Ten Reasons for Not Boycotting Ender’s Game

There’s a movement to boycott the upcoming movie Ender’s Game based on a popular and award-winning Orson Scott Card novel of the same name.

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The basis of the boycott is that Card is a Mormon who advocates against gay marriage and other groups because of his religious beliefs and puts his money where his mouth is.  I agree that Card does these things, and I’m not a fan of his personal beliefs by any means.  I think his views kind of suck, and as an atheist (one of those other groups), I take some of them personally.

I don’t think there’s anything anti-homosexual about Ender’s Game, or a lot of Card’s work more generally, although some have criticized the novel in ways I admit are compelling (really interesting essay worth reading, so check it out).  Subtext is subtext, however, and subject to personal interpretation.

Card has called for tolerance here.  He’s being a bit of a hypocrite, of course.  I think we should give it to him, even if he isn’t so tolerant himself and is as unworthy of special consideration as any dogmatic fundamentalist.

Still, why shouldn’t everyone jump on the boycott bandwagon?

Here are my reasons.

1. A major motion picture is not the work of one person.  It’s thousands of people whose livelihood depends on the success of a movie with millions of dollars invested.  The movie is going to help or hurt many more people than Card personally.

2. The story is not anti-gay.  There’s a non-sequitur here.

3. If this turns out to be a great movie, I punish myself a lot more than I punish Card.  There’s a long history of great art by sucky people (and almost everyone from different times/cultures holds some offensive views).  I’m sure I can find something you love by someone craptacular.  Do you want to start rationalizing it away now, or wait until it’s pointed out to you?

4. Card himself says in his call for tolerance that he’s lost.  I agree with that assessment, maybe not for exactly his reasons, but history is against him.  A boycott of this movie doesn’t have any effect on gay rights, which are coming along faster and faster.  I’m pretty happy about that.

5. Card is the wrong target.  He’s just following his religion.  Find ways of boycotting Mormonism, or religion that discriminates against certain groups more generally.  That’s the real problem.

6. I’m having a real problem with people picking individuals and following them around and boycotting their work and livelihood.  I’d like to think I could write whatever novels, stories, and even essays as I wished, and if they didn’t like them people would not try to keep me from conducting my research and teaching in astronomy.  Litmus tests over narrow issues will always find targets.  People are complex, with a mix of good and bad, but a litmus test will find that they’re “good” or “evil” and that’s kind of shitty.  I’m sure Card thinks he’s good and doing the right thing, and he has a loving family that he also loves.  No one is all bad.

7.  I’m seeing more and more often, with less and less provocation, individuals and groups trying to start boycotts of people for the slightest things.  Don’t get me wrong — Card’s bigotry is not so slight, and if anyone not a criminal is worth the effort he is — but it’s a bad trend.  In some spaces, the slightest disagreement immediately becomes a call for boycotts or firings.  That’s just messed up.  Would Ghandi or King pull this shit?  Maybe, but not so often.  I’m really seeing it way too much.  While I think it’s okay to be somewhat intolerant of the intolerant, let’s err on the side of tolerance.

8.  Turn the other cheek.  People are watching.  This is really not about changing Card’s mind, but bullying him.  The key to changing our culture that still permits tens of millions of people to hold Card’s views is not bullying, but exposure and engagement.  Boycotts sometimes just invigorate enemies.

9.  There are still tens of millions who share Card’s opinion in the USA, more around the world.  Should people target one particular person?  How is that fair, to be so arbitrary about it?  Yeah, he made a target of himself by being a successful loudmouth.  So what?  Which leads to my final point…

10. Is the time and effort to lead and spread news about a boycott the best use of that time and effort?  Are there pro-LGBT charities or causes that could be promoted, to greater advantage, than a boycott of a movie without anti-gay content that happens to be based on a book by a fundie Mormon?  Why not urge people to donate to a pro-gay charity — whether they see the movie or not?

Personally, I’ll wait to see the reviews.  If it gets good reviews, I’ll see it, like any other movie.  If not, I’ll wait to see it for free on cable or elsewhere, if it’s convenient.  There’s a lot of science fiction movies I don’t see just because they’re reported to be mediocre.  I think that’s a good reason to wait.  Not because the author of the book they’re based on is loud-mouthed enough to have succeeded in making his bigoted political views known.  There’s a crapload of artists like that.

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11 Comments

  1. It’s clear to me, Mike, that you’re a Card fan and you really want people to “turn the other cheek” (a Christian conceit that Card himself seems uninterested in doing), but the fact is that Card has long been a bully and his writings are quite unpleasant. I found none of your reasons compelling. I’m not boycotting the movie, though. I’m simply ignoring it and him. I knew him 30 years ago at the University of Utah and he was a braggart and quite vocally happy with his publishing success. I just didn’t like the novel (he stole the Ansible from Ursula K. Le Guin, by the way, an act of literary theft) and he’s been a vocal advocate of anti-gay views. We know this. I think people are going to go see the movie because they like the book and others aren’t going to see it. But your reasons really are weak. (Card, a Christian, should have turned the other cheek and let gay people live their lives. He chose rather to publicly condemn them and to advocate the overthrow of our government if our government by law accepted gays among us. Like most Christians, he’s a smorgasbord Christian: he takes a bit of what he likes and turns away from the rest. He’s the last person to turn the other cheek.)

