Damning Orson Scott Card

I’m a little late to the party with this issue. I wanted to wait until I had a solution rather than just a gripe.

There was some activity in the media a little while ago about Orson Scott Card’s conservative politics. He’s religious, and I’ve found that religion and conservative politics frequently go hand in hand, so I’m a little surprised that anyone was surprised.

Shortly after Card’s anti-gay sentiments became public, there was a call to boycott the film version of his most famous book, Ender’s Game this coming November. Good. Great. I applaud people for getting to know the artists, and also for taking a stand on issues they believe in.

I’d like to argue for the other side.

While hiking with another writer friend of mine, we stumbled across this issue and weren’t sure how to proceed. We both loved the book, the goodness of Ender, the subtle evil of Peter and the heartbreaking ending. We loved the moral ambiguity of the piece, and the harsh reality that children must own their responsibilities as they grow start to impact the world around them.

When I was a kid, I loved any story in which a child played an active role in the adults’ world, so I was very receptive to this tale and what it had to say about the different types of conflict from bullying to all-out war.

On the other hand, my friend and I are pretty liberal and don’t agree with Card’s lifestyle or politics. As we turned around and started back down the hill, we asked ourselves: can you love the art and not the artist?

It’s a tricky question, especially when money’s on the line. Presumably if we buy the product, we support the entity in its entirety. This is exactly how I feel about Nestle products, to name an example at random; but with art I feel it’s a little different. It’s easy to love artists who embody and express our own beliefs; but art, like life, won’t always work out that way.

The purpose of art is to express ideas. Uplifting ideas bring us together. Controversial ideas force us to debate, paring away at our perceptions of ourselves and the world we live in. Both forms of expression are valuable.

Do I support homophobia and religious conservatism?
No, I don’t.
Neither does US law, thankfully, which renders such opinions functionally private/moot.

Do I support the idea that kids will have to grapple with hard choices, and should be presented with stories that reflect that?
Yes, I do.

Do I think that in order to damn the man I must damn the art?

Is damning the man worth the loss of the art?

I heard something interesting while listening to the Pseudopod. Neil Gaiman had to grapple with a similar issue when his fans were distraught to find out that Gaiman, (a young, hip guy) listed Rudyard Kipling (a fascist) as one of his literary heroes. To paraphrase, Gaiman responded by saying that the point of the writing was exactly the opposite. The fans were missing out on Kipling’s inspiring work (rather than his uninspiring life) because they were probably told not to read him. Gaiman went on to say that he doesn’t agree with Kipling’s politics; but it would be a sad world if we never engaged with those who disagree with us.

I think we have a tendency to get too wrapped up in our ‘team,’ whatever that may be. From politics and religion to sports and comics, our obsessions have the capacity to destroy friendships, families, and lives and communities. “Destroy the opposition” hits the ear much more neatly than a call for harmony. It sucks. It’s a waste. We’re better than that. We have more common ground than we think. We might be better served – as artists and audiences – to show more sophistication when it comes to interacting with opposing ideas.

In fact, wouldn’t the opposition be more willing to hear us out if the discussion had its foundations in our common ground?

Even if the characters and authors fade from our memory, the lessons from the stories stay with us as we grow. Looking at context, understanding motivations and solving problems by thinking critically are all lessons taught in English classes and in Ender’s Game. Opposition and debate help us grow, help us think, and teach us how to recover when we’re wrong. If you don’t respect others’ autonomy, they will have no respect for yours. The results can be devastating.

Better to learn the lesson early, through a story, than to wait for that horrible moment when the game becomes real.

Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.”
― Sun Tzu

Literature is no one’s private ground, literature is common ground; let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves.”
― Virginia Woolf

Opposition flowing in and out of itself in harmony.


Addendum:  Card’s original statements on the subject of homosexuality can be found here.


29 thoughts on “Damning Orson Scott Card

  1. Charles Yallowitz

    Gaiman makes a lot of sense. I’m a big Ender’s Game fan and plan on seeing the movie even if I disagree with Card. One issue I have with the boycott is that it won’t effect him. If he’s like most authors, he doesn’t make a ton of money from this and it won’t change his mind. Instead, boycotting the movie effects the actors, crew, and anyone who makes a living off the film. Great that you take a stand, but innocent bystanders get hit by something like this. Why don’t people attempt letter writing campaigns to Card, which would effect him only?

