Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Playing the Card Card

The Onion's AV Club reported yesterday that author and vocal antigay bigot Orson Scott Card has issued a protest against calls to boycott the upcoming film of his novel Ender's Game.
Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.
You know something?  It sounds to me like Card is genuinely worried that the boycott will be effective.  That's remarkable, since he has previously been sure that gay-marriage was just a plot by a few "genetic mix-ups" and "dictator-judges" to redefine marriage, presumably to force everybody to gay-marry, or at least to nullify all man-woman marriages and recognize only gay ones.  To save real marriage he declared: "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."  And now, just because of a couple of dictatorial Supreme Court decisions, he's ready to give up, pack up his tools and baggage and stuff, and declare the issue "moot," just don't pick on him, okay?

There are several funny bits here, like his claim that gay issues didn't exist in 1984.  Maybe he's been reading Michael Kinsley, who wants us to believe that he and Andrew Sullivan invented gay marriage in 1989.  Maybe Card thinks that same-sex marriage is the only issue -- and it's true, it wasn't on many people's radar in 1984 -- though his earlier antigay tirades were about keeping and selectively enforcing sodomy laws to maintain heterosexual supremacy.  In 1990 he wrote for a Mormon magazine:
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.
When this material was publicized, Card said that it was internal to the Latter Day Saints and no business of the Gentiles; I heard rumors he'd threatened legal action against anyone who quoted these words.  But his defense was obviously dishonest: he was talking about what American society as a whole should do, not just Mormons.  Since then Card has made it abundantly clear that he's utterly without intellectual or moral integrity, and his protest against the boycott is no exception.

At the time Card wrote Ender's Game, gay issues were very much in the air, as state after state abandoned its sodomy laws (though not without controversy, and sometimes those laws were later reinstated), as the Christian Right tried to drive gay people back into the closet with legal initiatives, as all US religious groups debated the status of their gay and lesbian members, and the AIDS epidemic was constantly in the news. It's possible that Card himself was so isolated from the world that he was unaware of all this, but I don't believe it.

Nor do I believe that he really thinks same-sex marriage is now "moot."  The Supreme Court's decision on DOMA only affected the federal government's treatment of same-sex couples who are legally married in one jurisdiction or another, and didn't affect the many states that already have banned same-sex marriage by statute or constitutional amendment.  The decision on Proposition 8 reinstated same-sex marriage in California by default, by tossing out the appeal on a technicality.  For the foreseeable future, the status of same-sex couples will have to be decided state-by-state, and I don't believe that the National Organization for Marriage (Card is a board member) or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (very much involved in the campaign for Proposition 8) are going to sit those battles out.  Card may have surrendered, because his bigotry has begun to cost him money, but his fellow bigots have not.

The AV Club properly mocked Card's moral relativism, his claim that antigay bigotry is as valid as any other lifestyle choice and deserves respect, so he shouldn't suffer prejudice and discrimination for it.  (Remember Pope Rat's complaint about the "dictatorship of relativism" that denies him the power to impose his religion on others?)  Weirdly, some commenters on the post actually agreed with Card, like this one:
See, this is the troubling aspect for what I believe are my liberal views...
Further, I believe that this kind of "intolerance for intolerance" just makes bigots dig in deeper and I think there are examples of people changing their minds and regretting their past views. Shouldn't that be encouraged?

