Orson Scott Card’s failures of tolerance are well-documented. He’s used his platform to say some very ugly things, especially on the subject of gay marriage. He’s spewed grossly about gender — “That many individuals suffer from sex-role dysfunctions does not change the fact that only heterosexual mating can result in families where a father and a mother collaborate in rearing children that share a genetic contribution from both parents.” He’s threatened rebellion.
And people are now suggesting a boycott of the film adaptation of his novel, “Ender’s Game,” because of this visible intolerance.
Yes, Card’s views are ugly. But don’t punish “Ender’s Game” for them.
If you skip “Ender’s Game,” skip it because you don’t want to see it. Skip it because you don’t like science fiction. Skip it because you’d prefer to remember Harrison Ford as he was. Don’t punish the work for its creator.
The reason Orson Scott Card got this platform in the first place wasn’t because people thought, “Oh, what an eloquent exponent he is of intolerance!” It was because he wrote a darn good book. The things he’s done with words since have been unpleasant. But that doesn’t make the book worse. If, tomorrow, he saw the light and announced his support for marriage equality, it wouldn’t make the book better.
Or would it?
The question of when you are obligated to skip a piece of art because its creator or his views disgust you is not a new one. People come up with systems all the time — charitable donation offsets, if you like Chick Fil A but would prefer it without the side of guilt, “conneries,” as a unit of shamefulness, measuring the excellence of a piece of art against the ugliness of its origin. Some choices are easy — listening to Chris Brown was never pleasant to begin with, even before what he did to Rihanna.
Card has started to whine about the “intolerance” that other people are demonstrating towards him — as though not going to see his movie were a hardship on the lines of denying him the right to marry the person he loved. He’s been duly mocked for this.
Still, I hope we judge the work by the work. It is possible to create something that is more beautiful than you are. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but he penned the Declaration of Independence, the very words that made slavery ring hollow. It often happens that people create stories that are wiser than they are.
Comb through the ranks of great artists and creators and it’s easy to find things to object to in their personal lives and beliefs. Henry Ford was anti-Semitic. So was Richard Wagner. They do things that make you sick. They believe things that are fundamentally wrong. But they are capable of creating things that take your breath away.
Oscar Wilde, no stranger to intolerance, wrote in a review that “The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose. The domestic virtues are not the true basis of art, though they may serve as an excellent advertisement for second-rate artists.”
If you are only willing to support artists who agree with you, you wind up stuck with a lot of mediocre art. That people hold views you share does not mean they will write better books than people who go home and do horrible things to their house pets. If only there were some correlation. It would be so much easier. But given the choice, I’d rather have despicable artists and great art than creators with sedate, tolerant lives who made things that were dull and ugly. If you believe art changes things, of course that’s what you want. The more good art you have, the better for humanity. It expands and deepens your understanding. It forces you into another perspective. There is a moral element in it — even if it’s not overt. As Wilde wrote, “They will not say ‘We will not war against France because her prose is perfect,’ but because the prose of France is perfect, they will not hate the land…. It will give us the peace that springs from understanding.” Start penalizing beautiful things for coming from an ugly place, and you wind up with a less lovely world.
“Ender’s Game” may not be Great Art with Capital Letters, but it certainly falls into the category of Works Lovelier Than Their Creators. The book itself has problems — object to it because of its stunted 7th grade morality, or because it creates a “guiltless genocide,” or any of those reasons. But because of its creator? “I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves,” Ender says.
True words, whoever utters them.