  2. Stephanie Beavers

    Personally, I’ve never been one to care much for the personal lives of artists (that goes for actors, celebrities, authors, musicians, etc) so I’ve never had problems separating artists from their art. That being said, every so often something does come to my attention about particular artists that I don’t like. But even still, alternate perspectives, no matter whose they are, are important.
    Furthermore, while an author’s (or other artist’s) perspective does have SOME relevance to the work, I don’t feel that an opinion of the artist should necessarily have impact on the interpretation or value of the work. That is the amazing thing about art; it is an entity in and of itself, and once it’s released into the world, it’s no longer dependent on its artist. When asked, “Can you love the art and not the artist?” I’d answer with an unwavering, “Of course.”

    1. Setsu Post author

      It seems to be an endless balancing act. Perhaps someone has wonderful insights about conflict and war, but doesn’t know anything about love. Makes sense to me… I hope that one day he achieves a greater understanding of love.

      Thank you for your open-mindedness, Stephanie. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

  3. www.laurensapala.com

    This is the perfect time for this post (which was very well written, by the way). With the government shutdown, and the threat of a BART workers strike here in the Bay Area, I think we’re all seeing that it’s sometimes incredibly difficult to see the other side, or the other “team’s” point of view, but to get anywhere it’s most helpful to make an effort to do just that.

    Loved this post.

    1. Setsu Post author

      There’s so much diversity coming to the fore, we can’t afford not to become better compromisers. The government shutdown came to mind shortly after I put this up. Thank you for bringing up that connection.

  4. REDdog

    Setsu, insightful and erudite as per, well done. I wonder if learning about the artist is important in defining the art? I think not, in fact I would go so far as to say it a distraction from the art, even confusing…which is not to say that we ought not explore the origins of the art, but if we must hold onto our beliefs (prejudices?) tightly we should still hold the art with an open hand. It’s not like you’re going to see anyone decry modern surgery techniques because they find out much of what we do now is based on the most heinous experiments performed by Hilter’s Nazi regime in the 1940’s. Love yer stuff. Respect REDdog

      1. kmalexander

        In a lot of ways it’s one and the same with Gaiman and Rudyard Kipling. However, I think because they (old racists writers) are dead we cut them some slack, we wonder if they weren’t just a product of their upbringing or conditioning, we wonder if things would be different if they were alive today.

        It’s harder for a fan to deal with someone who is still alive and still writing hate filled entries on their blog and is blatantly unapologetic.

  5. Pingback: Friday Link Pack | I make stories.

  6. Wyrd Smythe

    Card is hardly the first to disappoint me with the disconnect between my appreciation for his work and my disagreement with his politics or personality. Not even the first SF writer! James Hogan is another favorite writer that surprised me when I learned about his life.

    But ultimately ideas and people are different. Good ideas can come from bad people (or people I think of as bad). I have strong Existentialist leanings, so I’m not sure I believe there even is an absolute standard of “right” and “wrong” and, in particular, I don’t subscribe to any of society’s labels. What matters to me is the thing itself, and the Ender series was pretty amazing.

    I fully expect the movie to be the usual Hollywood shallow fluff, so I fully expect a spectacle that fills the screen with motion and noise and utterly misses the depth and meaning of the story. Card’s politics are the least of my concerns! Given that The Hobbit is a three-movie spectacular, Ender’s Game should be, what, seven or eight at least?

    1. Setsu Post author

      Well said and I heartily agree. To give another example of misconstrued storytelling, L. Ron Hubbard…?

      It’s been said that the best material for a movie is a short story, and I’m inclined to say that the best way to translate complex stories to the screen is via miniseries or TV show. The danger there is aiming for something like “Game of Thrones” and winding up with something like “Legend of the Seeker.” Something’s always lost for the sake of prettiness or palatability.

      1. Wyrd Smythe

        I agree about the mini-series; there have been some very good ones. Most recently, I rather liked Pillars of the Earth, which is an outstanding novel and a pretty decent rendering of it to film. I think in some regards, great fiction writing doesn’t always translate to screen well. There’s never been, nor in my mind can ever be, a decent rendition of Dune, for example. The SF channel’s mini-series was okay, but was a pale shadow of the original.

        Books can take you places film can’t. On the flip side, film is far more visceral, exciting and dream-like.

        Game of Thrones… put me in the detractor column. Peter Dinklage kept me watching for three seasons, but ultimately he wasn’t enough, and I’ve filed the entire series under “Vile Pointless Crap.” I doubt I’ll bother with more seasons. I’m discovering within myself a growing discomfort with the high level of violence we casually absorb in our daily media diets. Vile is a good word…

      2. Setsu Post author

        Carnage and misery is entertaining but in such a low way. One of the biggest things missing from GoT that I love in fantasy is a sense of hope. A reason to strive for something better in our own lives. Escapism where heroism is possible and rewarded. It doesn’t have to be like that all the time, but just a droplet now and then would be great.

