The Hypocrisy of Tolerance: Does Boycotting Ender’s Game Really Fight Orson Scott Card’s Bigotry?

Is it worth fighting intolerance with more of the same?  

by Forrest Sayrs  (Guest Contributor)

skip enders game
from SkipEndersGame.com

The geekier news sites have been abuzz this week with moral outrage and boycotts.  But unusually, it isn’t conservative America doing the boycotting.  Geeks are banding together to boycott the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic, Ender’s Game.  See, Card is vocally opposed to gay marriage.  He’s a card-carrying (har har) member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is a frequent contributor to a variety of conservative publications, including the Rhinoceros Times, and Sunstone.  In articles for these publications, he has advocated bans on gay marriage and called for the destruction of governments that threaten his definition of marriage or the role it plays in society.  He is on the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the key groups opposing gay rights on a national level and a major player in the events of Proposition 8.

In light of all this, it makes sense that organizations, like Geeks Out, would call for boycotts of the Ender’s Game movie.  But I can’t help but wonder at the ethics of attempting to silence (or punish) an individual for his personal beliefs.  This isn’t the first time Card has come under fire for his stance on homosexuality.  Earlier this year he was essentially fired by DC Comics, who had tapped him to guest write a few issues of the Adventures of Superman book, when his assigned artist, Chris Sprouse, left the project.  Card’s issues were put on ‘indefinite hold’ and were ultimately replaced with new stories written by Jeff Parker.

Now, I can’t really object to DC’s final decision on this matter.  If Card, or even just the idea of Card, was driving away artists, there really wasn’t any other choice but to fire him.  But the underlying motivations of activist groups and comic book fans in this case are a little suspect.

Steven Lloyd Wilson, a writer and contributor to the website Pajiba.com, wrote an article supporting DC’s decision to drop Card from the Adventures of Superman.  He argued that the Card didn’t have the moral authority to write for a character that so embodied the concepts of ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way,’ because he stands in such opposition to those tenants through his rejection of and hostility towards democracy.  The problem with this argument is that it undermines our democratic values as much as it supports them.

Democracy is the politics of opposition.  The purpose of any democratic system, be it representative, pure or theoretical, is the give a voice to the people.  Like it or not, everyone has the right to voice their opinions and that includes organizations and individuals who oppose the rights of the LGBTQ community.  I write this as an openly gay man who has a vested interest in gaining those very rights.  Regardless of that personal desire, I have an ethical obligation to hear dissenting arguments and opinions.  I don’t have to agree with them, I don’t have to vote for them, and I don’t have to like them, but I do have to hear them.  Then I can either oppose them with arguments and opinions of my own, or ignore them and refuse to recognize them as valid.  I do not have a right to silence them or to threaten their proponents.

Orson Scott Card lecturing at Southern Virginia University

Mr. Card recently responded to the threats of a boycott with the following blurb:

 With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now 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.

This statement, while hypocritically calling for something that Card himself isn’t willing to offer, maps out a proper ‘progressive’ response.  As advocates of tolerance, we have a responsibility to be tolerant of the beliefs of those who disagree with us.  Anything less would be the same hypocrisy that Card is guilty of.

Are we so eager to quash dissenting opinion that we would seek to quash creativity right along with it?  The logical extension of this path of reasoning leads to a bizarre progressive version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where the books of writers like Orson Scott Card and H.P. Lovecraft who espoused conservative or intolerant ideals would be censored, not for their content, but for the beliefs of their authors.

At the same time, a boycott is a time-honored protest action that enables a group to make its voice heard.  I cannot honestly say that boycotting Ender’s Game in an attempt to voice distaste for Mr. Card’s beliefs isn’t an ethical action.  But it also isn’t right to judge a work of art solely on the beliefs of its creator.  People have been enjoying the story of Ender for years.  I read the book when I was 12 or 13 without knowing anything about Card’s beliefs or caring. Does that make me an unknowing accomplice to intolerance?  I also enjoy the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  Am I therefore a racist?

These questions are an example of a psychological concept known as the fundamental attribution error.  Fundamental attribution error or correspondence bias is one of the key factors in the formation of stereotypes and plays a large role in discriminatory behavior.  It occurs when individuals incorrectly assume that actions taken by others are more indicative of personal beliefs or inbound traits than they are of environmental or situational factors.  Boycotting a movie because of an author’s beliefs is an example of applying the fundamental attribution error turned inward: a belief that viewing a piece of art is a tacit approval of the beliefs of the creator.  This logic is false because the experience of art is determined by the viewing individual, not community opinion or the creator.

Art, literary, visual or otherwise, is necessarily removed from its creator by our individual experience of it and by time.  Just as we overlook H.P. Lovecraft’s vitriolic distaste for mixed-race couples because his works are good and worthy of artistic appreciation, we should be able to ignore Card’s beliefs because Ender’s Game is a good and worthy story that ultimately contains one of the most touching examples of empathy that exists in the genre of science fiction.  If Card had inserted his beliefs into his novels, we might be having a different conversation, but he didn’t.  He wrote a story that became a classic, and that doesn’t happen unless it resonates with us.