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  3. “I don’t think there’s anything anti-homosexual about Ender’s Game, or a lot of Card’s work more generally….”

    I said this before on a blog addressing this subject but I think it warrants saying again:

    Long before Card made his public anti-gay pronouncements, Norman Spinrad, in his excellent book of sf criticism SCIENCE FICTION IN THE REAL WORLD did an analysis of the book Ender’s Game in which he argued that the novel had underlying homophobic themes:

    “Superficially, at least, sex never rears its head. What Card gives us in the guise of young children are desexualized adolescents. Well, not exactly, for beneath the surface there certainly is a strong sexual subtext in Ender’s Game. Paul and Ender compete throughout the novel for the affections of sister Valentine, and in the denouement, Ender, the hero, gets the girl. Valentine goes off with Ender to colonize the home planet of the aliens in a complex, hurried, over-dense final chapter that reads like an outline for a whole other novel.… It is difficult to believe that such a writer would name the central figure in his incestuous love triangle Valentine (as in Be My Valentine) were he not deliberately pointing to the nature of the relationship…..Even more difficult to believe that he was unaware of the obvious sexual connotations when he named his aliens the “Buggers.” That’s right, the insectoid aliens who are never really described, aren’t called “Bugs” or “Bug-Eyed Monsters,” but Buggers throughout the whole novel. The little boys and girls, the desexualized adolescents, are trained by the adults to go out and fight buggers, and Ender, the hero, wins his Valentine, at least in plot terms, when he exterminates Buggery.”

    At the time I thought he might be reading too much into it. Knowing what we know now, I think he was just more perceptive in his reading than I was. Of course, this is, as you put it, subtext and interpretation. But I think Spinrad’s probably right.

    1. Ah, maybe! Not a ridiculous argument. I guess I could amend my statement to be more explicit and say that when I put down Ender’s Game I didn’t think, “Man that book is totally anti-gay!”

      1. I didn’t either on first reading. But that’s not really the point. Frankly, I think you’re far to soft on Card. He’s earned the boycott and I’m glad to see people are stepping up to say they won’t give their money to entertainers who’ve said the sorts of things Orson Scott Card has.

        “1. A major motion picture is not the work of one person. It’s thousands of people whose livelihood depends on the success of a movie with millions of dollars invested. The movie is going to help or hurt many more people than Card personally.”

        And the financers of the film only invested that money in the work of a vociferously anti-gay author on the assumption that it would not have consequences for their bottom line. If that’s proven wrong, I’ll be happy to see it.

        “3. If this turns out to be a great movie, I punish myself a lot more than I punish Card. There’s a long history of great art by sucky people (and almost everyone from different times/cultures holds some offensive views). I’m sure I can find something you love by someone craptacular. Do you want to start rationalizing it away now, or wait until it’s pointed out to you?”

        The point is to send a message to Hollywood telling them we won’t help make anti-gay bigots rich (or, at least, richer).

        “5. Card is the wrong target. He’s just following his religion. ”

        Bigotry is no less objectionable because it’s religiously sanctioned.

        “….Find ways of boycotting Mormonism, or religion that discriminates against certain groups more generally. That’s the real problem.”

        We already “boycott” Mormonism by not being Mormons and not giving money to the LDS Church.

        “6. I’m having a real problem with people picking individuals and following them around and boycotting their work and livelihood. I’d like to think I could write whatever novels, stories, and even essays as I wished, and if they didn’t like them people would not try to keep me from conducting my research and teaching in astronomy. Litmus tests over narrow issues will always find targets. People are complex, with a mix of good and bad, but a litmus test will find that they’re “good” or “evil” and that’s kind of shitty. I’m sure Card thinks he’s good and doing the right thing, and he has a loving family that he also loves. No one is all bad.”

        I hear this “hey, he’s not all bad” objection and what comes to mind is: would you say this if the author was vociferously racist?

        “7. I’m seeing more and more often, with less and less provocation, individuals and groups trying to start boycotts of people for the slightest things. Don’t get me wrong — Card’s bigotry is not so slight, and if anyone not a criminal is worth the effort he is ……”

        Then why bring up boycotts for slight offenses when this clearly doesn’t fall into that category?

        ….. In some spaces, the slightest disagreement immediately becomes a call for boycotts or firings. That’s just messed up. ….”

        And what are you even talking about? You don’t give a single example. I haven’t heard a lot of calls for boycotts for slight offenses.

