Is it worth fighting intolerance with more of the same?
by Forrest Sayrs (Guest Contributor)
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.
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 Game. Or 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