Thursday, 25 July 2013

Orson Scott Card

Every so often, I come across an issue which, though it deeply troubles me, I can't find a rational, analytic way to approach. The riots of two years ago were one such. This week, I've been reminded of another. See, it seems the Ender's Game movie is finally on its way.

In a way, this isn't a concern at all for me, since I haven't been to see a movie in a long time, and don't intend to go out of my way to see one in the future. I don't really like just watching things anymore - I want to be involved in what's happening in my entertainment. So the point is moot; I won't be going to see Ender in the cinema.

The thing is, if I was going purely off the quality of the book, I'm pretty sure I'd make an exception for Ender (putting aside the complex question of how severely the book will be ruined by Hollywood - and, given certain important but brutal scenes, I can't imagine how it wouldn't be). From a purely literary standpoint, Ender's Game is one of the finest works in the sci-fi canon, one of very few to stand alongside Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Arthur Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. It's an amazing achievement.

But its author is a terrible, homophobic bigot. This column is a typical example of his views. I'm not going to get into an argument about its (total lack of) logic - other people have done better jobs elsewhere, and it pains me too much to have to think that so brilliant an artist could be so repugnantly shortsighted and conceited.

Card's views have little to do with me personally - I am sure he would have little or no objection to my life and lifestyle - but many of my friends are bisexual, gay, or (and I can only assume this is even worse from Card's rigid, box-thinking viewpoint) transgendered or gender-fluid. I cannot read Card's articles without thinking of those people, and I cannot read Card's fiction without thinking of his articles.

I have copies of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead on my bookcase (I didn't actually enjoy Speaker that much when I read it - before I knew of Card's views - and I haven't picked it up again since). I read Ender last year, allowing myself one last chance to study the craft of it. It was a painful, conflicted experience. I found myself reevaluating what might have been in Card's mind as he wrote about the relationships among family and among young friends which are the novel's most powerful features.

There are big, meaty philosophical debates to get into here: in the first place, a debate over whether a work of art's aesthetic value can be or should be separated from the artist's morality, and in the second a debate about whether a book or film - particularly one as rich and challenging as Ender - should ever be boycotted. But I can't get into them. I've been trying to think of an approach for a couple of days now, and all I have is what you've just read.

I suppose I'm joining the boycott of Ender whether or not I actually advocate it. I'm not terribly comfortable with that distinction - normally I take it as a principle that you should only do things you can advocate for with a clear conscience - but it's what I'm stuck with in this case. My reasons for not seeing Ender in the cinema are, fundamentally, to do with Card's views, whether or not they should be. If you find you can still enjoy the book despite opposing Card's views, go see the film (though I do agree with the suggestion of the article I linked above, that you should donate the cost of a film ticket to a gay rights group as well).

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that you mention the issue of separating the artist's morality or beliefs from the art itself. I've been thinking about that lately. Seems like it *should* be separate--after all, I enjoy a lot of books whose authors' beliefs I have no clue about. But I can't help feeling disillusioned (at best) whenever I find out an author whose work I respect voiced an idiotic opinion (say, homophobic, or extreme right-wing, or whatever) or did something I couldn't agree with (like go seal hunting). And, right or wrong, that opinion or action skews my perception of the work I previously enjoyed. Is this bigotry? Of a sort, I suppose. Then again, books exert powerful influence on human thought, especially when the writing is good and the story is so enthralling we forget we're reading someone's words. An author's worldview will insert itself into the words whether s/he wants it to or not--and therefore will communicate to the reader. Do we burn these books, then? Fahrenheit 451 is never a good solution. Everyone has a right to write, and publish, whatever they're inclined to. And everyone has a right to read it--or not.