November 1, 2013

(AP)

So, “Ender’s Game.”

This is the film’s opening weekend, and you have a variety of options.

-See it.
-Don’t see it, on principle, because of Orson Scott Card’s vile views.
-Don’t see it, but not on principle.

Really, that’s two options, but it’s all in how you go about it.

It’s a tremendous book, and I have been looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. Less so, now that the reviews are coming in, but hope springs eternal.

I’ve expressed before why I think the Boycott is a bad idea, although I respect your right to disagree, and I bet the alternative parties will be a lot of fun. Briefly, I think it’s always better to judge the art by the art rather than the political views or personal life of the artist, however respectively hateful and loathsome those may be. If you reward or punish creations for reasons other than your actual opinion of their merits, insist on buying sandwiches prepared only by those who agree with you on hot-button issues, you may wind up with mediocre art and nasty sandwiches. The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his poetry, as Oscar Wilde put it. The end result of judging things for themselves — the sandwich for the sandwich, the movie for the movie– is that you wind up with better sandwiches and movies, and if you believe in the transformative power of sandwiches and films, this makes for a better world in general. Sometimes people’s works are wiser, more human, better than they are. We shouldn’t punish those works for their sources. There’s no shame in saying, “You are completely wrong about everything and I will oppose you until the day I die, with every breath that is in me, but, hey, kudos on this thing you made. It’s beautiful.” That is how many people manage to get along with their in-laws.*

Everyone’s mileage on this varies. The question of money muddles it. If your favorite author told you that he was going to put all money earned by his book toward buying puppies, then strangling them, you might well say, “You know what, I think I’ll wait for this to be in the public domain.” But does paying someone who supports causes you don’t translate into supporting those causes yourself? Surely that’s not the way we want to start looking at things. I just think that when you get to where the test of something is not “Do I like it?” but “Is the person behind it someone I agree with/someone I consider to be a good human/someone I would gladly hear opine on moral issues outside the work,” you wind up with art you dislike from people you do. Maybe it’s naive to say you can ever fully sever the creator from the creation. These days, if you like someone’s book, people seem to think it appropriate to go find out what planes the author is about to board and what meals he likes and insist on skyping with him and forming a little cult of personality around him. This is, in its way, equally odd. The authors of works you love are almost invariably disappointing. They pick their teeth, they hate whole groups of people, they philander; later, biographers reveal they liked to go to brothels and make unusual requests involving rats. The lady who on the page is witty, compassionate, wise beyond her years, is rude to waiters. Does it lessen her book? If it does, few books will pass muster.

Don’t go because the reviews seemed disappointing. Don’t go because you don’t like that sort of thing. Don’t go because you are waiting to see Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet. Don’t go because you have something better to do that evening. But because you think the author’s views are hateful?

I guess that wasn’t “briefly,” but there it is again.

If you aren’t hindered by ethics restrictions, want to see it in theaters, but find the argument to boycott more compelling, you could always “offset” your ticket with a donation to the cause. Or you could just wait for it to hit cable and see “Gravity” again.

*IN-LAWS JOKE! HIGH FIVE! NOW I CAN GET INTO THE VAUDEVILLE CIRCUIT!

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.