Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Of Geeks and Gays: The Orson Scott Card Mess

Gay rights issues have finally permeated geek culture. I say "finally" because for the most part, geeks are a tolerant lot. Sexuality has never been a hot button issue for us. Comic books and fantasy literature have been early adopters in the gay equality movement. Every step geek culture takes toward equal representation of gay and lesbian characters is a reason for celebration. I'm not saying that gay rights aren't an issue for geek culture. It's just that geeks haven't experienced a whole lot of opposition among other geeks to the movement's progress.

Enter Orson Scott Card.

 Here are the facts so far:
1. Orson Scott Card, famous sci-fi author of Ender's Game, was hired by DC to write some Superman comics.
2. Orson Scott Card is adamantly and offensively anti-gay marriage and gayness in general. Keep in mind there is a difference between adamant and offensive - OSC just happens to be both.
2a. He's been this way for a long time.
2b. We cannot judge all of Mormonism for OSC's views just as we cannot judge all of Christianity for the Westboro Baptist Church, so let's not even go there in the comments.
3. Geeks, both gay and straight, made it clear to DC that because of his hateful views, OSC writing Superman was unacceptable.
4. As of yesterday, Chris Sprouse, the proposed artist for OSC's Superman, quit the project.
5. As of two hours ago, DC has canned OSC's Superman story.

Apparently, the immediate issue has been resolved. However, the underlying issue has been and always will be a problem: Is it possible to separate an artist form his or her offensive personal/political beliefs? If it is possible, should we?

Normally, I do try to separate talent from personal politics. But I have only ever had to do so objectively in the past. As an LGBT ally, it's easy for me to say things like, "I will never eat at Chik-Fil-A!" This is because I have never had access to Chik-Fil-A until recently so didn't care about missing what I'd never tasted. It's a lot harder to read hate speech from someone whose writing you admire.
I like my steaks barely bruised.
Here's another fact: OSC was once an amazing writer. I say "once" because in considering whether or not we as fans should separate talent from offensive political beliefs, we have to question whether or not an artist can do the same. OSC used to be able to. This is no longer the case. My husband and I took a road trip to New York in late December. We took this opportunity to listen to Ender in Exile (2008), the story of Ender Wiggin that takes place between Ender's Game (1985) and Speaker for the Dead (1986). As you can see, there's quite a bit of time between Ender in Exile and the original two books in the series. In the two decades plus between books, OSC has become far more vocal (almost rabidly so) in his hatred of homosexuality, and his opinions spill into his writing. Ender in Exile is not only a meandering mess and poorly written from a literary perspective. It seems to serve no other purpose than to act as OSC's own personal, thinly veiled soapbox on the purposes of marriage, sex, and the proper place of women. For a not so thinly veiled account of OSC's anti-gay views, check out his novella, Hamlet's Father.

Personally, I will always love the original Ender quartet (Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind). I read them multiple times before I ever had any idea of who OSC was as a person. I still reference OSC's guide to good science fiction and fantasy writing (1990). He used to be a master of his craft and I feel like maybe he should go back and read his own advice. But I also consider my experience with Ender in Exile my last attempt to appreciate OSC post knowledge of his views.

I am geeked out for this movie and can't figure out if I should be mad at myself for feeling that way.
The whole mess saddens me. Jason Cranfordteague at Wired articulates it much better than I am able to. As a fan, it's hard to watch an icon topple from their pedestal. As an adamant supporter of gay rights and marriage equality, it's no longer possible to ignore OSC's increasingly vitriolic views. Did DC do the right thing by shelving this Superman project? I don't know. On the one hand, DC has it's own image to protect. On the other, does any company have the right to make creative or professional decisions based on belief systems as opposed to merit?

I think that Challengers Comics and Conversation in Chicago had the right idea. Carry the comic, sell the comic, and donate all profit to the Human Rights Campaign. But what do we do as individuals? As fans? As geeks? As gays? As allies? I'm opening this conversation up to you. I don't have any concrete answers.


  1. I feel a little bad that my response is so black and white after all the thought you put into this, but of course they made the right call. The only thing wrong was how long it took them. Blatant anti-gay rhetoric like OSC spouts is no different than any other kind of racism and hate speech. Would DC have hired a writer who was an open member of the KKK or a similar organization? Of course not. Hiring OSC in the first place was no different. There's a difference between allowing people to express different views and giving a platform to an intolerant bigot.

    1. I agree with you, Nick. My personal dilemma comes from the fact that I knew him as an awesome author before I knew him as a bigoted jerk.

    2. Yeah, it sucks finding out someone you liked/admired is a douche. My favorite baseball player when I was a kid was George Brett. Found out a few years ago that he's friends with Rush Limbaugh. Childhood memories shattered.

  2. I don't believe we can/should judge an artist's work on his or her political beliefs (lest we never again read Prufrock) but Card's political beliefs creep into his work. and nobody wants a gay-bashing Superman, of course. And maybe Card needs to hear that others find his opinions hateful. I imagine he doesn't seem them as such. His homophobia is pretty obvious is his over-the-top treatment of the main gay character in his early novel, Songmaster. For the crime of loving another man, he is castrated and lobotomized. And Card, apparently, took flak from the *conservative* side because he portrayed their relationship as loving (but destructive) and, in the course of the story it does seem beautiful and natural, even as it is forbidden. So, as far as he knew at that point, he wasn't being homophobic enough. It's good for people to speak truth to power on this subject.