Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Torn between a creator and his work

I wrote a cranky entry a while back about Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, or rather, about my dissatisfaction with its sequels. At the time I had only heard a bit about Card's opposition to same-sex marriage. I wasn't so wrapped up in Ender's Game that I was prepared to look further into his sentiments: I had many better things to do with my time.

With the hoopla surrounding the upcoming film version of the novel, Card's views are again in the news (some of the news, anyway). One news piece linked to an opinion piece he wrote in 2008 in the Deseret News. The antipathy to Card's views that various articles cited was so fierce, I decided to look into what he had to say for himself.

Card's views are deeply traditional, unsurprising since he's Mormon. However, his vehemence took me by surprise. He regards same-sex marriage, and homosexuality generally, not merely as aberrant and morally beyond the pale, but as a threat to civilization.

He opens by denouncing the 2008 court decisions that legalized same-sex marriage in California and Massachusetts.

These judges are making new law without any democratic process; in fact, their decisions are striking down laws enacted by majority vote.

The pretext is that state constitutions require it — but it is absurd to claim that these constitutions require marriage to be defined in ways that were unthinkable through all of human history until the past 15 years. And it is offensive to expect us to believe this obvious fiction.

Card is disingenuous. He resorts to a convenient (and in his mind presumably unassailable) rhetorical shelter, the sanctity of the vote. But the sanctity of the vote has been used many times throughout this nation's history to justify discriminating against people. Card's Ender-derived novels bandy history about a good deal, so there is every reason to believe he knows just how dishonest it is to regard the ballot box as the determinant of legality or even morality. To quote someone he presumably respects, "It is offensive to expect us to believe this obvious fiction."

There is more bitterness:

... the courts upheld obviously unconstitutional limitations on free speech and public assembly: It is now illegal even to kneel and pray in front of a clinic that performs abortions.

Do not suppose for a moment that the "gay marriage" diktats will not be supported by methods just as undemocratic, unconstitutional and intolerant.

Oh, when the law prohibits activities he supports, that's when Card the constitutionalist emerges? I'm disappointed. Card is intelligent and well-read, so he must know how intellectually bankrupt his ranting is. The world view he reveals in the quoted passages would elevate religious believers' prejudices and dogmas to the status of diktat, to borrow his term.

Or perhaps his religious upbringing prevents him from casting a critical eye on his beliefs. That, on reflection, is probably the problem.

He does make a couple of good points.

... we are fools if we think "gay marriage" is the first or even the worst threat to marriage.

We heterosexuals have put marriage in such a state that it's a wonder homosexuals would even aspire to call their unions by that name.

That much is true. And speaking of marriage:
The laws concerning marriage did not create marriage, they merely attempted to solve problems in such areas as inheritance, property, paternity, divorce, adoption and so on.
I've said before that "marriage" should not be the term we use to designate a legal bond between two consenting adults (that isn't a business partnership).

That is about all the good I can find in Card's piece. I mean, what can I say about a man who thinks this about our culture?

In an era when birth control and abortion make childbearing completely optional, the number of out-of-wedlock births shows the contempt that many women have for marriage.

Yet most of these single mothers still demand that the man they chose not to marry before having sex with him provide financial support for them and their children — while denying the man any of the rights and protections of marriage.

Men routinely discard wives and children to follow the nearly universal male biological desire for diversity in mating. Adultery is now openly expected of men, even if faithful wives deplore it.

Adultery is expected? Monogamy, then, is dereliction of duty? And those single mothers demanding support from those beleaguered, put-upon men who were just looking to make honest women of them ... um, what is Card smoking? Has he fallen into some nightmarish concept for a novel he wants to write? Because he's not on the same planet we are.

He concludes thusly:

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.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.

Insurrection? Really? Well, I suppose if you're gonna threaten consequences, you might as well go all in.

Challenged in the past for his extreme views, he has stood firmly behind them. Now, though, he appears to be concerned that they might adversely affect how Ender's Game, for which he is a producer, is received in the theaters. He issued a statement to Entertainment Weekly that apparently was intended to tamp down a nascent boycott by science-fiction fans who repudiate his stand on same-sex marriage. The statement doesn't explicitly ask for fans not to boycott: it merely declares the issue "moot" given the Supreme Court's recent decisions on DOMA and California's Proposition 8.

A disavowal or apology, the statement isn't. Rather, the whole thing is a passive-aggressive dig at same-sex marriage and its supporters. My guess is that Card was asked by the film's other producers to say something, but they couldn't dictate what. My guess also is that his statement will do squat to diminish the boycott: it's a laughably half-hearted attempt to change the subject that won't fool anyone, including his fellow producers.

I already had decided not to see the movie because I didn't think the book could ever be faithfully translated to film. It seems I was right, because according to the FAQ for the movie at IMDb, the script was adapted from not just Ender's Game but also the novel Ender's Shadow, which describes events contemporaneous with Ender's Game. As I wrote in my earlier entry, I'm not a fan of the other "Enderverse" novels so that's not a bonus for me. Anyway, I've yet to see a filmed version of a favorite science-fiction or fantasy novel that lives up to the images in my head, so I've decided not to watch any of them.

Absent that decision, would I have forsworn the movie solely on the basis of Card's statements? Probably. I would have reproached myself for giving him ten more dollars to spread his retrograde notions.

If that opinion piece had been the first I'd heard of Card, would I have shunned all of his writing? Almost certainly. And that would have been a pity because Ender's Game is a compelling story. I'm glad I read it before I knew anything about its author's tremendous antagonism toward gays (and, I strongly suspect, much else that I value in modern life).

Card is another in a long line of artists whose non-artistic words or deeds have affected how audiences perceive their works. I don't have a hard-and-fast rule about whether to shun those works because their creators are disagreeable (or worse). I only know that if my impression of an artist's character is diminished, so is my appreciation for his work. The next time I crack open Ender's Game, the memory of Card's strident denunciation of gays will cast a shadow on every page.

[UPDATE: In the 4th-to-last paragraph,clarified that I didn't think "the book", rather than (a meaningless) "it", could be translated to film.]

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