As talk of a boycott against the movie of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” began to gain traction last week, I found myself thinking about the project not as a story, but rather as a crucible of sorts. The film has come under scrutiny because of Card’s views on gay marriage, which are, at best, antediluvian and at worst an expression of prejudice at its most profound.
Card is a Mormon, and from 2009 until last year, he served on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which fought marriage rights for gay couples. His own opposition goes back much further; “Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books,” he wrote in 1990, “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.”
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? There’s so much wrong with that statement I don’t know where to start. Equally egregious is the way Card has used faith to justify his position when even prominent Mormons such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have endorsed gay marriage; faith should not preclude clear thinking or tolerance or moral judgment, after all.
And yet, a similar burden, I think, also applies to the other side, which is where the issue of the boycott comes in. Is it fair to judge a creative effort by the politics of its maker, especially when, as in the case of “Ender’s Game,” those politics don’t have anything to do with the work?
A couple of years ago, Laura Miller addressed a similar question in regard to writers such as T.S. Eliot (a notorious anti-Semite), Ezra Pound (a fascist) and V.S. Naipaul (“unquestionably a bad man,” in Miller’s estimation, “notorious for his floridly abusive relationships and bigoted ideas”).
To that list, I’d add the Nazi sympathizer Louis-Ferdinand Celine, whose “Journey to the End of the Night” and “Death on the Installment Plan” remain among the most beautiful evocations of depravity and misanthropy ever set to paper, and the Scottish novelist Alexander Trocchi, an unregenerate heroin addict who once turned his wife out on the streets as a prostitute, yet in novels such as “Young Adam” and “Cain’s Book” offers an exquisite and unblinking inquiry into the meaninglessness of the world.
I don’t mean to suggest that Card belongs in this company, except inasmuch as, Miller points out, “most writers, like most people, are a mixture of the reprehensible and the admirable.” She continues: “Learning the truth is disillusioning at first, but enlightening in the end. Part of the sadly underrated process of growing up is realizing that people, the world and life are no less beautiful and amazing for being imperfect.”
What does this have to do with “Ender’s Game”? Only this: In a free society, Card is entitled to his opinion, as are all of us. That’s the nature of democracy, to discuss issues in a public setting, to engage rather than avoid.
Such a point was eloquently argued last week by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” who told the New York Times, “No way am I boycotting.” For Black, a boycott is a throwback to the politics of silence: “We haven’t been getting the numbers we’ve seen,” he said of the seismic shift in attitudes toward gay equality, “by disengaging.”
Card offered a more self-serving defense in Entertainment Weekly, suggesting that with the Supreme Court’s dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act, his views on gay marriage had been rendered moot.
“Now,” he noted, “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.”
There’s something unpleasantly ironic about a man who for decades espoused intolerance turning to tolerance as a last resort. This, however, is what we do in America; this is how we effect change. We move forward not by ignoring, or shunning, the opposition, but by giving them the space to be heard.
I think of other boycotts — “Murphy Brown,” “The Last Temptation of Christ” — and how the very thought of them offended me. I think of Alan Dershowitz, who in the late 1970s defended the right of American Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. “Freedom of speech,” Dershowitz wrote last year in the Huffington Post, “means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views.”
As the father of a gay son, I take a hard line on an attitude such as Card’s. I agree with Bill Maher that we should call it by its true name, bigotry, that there is no justification for withholding rights under civil or moral law.
But I’m also aware that Card is behind the historical eight ball, that marriage equality is coming, no matter what. Now it’s time to listen to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” to extend to Card the tolerance that, until last week anyway, he would have restricted to himself.