a sense that he knows he’s done wrong, and more specifically that he’s done wrong to those who do have an expectation of retribution.

I’m sympathetic, to a point, with his assertion that Ender’s Game has nothing to do with his political views. It’s a tightrope that everyone in the public eye has to walk. Some stake out no particular political territory (Neil Gaiman, for instance, has historically kept his cards very close to his chest, with the only exceptions being relatively non-controversial causes such as support for librarians and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund), while others are overtly political (China Mieville is an outspoken socialist). I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do this, as a creator, but part of being a public figure does mean that your positions and beliefs are put under a microscope, and that you are judged for what you think and say.

Please do

Courtesy of ngblog

However, the fist of Card’s beliefs never stopped short of the nose of his intended victims. He never made any attempt to keep his bigotry to himself. He spread his poison wide, and, now that he’s being called out, he’s pulling out the “no harm, no foul” weak bullshit, the defense that so many bullies pull out when they face blowback about the harm they’ve caused, as if he’s simply a member of a sports team who lost after a particularly dirty game. I find Stop Ender’s Game to be entirely appropriate, under the circumstances. It’s complicated somewhat because there are, I’m certain, many talented artists whose efforts went into the Ender’s Game movie, artists who have families to feed and careers to nourish, and it might not be entirely fair to paint them with the same brush as Card.

On the other hand, there does have to be a point where we hold people accountable for their actions. There has to be a point where we say, “no more,” and induce some sort of social and financial consequences for attempting to make our LGBT countrymen second-class citizens, because if we don’t, the consequence is what is happening day after day in Russia right now. I’m not saying that buying a ticket to Ender’s Game is going to lead to your gay cousin getting knifed in the street and left for dead; what I’m saying is that causing Card’s star to rise will enable him to spread his views, neutered though they may be by the Supreme Court’s repudiation of them. The more power he, and those who believe as he does, have, the closer we get to those views becoming acceptable. And they are anything but acceptable; they lead to innocent men and women, trans* and cis both, taking their lives or being beaten or killed. I doubt we’d see laws passed that explicitly allow the kind of things allowed in Russia right now. What I think we would see, in the America where we turn a blind eye toward those like Card or the Koch brothers or Rush Limbaugh who peddle exclusionary, hateful nonsense, is that same blind eye turned toward those moments of violence and atrocity against the disenfranchised. Ask the black community how helpful the right to vote is when it’s still acceptable to profile a young black man; you can have nominal protection in the eyes of the law while still lacking the actual protection in truth.

The time to speak is now. Intolerance is like a weed; it must be aggressively pruned, wherever it may grow. I will grant that Card may lead, in many respects, a good and moral life, as he sees it; I will grant that he has the right to his beliefs, and that he has the right to pursue a livelihood. We all have that right; life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. We all have that right. We do not have the right to freedom from consequence, or from criticism. Artists have a responsibility foremost to their art, yes, but there is also a responsibility to be citizens of our nations, respectful of our countrymen, our fellow travelers in this journey, our fellow compatriots in this great experiment called America, and because you failed in this responsibility, Mr. Card, I believe that I, and those who believe as I do, are perfectly justified in making sure that you don’t get to have a number one opening weekend for your movie, as divorced as you may feel it is from your politics.

If you don’t like it, pour yourself a shot of Stoli. You’ll be in like company.

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  • There are many famous sci-fi and fantasy authors who’ve acted in utterly unacceptable ways. For example, Isaac Asimov (whose writing I still enjoy) had a reputation for sexually assaulting women and was proud of it . But for better or for worse, most of those authors are dead now, and any royalties on their work merely go to their estates. Card’s case is different because he’s still alive and politically involved, and it’s safe to assume that whatever money he makes from this film, he may use to support continuing efforts to deny equal protection of the law to GLBT people.