Where Art and Ethics Meet

enders-game-movie-poster-191x300The other day I saw the new trailer for Ender’s Game, the upcoming big budget adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s beloved classic novel. My reaction to the short clip was mostly revulsion. I was angry that this movie was ever made. I was disappointed that so few have any idea about the author’s abhorrent views. I was sad that actors like Harrison Ford and Sir Ben Kingsley would join such a project.

You see, Orson Scott Card is a horrible bigot. He is a vicious homophobe, a man who has hatred in his heart. As Ben Kuchera said  in Penny Arcade when discussing the decision Card’s personal bigotry places on the consumer, this is who Orson Scott Card is:

In 2009 he joined the board for the National Organization for Marriage to work to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. It’s not that he believes certain things, it’s that he actively fights against equal rights and writes in detail about why being gay is terrible. In 1990 he argued for pro-sodomy laws in order to punish same-sex couples should they dare to not hide their relatioships [sic].

From his own words:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, 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.

This is the man the studio put $110 million behind. This is the man who will profit off your ticket purchase (assuming back end points, which given his producer credit seems likely). He can then use your money to spread his message of hate to more people, especially the young and impressionable youths who have devoured his novels in the past.

This gets to the point Alyssa Rosenberg discussed a while back about consuming art by horrible people. In it she points out that there is a difference between the art itself and the artist. Our relationship to any art is individual. So what do we do when our purchase of art directly profits someone (or some corporation) with such abhorrent views. Alyssa phrases it this way, “So what’s a customer who wants to consume ethically to do?”

This is a big question. This is the question that Sam addressed a while back in discussing his decision not to support Marvel’s superhero movies. It is a broader question in how we, as consumers, use our own power, and it is one that goes well beyond entertainment. Alyssa notes how such projects are actually works of thousands of people. By eschewing a product fully, we may hurt people who are simply trying to get by, the grip and the construction worker and the makeup artist, all of whom may have no idea abou the politics of the artist.  Yet, we must make our own personal ethical decisions, and Alyssa suggests four possible ways to do so.  Check out her excellent full discussion here, but this is a short summary of her thoughts,

We can (1) simply “stay home”, or we can (2) “employ political moral offsets”, or (3) “reaffirm your support of progressive media”, or (4) “commit to a discussion.” I like her argument because it places some choice back onto us as consumers. We do have different ways to engage in media, enjoy media and remain ethically true to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with refusing to support a product and sitting at home. If the art itself is not problematic, and your concern is the profit given to the bigot, you can take the same amount of money (or double it) and give it to the competing cause. You can proudly eschew those project for other, more progressive works. And always, you can (and I believe should) engage in a conversation. Communication is how we end bigotry and hatred.

It is also important to understand where profits go, and there is a big difference between classic literature by people who we know where racists and anti-semites and misogynists, and contemporary writers of today . My main problem with supporting Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is that he will directly profit from the project (similar to supporting a Roman Polanski project). It is common knowledge that H.P. Lovecraft held bigoted beliefs, he was a racist and anti-semite (and he is not alone, greats like T.S. Elliot and Charles Dickens have been accused of bigoted views). Yet, any current production of his work would in no way benefit the long dead writer. But, Orson Scott Card is still alive and directly benefits from each ticket stub. Does it matter that his novel shows very little of his bigoted views?* I don’t think so.

I am going to go with option (1) and (4). I simply refuse to give him any of my money and will stay home.  But I will also engage vigorously with anyone contemplating giving their hard earned dollars to a man so filled with hate.

* I find it fascinating that his books have so many scenes that have been viewed as homoerotic. It seems almost cliche, the classic thou “doth protest too much, methinks.”

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3 Responses to Where Art and Ethics Meet

  1. Sam Gafford says:

    Excellent article and one I agree with wholeheartedly. For myself, I am voting with my wallet in that I refuse to support projects like this that benefit people or corporations I disagree with. The point you make most excellently is that THIS particularly project personally benefits Card and his policies. He will take money he makes from this and funnel it into his anti-gay agenda. It’s a direct line and one which I don’t think many who are aware of this could condone. We need to separate the artist from the art, true, but we cannot forget what support of the art can sometimes mean. I don’t have to like an artist personally to like their art but I do have to be aware of how they use my support and, in Card’s case, it directly supports a hateful agenda.

  2. dreygeaux says:

    It’s a shame. Card is an excellent writer, who has a lot of work I am squarely in the middle of that I will now never finish, and Ender’s Game and the sequel Speaker for the Dead are truly magnificent books. (I read them before I became aware of Card’s views.) But I can’t watch the movie in good conscience either.
    I very much like the fact that the unintended consequences on other people’s careers are at least a consideration in the thought process, and one that does trouble me to an extent. I don’t concern myself with the grips and gaffers and SFX techs on the movie. Their work is usually unappreciated anyway. (Myself, I make it a point to watch the credits of movies I really like for just that reason.) But the director and actors making their opening career moves are likely only interested in the story, not the cause its profits will support. I hope the machinery in Hollywood will recognize their efforts and talents appropriately no mater how much money the movie makes.

  3. Ronnie says:

    I agree, it is a shame. One thing I heard suggested, is using your local library if you love a work and want to share it with a new reader. I don’t think there is anything wrong with enjoying the books themselves. We have to be able to separate the art from the artist. But we also have choice, and there is so much out there to spend our dollars on. So, if you want to finish the books or introduce them to a new reader, use the local library.

    But it is also pretty sad, because its a lot easier to separate the two in theory than practice. It ruins the the experience we all had reading these books, and we can’t rewind the clock. Oh, to be innocent again.

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