This week has been a tough one for me, both as a fan of comics & science fiction AND as a professional writer. See, for the last few days, comic book readers have been debating DC Comics’ hiring of Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story for their Digital First initiative. Card is best known for writing “Ender’s Game” the Hugo Award winning science fiction novel and one of my all-time favorite books.
So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, it just so happens that Orson Scott Card is vehemently homophobic and has campaigned against marriage equality. Now, I had always heard rumblings of Card’s politics in the past, but dismissed them because I feel that you have the right to believe whatever you want, express whatever opinion you have, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. It wouldn't be until I started looking more closely that it became evident Card was using his influence as a popular writer to do just that. To discover someone I admired was oppressing others and speaking out against equality for a minority was disappointing to say the least.
And now he was going to write Superman? That’s something that I have a hard time reconciling. Superman has always been about “Truth and Justice,” and the philosophies that Card espouses are antithetical to that. How can I - in good conscience - support someone who is now on the forefront of the Anti-LGBT movement? I view it the same as denying rights to people of color or religion. To me there is no difference.
I’ve been struggling with this. And reading the message boards on comic book media sites doesn't help much since the discourse often degenerates into angry insults and flame wars that do nothing but obfuscate the issue.
I got a bit of cheer when I came across a Facebook post by another one of my favorite science fiction writers, David Gerrold. For those who don't know of him, Gerrold first came to prominence when he served as a writer for the classic Star Trek television series. He wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles,” one of the series’ most beloved episodes. He's also the author of my favorite sci-fi series “The War Against the Ch’torr.” It should also be noted that Gerrold is openly gay. I've long admired him and wondered where he stood on this issue. This is what he had to say about Orson Scott Card:
DC Comics has hired Orson Scott Card to write the first issue of a new Superman book.
Because Card is on the board of directors for the National Organization of Marriage (an organization that wants to keep gay people from marrying) and because he has written some very aggressive anti-gay screeds, many LGBT (and straight) fans of Superman are outraged. There is even an online petition asking DC to drop Card. (There is also a petition to SUPPORT him. - Elliott)
DC has replied:
“As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.”
They are correct. As much as I disagree with Card's position on homosexual relationships, I do not feel he should be penalized for his political views. It would be as wrong as an anti-gay group petitioning a publisher not to publish a book of mine because I am gay. It would be censorship based on enmity. No one should be penalized for their political views, no matter how egregious any of us might judge those views.
It is our responsibility as rational people to engage in reasonable and rational discourse on difficult issues. It is only when people actively work to hurt others that we have a responsibility to halt or prevent that harm. But we are never justified in penalizing each other based on beliefs. If it's wrong in one direction, it's wrong in the other direction.
Let me say it in the clear. I despise Card's position on marriage equality -- but I do not despise Card. He is an intelligent man and a gifted storyteller. As an American citizen, protected by the US Constitution, he is entitled to freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom to publish, etc. That I disagree (aggressively) with what he has said does not give me license to demand that his rights be infringed or that his ability to find work be compromised. I expect the same respect in return.
I do not expect that Card's political beliefs will be part of his Superman story. That's not Superman and I think Card understands that. And the good folks at DC likely understand that too. I hope he writes a good story. I also hope that someday he will recognize that some of the things he has said, some of the things he has advocated, are simply not in keeping with Jesus' commandment that we love one another.
For all the dismay I felt upon reading what Card said about homosexuals, I was equally heartened by what Gerrold had to say about dealing with intolerance. For me, science fiction writers are always the first who break new ground, exploring the human condition and challenging norms with their stories. In the last few days, it seems to me that Card wants to hold onto an archaic world-view where the human condition is static and unable to evolve. I wonder how a brilliant mind could find itself in such a stagnant state.
I also wonder why the powers-that-be of DC Comics act unconcerned at how associating Card with the Superman brand may affect it. I'm guessing they feel that the uproar is simply a vocal minority and that the weight of Card's name in the science fiction community will more than counter it.
But if it's just about the name, why not go all out? I wonder how comic book fans would react if Glenn Beck were asked to write a Superman story. Could they look past all his paranoid rants about government conspiracies and trust him to tell a good story? He does seem creative enough.
How about Pat Roberston? He seems to have the Ear of God, or so he believes. He’d be an excellent choice to write an epic tale of a nigh-omnipotent super-being, right?
How about Louis Farrakhan? Would the folks at Warner Bros. be comfortable with the Nation of Islam leader penning a story featuring the Last Son of Krypton? If anyone can write a story about being a minority, like Kal-El is, he sure could. How would long-time comic book readers feel seeing his name on the cover of the book?
And why stop at Superman? Have Bill O'Reilly write Batman! Put Ann Coulter on Wonder Woman! Rick Santorum can write Green Lantern! (I hear they're looking for a new writer on that book.) These are all recognizable personalities who don't seem to care how their world views affect others.
How about the general public? As a writer who relies on the good will of my readership, I am well aware of how expressing certain opinions can alienate certain readers. I’ve been known to crack wise about religion and politics on Twitter, and I’m sure that’s to account for my follower count often rising - then falling. So would it be wise for me to make myself a figurehead for an agenda that could harm others by denying them rights that they desperately seek? Can I expect a publicly-traded company to associate my name with their brand?
In Card's case, there’s an Ender’s Game motion picture on the way - starring Harrison Ford even - and I know that he was offered the job to capitalize on his name recognition. But is it worth alienating readers who support LGBT rights and equality?
On the other hand, how do you not give someone a job just because their personal views are unpopular? Isn't that also denying someone their basic rights and freedoms? To me the issue has always been that Card is not being surreptitious at all. He's been vocal and actively working to promote his agenda. So, am I asking him to just keep his opinions to himself? And in some cases to be a hypocrite?
I’ll be honest, I don’t have an answer. Like I said before, I’m still struggling with this. But as David Gerrold said, it’s time for “rational people to engage in reasonable and rational discourse.”
I really hope that I can be one of them.
What do you think?
ELLIOTT SERRANO IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR AND CHICAGO'S TOP GEEKCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times