Orson Scott Card is a bigot and a homophobe, but how should that impact our love of his work?
The Ender’s Game film has a trailer, and that means it’s time once again to have a discussion about Orson Scott Card. It’s impossible not to, the man writes beautiful books, but his politics are repugnant. For many that’s a deal breaker, but should we be willing to separate a man’s work for backward, hateful thinking in his public life and political actions? This debate has been going on in the background of our story about the trailer, and this is a good opportunity to hash it out.
So what's the issue? Orson Scott Card has a major problem with homosexuality. Not like, a small problem. More like he thinks we need to overthrow the government if same-sex couples are allowed to be married.
In 2009 he joined the board for the National Organization for Marriage to work to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. It’s not that he believes certain things, it’s that he actively fights against equal rights and writes in detail about why being gay is terrible. In 1990 he argued for pro-sodomy laws in order to punish same-sex couples should they dare to not hide their relatioships.
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.
The man is, to say it directly, a bigot. A bigot who writes amazing science fiction.
But the books are very, very good
It’s hard to reconcile the man who so often writes this bile online and actively supports these goals with the man who wrote Speaker for the Dead and Ender’s Game. These books are beautiful meditations on violence, forgiveness, and understanding. Books about overcoming the differences between people.
Ender’s Game is taught in some schools, and my own son is getting to the age where I’m looking forward to him reading it and our ensuing discussions.
“He’s been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, and basically any rights for gays, a position that gets more and more curious with every novel Card writes with homoerotic-tension elements, like the naked shower fight between children in Ender’s Game, the confused transsexual narrator of Treason, or the overarching metaphor of the dangers of succumbing to sins of the flesh in Wyrms,” the AV Club wrote in a primer about Card’s work.
“The more progressive fans separate the extremely socially conservative man behind the work, the more likely they are to continue appreciating his entertaining novels,” the article continues, in what has to be something of an understatement.
Still, why should his bigotry change what we feel about his novels? “I think it's worse because he actively crusades against people's rights,” a reader told me on Twitter. “It's a little different when someone's privately an ass.”
A comment in the story about the movie’s trailer took the other argument: Why not just donate to an equal-rights group if you buy the book or a movie ticket? “Do you look into the personal beliefs of all the creators of the media you consume? There are lots of artists who believe crazy distasteful (often evil) things; that doesn't mean that anything they produce is worthless,” they wrote. “T.S. Eliot was a misogynist and an anti-semite, yet his poetry is still important and interesting.”
Both are good points, but Card’s beliefs have negatively impacted his work before. Card was asked to write a story for a recent Superman anthology, only to have the artist leave the project when the uproar about Card’s involvement became too loud.
The more progressive fans separate the extremely socially conservative man behind the work, the more likely they are to continue appreciating his entertaining novels.
“It took a lot of thought to come to this conclusion,” artist Chris Sprouse wrote in a statement. “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. My relationship with DC Comics remains as strong as ever and I look forward to my next project with them.”
DC has since shelved the story altogether, and it’s unknown if it will ever see the light of day. You’re allowed to speak your mind in this country, but you’re not protected from your unpopular speech hurting your career.
The argument is back in full swing now that the Ender’s Game movie is being released, and it could possibly overshadow the books themselves. I’m in the process of re-reading Speaker for the Dead, and I find it as amazing as I did when I was a teenager. No matter what Card writes today, no matter how distasteful we find his views, his work remains powerful.
Perhaps we should split the difference, and simply check the books out from your local library. Bring your kids, they have an entire science fiction section filled with fine works. Orson Scott Card can continue to be a bigot, and continue his hateful crusade. I’m happy to read his work while drawing my own lessons from it.