        Regarding Dune, you’re absolutely right. Books do take you places movies can’t. Primarily though, because your imagination has no budget.

      3. Wyrd Smythe

        That’s a good observation about GoT… it’s without joy, without hope. Except for a tiny bit of SF, it’s mostly about the worst side of humanity, and I’ve been there, done that, far too many times to find it even vaguely interesting. Like Unreality TV, it’s a lowest common denominator kind of storytelling, simplistic, easy, visceral. It doesn’t elevate, it doesn’t educate, it doesn’t illuminate; it’s not thoughtful or smart. Empty calories for the mind. It never rated more than a “Meh!” on my scale, and it’s sunk through “Nah!” to “Ugh!”

        It’s certainly true that budget and technical feasibility were a major restraint in the past. I think there’s more too it… I’ve been pondering this since your reply… CGI has made it possible to visualize anything an artist can imagine, and yet storytelling is still mostly shallow and dumb. I don’t think it’s entirely that we’re not used to the new tools yet. In fact, I sometimes wonder if CGI can’t have a crippling effect on storytelling by increasingly discarding our own imaginations.

        I think when you “collapse” the realm of imagination into a specific visualization, something is necessarily lost. Our imaginations can contain paradoxical or outrageous ideas that are impossible to visualize. Think of the mysterious briefcase in Pulp Fiction… nothing Tarantino could have showed us would come close to what none of us saw but imagined in our mind’s eye.

        Most people I talk to feel Jackson pretty much nailed it in terms of visualizing Middle Earth as we all have imagined it for decades. Fan art over the years has probably played some role in collapsing the imagery. Even so, from now on, it will be hard to read those books and not re-run the films in your head as you read. It will be hard to see other images; the gestalt has collapsed to Peter Jackson’s vision. In some ways, I think that’s a loss.

        I mentioned Dune, because it’s a good example of a story that takes place much inside people’s heads. Internal monolog is really difficult to put into performance modes. Different modes of storytelling allow — and require — different approaches sometimes.

  7. Jason Leslie Rogers

    Thanks for this one. I enjoyed the read.

    Myself? When it comes to fiction and poetry and the like, I try not to mistake the poem for the poet and vice versa. When it comes to me dishing out my own cash, the personal morality of the writer doesn’t matter any more to me than the ethical leanings of the chef who prepares my meal or the philosophy of the conductor who holds the baton as I listen to Mozart.

    The difference with writers is that we are purposefully reading them because of their powers of language, and language is how we most commonly express contention with another person’s or group’s belief. If you thoroughly enjoy a writer’s work, but you later find out that the writer holds a belief that you find deplorable, you may think that by reading you have somehow given your blessing to that belief. No, you have given your blessing to a piece of their work. You have agreed to stand in awe of the painting while holding the life of the artist in contempt.

    Is it worth it, however? Is it worth the inner struggle when there are so many other fascinating wordsmiths out there whose ideology line up with yours? That’s a question each one of us can only answer for ourselves.

    1. Setsu Post author

      Beautifully expressed, Jason. Do you think that the moral imperative is affected by money at all? Purchasing a book or a movie ticket sends a message to the producers of such work and peripheral media platforms. Is funding art the same as enjoying art?

  8. Jason Leslie Rogers

    Setsu, I’m sure very little of the funds we plunk down while consuming art ends up going to the original artists, no matter how morally superior or corrupt or ambiguous they are. And, well, haha, if we’re going to bring movie producers and record labels and book publishers and media conglomerates into this equation, I think we should simply give up on the topic of morality.

    If you’d like to read more about my moral imperative (or lack of one, depending on who you ask), perhaps you might check out my post, I Believe in Pleasure and Pain.

    1. Setsu Post author

      Morality is probably not the right word. Economic Viability. Demand. All social law is an artificial human creation, so we can set the bar wherever we want. If we dedicate our attention and resources one way, we have this set of laws. That’s more what I meant.

      Thank you for the link also! I’m reading it now.

  9. Audrey T Williams

    I will share what I told the writing group at the tavern known as “Underwood” the first time I sat down with them. I separate the private life of the writer from the genius of his world-building skills that guide my own storytelling pursuits. Also (and this will likely be the only time I quote myself in this lifetime), here’s a bit of a riddle that helps me make peace with all this, even this late to the original thread and author comments on this topic: “In ‘The End’ the hero has sworn his life to the task of saving ‘The Queen.’” That is all.


Leave a Reply to Setsu Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s