Friday, August 9, 2013

Ender's Olympic Games

When I was an early teenager, I read many marvelous books. Life was complicated in that privileged way upper middle glass over-educated way. My social skills and self-confidence were poor. I talked too much. I talked too much about the wrong things. I was teased and sometimes bullied in school. All of this is to say that like many nerdy kids, I took solace in games and reading. Ender's Game has no particular place in my personal iconography of books, it's not like Lord of the Rings or Narnia, which I read and re-read so many times before I was 10. But Ender's Game was a good book, one I liked and re-read, and part of the many worlds into which I escaped. It wasn't a /nice/ world, but it was one in which nerdy kids got to fight in zero-G and then defeat the aliens. I could identify. In fact, I read everything that Orson Scott Card wrote, buying some and borrowing others from friends and libraries. I loved his story-telling.

Ender's Game is now a "major motion picture," starring Harrison Ford, coming out in November. I will not be going to see it.

For those who don't know - and I certainly didn't know until about five years ago - Orson Scott Card is a bigot with a history of making incendiary statements against homosexuals. He's also put his money where his mouth is, contributing to anti-marriage-equality groups. Here are some well-circulated examples his statements.

Card writing in 1990: “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.”
So that's not good, right?  Keep sodomy illegal so that every so often someone can be publicly pilloried, in order to keep everyone in line. It gets more specific. In 2008, he wrote a piece for the Mormon Times, quoted at length here, in which he called for rebellion in the event of the legalization of gay marriage.

Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.
 And
If America becomes a place where our children are taken from us by law and forced to attend schools where they are taught that cohabitation is as good as marriage, that motherhood doesn’t require a husband or father, and that homosexuality is as valid a choice as heterosexuality for their future lives, then why in the world should married people continue to accept the authority of such a government?

What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
So that's pretty incendiary. 

But, suggest many well-intentioned liberal gay-marriage-supporting friends, we can separate art from the views of the artist. Lots of artists have had offensive views - that doesn't mean they don't make good art, and to enjoy the art doesn't make one complicit in their view. I think that's absolutely true. I don't want to narrow myself to a world in which I can only enjoy the creations of people with whom I politically agree, and I won't. But Card's insertion of his voice into a contemporary political debate is more that just disagreement, it's active, he's taking a principled stand in an attempt to make the world less just.

And we know the consequences of Card's positions when given power, because right now we are seeing them unfold in Russia. It's not just the new law that bans any discussion of homosexuality as anything but an abomination, though that's bad enough. The law seems to have enabled wide-spread violence against homosexuals. Here's a selection of further stories about violence, rape, and the state's cheerful complicity. Behind these acts of violence, one finds the same epistemology as Card's - homosexuality is unnatural and should be criminalized. In fact, other American anti-equality groups have explicitly endorsed Russia's position, calling for us to learn from them (while claiming the violence is over-rated).

Stephen Fry wrote a beautiful letter linking the Berlin Olympics to the Sochi Olympics, noting (and here's the "How Did We Get Into This Mess" moment) a similarity between Nazi discourse about the Jews and Russian discourse about homosexuals. It's where my decision to skip Card's movie really crystallized. Because if I believe that Card and the anti-homosexual movement in Russia share an epistemology, then how can I do otherwise?

There are bigger fish to fry than Ender's Game. I don't make it to a lot of movies as it is. I expect Ender's Game to make tons of money, especially as conservatives rally to go see it (the Chik Fil-A effect), and I'm sure it will have a great Russian release.

But to those who think Card is just a crank with objectionable views, but one who is harmless. I think Russia, in all its hyperbolic violence, suggests otherwise.



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