This doesn't come from religious views (I'm an atheist) but I think there's something noble about saying, "I'm not going to let your hatred turn me into someone who hates." I would also like to think that I can accept people's views, even if they're abhorrent to me, because people should be entitled to their beliefs. And let's not be naïve and pretend that a fiscal boycott isn't an attempt to arm-twist someone into changing their minds.
Like so many people, this person misunderstands what "liberalism" is supposed to be about.  As Paul Feyerabend put it so well, it doesn't entail acceptance of anyone's views:
Nor does one become illiberal when denying truth to a Puritan. Liberalism, as Gellner ought to know, is a doctrine about institutions and not about individual beliefs. It does not regulate individual beliefs, it says that nothing may be excluded from the debate. A liberal is not a mealymouthed wishy-washy nobody who understands nothing and forgives everything, he is a man or a woman with occasionally quite strong and dogmatic beliefs among them the belief that ideas must not be removed by institutional means. Thus, being a liberal, I do not have to admit that Puritans have a chance of finding truth. All I am required to do is to let them have their say and not to stop them by institutional means. But of course I may write pamphlets against them and ridicule them for their strange opinions.
The "intolerance of intolerance" trope, like "prejudiced against prejudice," seems to mistake "tolerance" for a global, indiscriminate kind of acceptance of everything.  It isn't, though this misunderstanding has something to do with why the principle of toleration has often been criticized.  (Much like "discrimination," which in US political discourse is shorthand for "unjust discrimination," but many people forget that.  Bigots therefore try to defend discrimination by pointing out that We All Discriminate; it's an invalid argument, because civil rights laws and movements for social justice only target specific forms of discrimination, not discrimination itself.)  There's nothing inconsistent about refusing to tolerate bigotry, though it's important to think about and discuss how intolerant we should be, or what consequences bigots should suffer.

The AV Club commenter admits that Card went beyond mere expression of his views into activism against gay people.  It seems to me, therefore, that Card isn't being targeted for his opinions -- though it's perfectly legitimate to pick on him for his opinions -- but for his actions and his use of his money to try to advance bigotry.  There's nothing unjust or inconsistent in principle about people calling for a boycott of his work, including this movie.  Boycotts are a valid tactic, though typically people who use them tend to deny their legitimacy when someone boycotts them.

A boycott of the movie of Ender's Game is, I admit, a complex matter, though I don't think it's illegitimate.  Personally I've decided not to buy new copies of Card's books; the only ones I own are the first four Ender books, which I bought second-hand.  But a movie, even more than a book published by a major publisher, is more than the work of one author.  It isn't only Card who will be affected by the boycott, and it's irrational tunnel vision to talk about the movie as if it was simply "his" work.  Still, there's nothing wrong with sending a message to Card's cinematic collaborators that working with him is not going to be financially successful.  And that's assuming that the boycott is successful, which will have to be seen.

I'm easier in my own mind about boycotting work for its content, not for the publicly avowed views and activities of its authors.  The strange thing about the book of Ender's Game, as many other people have pointed out, is that it doesn't seem to be antigay or homophobic -- on the contrary, it's startlingly homoerotic, in that Ender feels powerfully drawn to the beauty of other boys his own age.  I don't know what was going on in Card's mind when he wrote it, but I am pretty sure that most twelve-year-old boys don't yearn for other twelve-year-old boys in that way.  (Or do they?  It would have made a big difference to me if I'd known that when I was twelve.)  I'm also aware that authors may have an agenda when they set out to write something that their subconscious minds won't let them carry out, even ambivalently.  But I read all the whole original Ender tetralogy without encountering anything that offended my militant queer sensibility -- which is more than I can say for many ostensibly liberal straight-boy productions, which tend to contain a lot of homophobia, from fag jokes to performative fuck you's and anxiety about having to bend over for unacceptable political views.

So I don't know if I myself will boycott Ender's Game when it's released in November.  It depends partly on the reviews; I don't expect the film to be much good, like most highly-anticipated adaptations, so it would be disingenuous to claim that I didn't see it because of Card's politics when I just didn't feel like spending money on one more mediocre movie.  (It's like Paula Deen: I didn't watch her before the fuss erupted.)  The same will be true if it flops at the box office: if so, will it be because the boycott was successful, or just because audiences don't care?  But I still support the boycott in principle, and hope that it inspires better discussion of the issues it raises than I've seen so far.  And it's fun to watch an arch-bigot squirm in public as Card is doing now.