So go see Ender’s GameOr don’t.  But make that choice because of the movie’s casting, or because Gavin Hood was responsible for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or one of a hundred other reasons.  At the very least, remember that a movie isn’t made by a single person, but by a collaboration of writers, designers, directors and producers.  Any one of those people could be a saint or a sinner, and it wouldn’t affect you, or the world, one iota.

Forrest Sayrs is a high school speech & debate coach with an unhealthy love of contrarian arguments.  When not being trounced by his students, he spends his free time reading and reviewing books.  You can see more of his writing at deconcrit.wordpress.com

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17 thoughts on “The Hypocrisy of Tolerance: Does Boycotting Ender’s Game Really Fight Orson Scott Card’s Bigotry?”

  1. I don’t understand why, on one hand, you seem perfectly supportive of people making their own decisions about whether or not to see this film, yet you seem to rob people of the choice to use Mr. Scott Card’s very extreme quote bank (see: http://www.glaad.org/cap/orson-scott-card) as reason to stay away.

    Mr. Scott Card is the visionary behind the film. Every word on that screen is rooted in his brain (even as interpreted by directors, screenwriters, and actors). Because of this movie, he will make a handy profit in book sales alone, and, if it’s a massive hit, could make astounding profit off of its future success. If LGBT people, our supporters, and our families look to his same visions about homosexuality being a dysfunction, about gay people needing to repent, and about pro-gay societies deserving to be met with public rage (again, see here: http://www.glaad.org/cap/orson-scott-card) and determine that we do not wish to help raise his profile any further, then that is fair in every way. That is an act of expression against Mr. Card’s own public expression against LGBT rights and LGBT people.

    Jeremy Hooper
    Good As You
    http://www.GoodAsYou.org

  2. I would argue that I’m not robbing anyone of anything. I’m asking people to evaluate the film as a piece of art, rather than as some sort of Machiavellian scheme to generate profit for Mr. Card. Art can and must exist independently of its creator, or we have no choice but to engage in what amounts to censorship.

    Furthermore, there is no anti-LGBTQ message inherent in the story of Ender’s Game. If content is what you’re concerned about, as your second paragraph seems to indicate, you should probably read the material you’re criticizing before jumping to conclusions. The judgement of a piece of art must be on its own merits, rather than an indictment of the era or individual that produced it.

    Artists of all stripes have gotten used to the fact that they tend to be on the liberal side of politics and I think that, more than anything else, is driving these irrational desires to stifle a piece of creative work that contains no objectionable material. We feel betrayed by the notion that a creative person, a brilliant writer and deft storyteller, might be someone we cannot admire. And we take those feelings of betrayal and attach them to his works, regardless of the quality, message or nature of those works.

    Finally, I did concede that a boycott is an ethical action to take. And there’s nothing I could or would do to stop anyone from taking that action. My points exist primarily within the sphere of artistic criticism and a belief that to censor art, even in self-censorship, because you do not agree with the artist, is the essence of intolerance. To quote Executive Producer Roberto Orci, “The movie should be judged on its message, not the personal beliefs of the original author, who had minimal involvement in the film.”

  3. I must respectfully disagree. Boycotting does NOT equate to censoring. The right of private individuals to boycott is in no way comparable to government censoring al a “Fahrenheit 451.” Boycotts are NOT a form of censorship, but rather an important part of the democratic discordance, freedom of expression, and an important part of U.S. history (see the colonists response to the Tea Act).

    Also, I’m so tired of the “don’t be intolerant of my intolerance” argument. I AM intolerant of intolerance. Would you support a book written by a grand wizard of the KKK if it looked like good art? I sure wouldn’t. Just because “everyone has the right to voice their opinions” doesn’t mean it’s undemocratic for me to not pay them to do so.

  4. You’re right. Choosing, as an individual, to boycott art that is somehow objectionable to you is not censorship. It’s Crimestop and a thousand times worse. But that’s not the point either. As soon as you institutionalize that boycott, as the group advocating for people not to see ‘Ender’s Game’ are, you are collectively engaging in the self-censorship of the group.

    The insidious part of of ‘Fahrenheit 451″ was that the majority of the population was doing the heavy lifting themselves. Montag’s wife is as much a censor as she someone who has been censored. By engaging in behaviors that act to limit your consumption of artistic material, whether or not that material is objectionable to you, you are participating in a form of censorship. It is entirely possible to be both responsible for, and the victim of censorship at the same time. In fact, it’s impossible to not be victimized by self-imposed censorship.

    The Tea Party and other reactions to the Tea Act aren’t good comparisons because tea isn’t art. You can’t censor tea, nor can tea be seen to be impacting public discourse. The reasons for the Tea Party were economic, not artistic, in spite of what your art history teachers might want you to believe. Tea is not, in and of itself, expressive, and thus, a boycott of tea does not infringe on the First Amendment. And of course a boycott of a movie doesn’t either. As I said in the comment above, the perspective that I am arguing from is artistic. I’m not contesting the legality or the ethics of a boycott, just the artistic morality.