        “8. Turn the other cheek. People are watching. This is really not about changing Card’s mind, but bullying him. The key to changing our culture that still permits tens of millions of people to hold Card’s views is not bullying, but exposure and engagement. Boycotts sometimes just invigorate enemies.”

        They’ve been pretty invigorated to begin with. The problem is the lack of vigor on the part of people like you who support gay rights in theory but want a “let’s play nice” approach to bigots. Sometimes the best way to get through to people is to stop being polite. Anti-gay religious people HATE being told that opposition to gay rights is bigotry. They don’t want to believe they’re bigots. But they are and it’s well past time to stop making excuses for them and just say it without apology.

  4. I’ll evaluate the movie on its own terms: I’ll love it or bash it based on whether it’s a well made film. And I agree, the movie is not the book, it’s the work of so many more artists than Orson Scott Card. My differences with Card’s religious views, and the stands he takes on them, go back well before this movie was announced. But I liked the novel Ender’s Game a lot – the story telling, the (then) imaginative take on a science fiction trope, the plot. (The sequels, not so much). I couldn’t disagree more with Card’s position and activism on gay marriage. I’m neither gay nor particularly religious, but I respect everyone’s right to live their private life as they see fit, as long as others aren’t directly harmed by it. I’ll counter Card’s activism on that playing field. But honestly, if I rejected the artistic brilliance of everyone whose personal views offend me, I’d lead a sadly impoverished life.

  5. It’s not so much his holding of a nationally unpopular, religious opinion; it’s more his history of activism. He wasn’t just writing essays or speaking out against it; he was a part of an organization that actively sought public influence in preventing the legalization of gay marriage. You can’t just marginalize this because you’re a fan of his work or appreciate his role in popularizing science fiction.

    It’s easy for me not to hate him because I’m not gay, and I’m not a liberal. But I can’t blame these people for wanting some form of justice — even revenge. And if he was “just following his religion,” he would have kept his activism within the Mormon church and communities, but like a typical zealot, he was not satisfied with merely policing his own people.

    1. The entire Mormon church went after gay marriage in California — with some success until the recent Supreme Court case. Churches get into politics all the time.

      I don’t think I want to support vengeance by mobs against individuals. That’s way too easily abused, and a bad path for a healthy society.

      1. I don’t think they’re mobs. They’re just upset people with a legitimate gripe. And it’s not up to us to make people forgive or want to care about Card’s career; it’s up to him, and he’s done nothing to fix it. Also, it’s not healthy for a society to compromise its values for entertainment, either.

        But saying something like churches get into politics all the time doesn’t make his leadership role in that organization any better sounding. And I’ve never found morally relativistic arguments compelling.

  6. Glad to see you included this: “Card is the wrong target. He’s just following his religion. Find ways of boycotting Mormonism, or religion more generally. That’s the real problem.”

    Not that I agree religion is wrong- but it’s a very valid point that he’d only be a hypocrit if he did contrary to what his religion dictated- like televangelists who patronize hookers. HUGE Hypocrits.

    Whatis most disturbing about all of this is the homosexual community has been championing “respect my decision (to be gay)” for years, and condemning folks for not respecting a differing opinion, but now they don’t want to respect the differing opinion of Christians. In other words, they’ve become the hypocrits, condemning folks for not agreeing with them- the same thing they condemned anti-homosexuals for for many years.

    I also greatly appreciate your reasoning in this- that a boycott doesn’t hurt Card. He’s already made his money- it’s going to hurt people, gay and non-gay, who depend on this movie for a living.

    Respect everyone’s opinion and beliefs folks- whether you agree with them or not. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer a countering opinion, it just means you don’t have the right to take away an inherent right all men and women are born with: to think that they want.

    1. “but it’s a very valid point that he’d only be a hypocrit if he did contrary to what his religion dictated- like televangelists who patronize hookers. HUGE Hypocrits. ”

      Being a member of a religion does not entail that you can’t disagree with some doctrines it currently holds. Emphasis on currently. Religions can change and sometimes do precisely because their membership demands it.

      “Whatis most disturbing about all of this is the homosexual community has been championing “respect my decision (to be gay)” for years, and condemning folks for not respecting a differing opinion, but now they don’t want to respect the differing opinion of Christians.”

      Being gay isn’t a decision or an opinion. And people are not obligated to respect anyone or their opinion. Recognizing the right of someone to hold a small-minded, bigoted opinion is all anyone who respects freedom of thought and expression is obligated to do. I does not require respecting the opinion or the one holding it.

      “In other words, they’ve become the hypocrits, condemning folks for not agreeing with them- the same thing they condemned anti-homosexuals for for many years. ”

      Condemning bigotry does not make one a bigot.

      “That doesn’t mean you can’t offer a countering opinion, it just means you don’t have the right to take away an inherent right all men and women are born with: to think that they want.”

      No one’s saying others can’t think what they want. They’re saying they think we should vote with our dollars by not giving money to blatantly bigoted entertainers. And they’re right.

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