Two years ago, the release of a movie adaptation of “Ender’s Game” posed a unique challenge for progressive nerds. The novel that was the source material for the movie is a classic of science fiction, and the prospect of seeing its innovative battle sequences on screen was tremendously exciting. But in the years since “Ender’s Game” was originally published, author Orson Scott Card had become famous for something else: his vociferous opposition to gay rights. The idea of giving him money –whether through ticket sales that he might possibly get a small portion of, or by boosting the profile of a movie in a way that might increase book sales — that he might use to fight marriage equality was distasteful to a lot of my readers. (I was then writing at the progressive news site ThinkProgress.)
What was a science fiction devotee to do? I wrote a series of recommendations, but the one that really seemed to resonate with readers was a proposal for a kind of financial offset, like the carbon offsets some people buy when they take airplane flights: “As a ballpark,” I wrote. “I’d suggest twice the price of your ticket purchase to Freedom to Marry, an exceedingly canny organization that does all sorts of wonderful marriage equality work.” Carbon offsets have dubious efficacy. But given that in pop culture, people like Card don’t get the full price of your movie ticket or book purchase, making an offsetting charitable or advocacy donation may send more money to counterbalance a wrong than the money you pay for culture would go to support it.
The release of “Go Set a Watchman,” a book that may or may not be an earlier draft of Harper Lee’s young adult classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” seems like a perfect opportunity for such offsets if you’re eager to read the book and unwilling to wait for a library copy.
The circumstances that brought “Go Set a Watchman” to publication have raised almost as many questions as the prospect of a new book about Atticus and Scout Finch, who became icons both through Lee’s original novel and the 1962 film adaptation. Tonja B. Carter, Lee’s attorney, claimed to have found the “Go Set a Watchman” manuscript recently, even though its existence was hardly a surprise, and has given statements that some literary experts find suspect. The news that “Go Set a Watchman” was to be published prompted the Alabama Department of Human Resources to investigate whether Lee, who is 89 and has suffered a stroke and has limited sight and hearing, was a victim of elder abuse. (The agency concluded that she was not.)
But no matter the investigation, unease persists, and some readers, like Gini Martinez, told me they feel uncomfortable buying “Go Set a Watchman,” or doing so without some sort of offset. So I asked for recommendations for elder-oriented organizations that would be good targets for reader donations.
A number of readers wrote in to flag Caring Across Generations, which has a range of advocacy efforts centered on caregiving, including access to home care and the relationships between caregivers and their clients. Gerontologist Sherry Lind pointed me to the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy‘s listing of legal assistance hotlines for senior citizens — supporting their mission might be a perfect offset if you’re particularly concerned about the possibility that lawyers might mistreat their elderly clients. You can donate to CERA’s parent organization, Elder Law of Michigan. And my friend Harold Pollack, who studies the relationship between poverty and public health policies, directed me toward the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, based out of Georgia Southwestern State University, for anyone who might be particularly interested in donating to an organization based in Harper Lee’s region.
As for the amount of the offset, that’s up to you; “Go Set a Watchman” is selling for $13.99 on Kindles, and Amazon has set the hardcover price at $16.07, the large-print version at $16.79 and an audio download at $24.95.
“Go Set a Watchman” is a flawed book, but one I found worthwhile reading. It won’t be the last piece of culture produced under difficult or dubious circumstances. And it’s a reminder that we have options other than boycotts when our politics and ethics rub up against our love of culture.