    Moving on to your second point, you do realize that by being ‘intolerant of intolerance’ you should, by definition, be intolerant of yourself? This is the nature of the hypocrisy of tolerance, and I don’t blame you for feeling this way. It’s a solipsistic quirk of our psychology that we view most other individuals, and in particular those we don’t personally know, as completely irrational, stupid or simply not relevant. Even this text reply will do little to change your mind because, in a very real sense, you do not acknowledge me as a person. I do not agree with you, so I am not of your ‘tribe’ and am fundamentally not worth listening to. And we are two people who are probably reasonable and open to discourse, as evidenced by our willingness to take part in a public forum that we were most likely drawn to by mutual interest.

    Imagine how hard it would be to acknowledge someone who actually disagreed with you.

    And yes, I would read a book by a member of the KKK if it were in good artistic taste. And may I recommend to you ‘American Dreams’ by Studs Terkel, in which C.P. Ellis, a Cyclops of the KKK, relates the story of his unlikely friendship with Ann Atwater, a poor black mother, and how he became one of the most outspoken advocates for school desegregation in the 1970s.

    There is always value in believing that people are more than just their affiliations. THAT is what tolerance should be about.

  5. “But it also isn’t right to judge a work of art solely on the beliefs of its creator”

    BULLSHIT.

    ‘ll judge a work of art for whatever fucking reason I want to. And that fact that this particular work of art is based off a novel by a radical bigot who has spent years publicly saying and writing vile things about an entire class of people is reason enough for me to avoid spending one penny on anything that he’s even remotely involved in. And, frankly I’m sick and tired of that lame “well, now YOU’RE being intolerant” nonsense. I’m not even going to waste time arguing that shit. You wanna give bigots your money, go right ahead. But I’m not.

  6. I just /love/ it when the proletariat come out to play. Only in America can the Left reach around far enough to start sounding like the religious Right.

    Let’s break this down a little. From the very beginning, I have couched my argument in the terms of artistic morality, not ethics, or the law or monetary compensation. But since everyone is so hung up on the money, lets talk about money.

    1. Card has already been payed. He was payed in 2003 when he optioned the film to Warner Brothers. He was payed again in 2009 when he wrote the screenplay for OddLot Entertainment. And he was payed AGAIN in 2011 when Summit greenlit the project. Honestly, if people wanted to ‘boycott’ an Ender’s Game movie, the time for that would have been at any of those periods, not after Card has put the money in his pocket.

    2. Film royalty contracts typically don’t entitle the original author to a share of the gross. Because writers are payed up-front when the screenplay is optioned and greenlit, most studios don’t allow them a share of the proceeds until the film has broken even. Most films don’t break even in box office, and even if they do, the studio only makes 55% of the box office gross, meaning that in order for a film to break even it needs to double its production budget and marketing budget in the box office. With a budget of $110 million, Ender’s Game would need to see a U.S. box office gross of over $220 million before Card would see an additional cent.

    Too put this in perspective, Box Office Mojo has the average gross of Gavin Hood’s films at a little over $64 million, or about a quarter of what would be needed to start paying royalties. And that number includes X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was Hood’s highest grossing movie, at just over $170 million, still $50 short of that magic royalty mark.

    3. Because the average ticket prices is hovering between $8 and $9, a much more effective boycott would target DVD/BluRay sales. At $20 for DVDs and $30+ for BluRay/Cloud combo packs, studios tend to generate much more profit from home video sales than they do from the box office. This is partly because 50% of box office returns go to the theaters, but also because box office receipts, as first-in income, must go to paying off the cost of the film and marketing, leaving home video sales as pure profit.

    So even if I were to concede that a boycott is the best course of action for moral and ethical people to take, which I have not, boycotting the film in theaters is literally the worst possible and least effective version of a boycott you could participate in, at least in terms of limiting profits. And whether or not I decide to see the movie in theaters, I can rest easy knowing that my money will go to the giant corporations operating the theaters and the big name Hollywood studios, and not to the economic blip who wrote the damn thing.

    Seriously folks, if you don’t do your research, you’re gonna look like the guys on Fox News.

    I leave you with the words of noted statesman, Adlai Stevenson: “Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought… Shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.”

  7. Blah, blah, blah, more double-talk from a bigot, not even worth a response.

    Hey GEEK OUTSIDER, please be more discerning about your choice of guest-bloggers in the future. This is definitely not what I come to read this blog for.

  8. Boycotting is NOT censorship. It is voting with your dollar. Don’t like something? Fine. Don’t buy it. Will a boycott hurt Card’s bank account? Probably not, but it does show people aren’t willing to spend money on art created by someone who regards them as less than human. This is America. Nobody is required to see a film that offends them.

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