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.”

Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

H. P. Lovecraft

Today is H. P. Lovecraft’s 122nd birthday.  Born in Providence, Rhode Island, HPL would go on to completely change the field of weird fiction.  His influence is virtually everywhere today from music to films to comics to literature to games to toys and much, much more.

My good friend Annie Riordan has a great article about all the stuff we wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for HPL.  Go read it here because she says it all a lot better than I could.

Lots of people will be posting about HPL’s life and works today so I’ll let them handle that.  What I want to talk about is what HPL meant to me.

When I was in high school in 1978, I wasn’t having a particularly good time.  I was bullied a lot and didn’t really have a lot of friends.  I spent most of my time alone either reading or drawing or watching TV.  One day, I was in the school library (where I spent virtually all of my time when I wasn’t in class), idly flipping through the card catalog, looking for something to read.  I’d always had an interest in horror (both movies and literature) as well as true crime which meant that I would have been at home with the Addams Family.  Anyway, this was back in the day when we didn’t have computer catalogs that can search the entire library in seconds.  If you wanted something, you had to look it up in the card catalog or just meander through the stacks until something caught your attention.

I was flipping through cards when I came upon this entry:

“Lovecraft, H.P. (1890-1937)

THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK AND OTHER STORIES”

This sounded interesting so I wrote down the name, title and call number and went into the stacks.  I’d never heard that name before and, in my ignorance, felt sure that it must be some kind of pen-name.  Surely that couldn’t be his real name.

This is the book that I found:

This is not the actual copy I read but one I bought years later because it was my first HPL book.

“Well, this is weird,” I thought so I took the book home.  I read it through three times before finally, reluctantly returning it to the school library.  The first story in the book was “The Outsider”.  When I reached that terminal climax, “… a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass”, I just held the book down in amazement.  Even though HPL would consider this to be one of his lesser stories, it had an amazing impact on me.  The story, narrated by someone who is forgotten and apart from not just humanity but life itself showed me that this was an author who understood me, who knew what it was like to be an “outsider”.

The Phillips Family Plot at Swan Point Cemetary in Providence, RI.

The next story in the book was “The Rats in the Walls” and I was instantly hooked.  I’d never know anyone who had written like Lovecraft and, until that point, I never knew that anyone could.  The next stories went by in a fevered dream; “Pickman’s Model”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Whisperer in Darkness”, “The Colour Out of Space”, “The Haunter of the Dark”, “The Thing on the Doorstep”, and “The Music of Erich Zann” were devoured eagerly.

I could no longer be stopped.

I made it my mission to find out more about this “H. P. Lovecraft” and read everything he had written.  Back in those days, it was a lot harder.  There was no Amazon so I had to haunt used book stores and check the Books In Print references for titles.  Eventually, I discovered Arkham House and when that first box arrived with copies of DAGON AND OTHER MACABRE TALES, THE DUNWICH HORROR AND OTHERS, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM, I was happier than I’d probably ever been in my adolescence.

To say that those books had an impact on me would be to vastly understate the event.  Finally, I had found an author who wrote the way that I felt and his view of man’s insignificance to the cosmos aligned with my own.  Eventually, I discovered that there was a magazine devoted exclusively to Lovecraft called, fittingly, LOVECRAFT STUDIES, published by Necronomicon Press in Rhode Island (I was living Connecticut at the time) and I ordered copies of those.  Shortly after, I began corresponding with the editor of the magazine, S. T. Joshi, who eventually invited me to visit him in Providence and meet others of similar ilk.

Close up of the family marker.

That was my first exposure to others who also enjoyed the writings of Lovecraft.  During that first visit, I met not only S.T., but Marc Michaud (publisher of Necronomicon Press), Jason Eckhardt (artist for Necronomicon Press), Bob Price (writer/editor/publisher of CRYPT OF CTHULHU) and Don & Mollie Burleson (Lovecraft scholars and writers).  As odd as it may seem, I was finally accepted.  I was a member of a group who shared my interests and didn’t think I was weird or ‘odd’.  Through Lovecraft and these friends I gained the confidence I never had before.  It gave me the confidence to become a writer myself.

None of which would have happened if I hadn’t found that slip in the card catalog back in 1978.  For all the great stories, I thank you, H.P.L., but I thank you mostly for helping me realize that I wasn’t alone in the universe and for all the friends and great people I’ve met through the years simply by saying, “Have you read H. P. Lovecraft?”

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