8 Reasons To Not Boycott Ender’s Game

By “Colonel Mak”

There’s a campaign to boycott Ender’s Game, the movie based the novel by Orson Scott Card, set to premiere on November 1, 2013. The boycott aims to punish Card, who opposes gay rights and same-sex marriage. He has written editorials and blogs condemning homosexuality and is on the board of directors of the National Organizational for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. These views have not endeared him to the persons with more liberal views on gay issues. Like many science fiction fans and writers, I love his stories but not his views on LGBT society.

The novel Ender’s Game itself is not controversial. Many science fiction fans count it as one of their favourite books, and it won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The movie, like the novel, has no themes relatedto gay issues. The story is about child prodigies training to fight an alien invasion.

Whether you want to see Ender’s Game or not is your choice. Members of the general public will decide on their own, and most will not end friendships or disown their relatives over Ender’s Game.

But as anyone who has ever gone to a sci-fi convention notices, hard-core science fiction fans are different from the general public. The typical die-hard sci-fi nerd considers himself (or herself) as THE authority on EVERY issue, minor differences of opinion on trivial matters become blood feuds, name-calling is rampant, flame wars erupt, and people blacklist and ostracize each other from clubs, online groups, and conventions over political issues. Moderation is hardly a personality trait of many science fiction fans.

As November 1 approaches, it’s inevitable that you will meet someone who wants to see Ender’s Game. If you support the boycott, you might plan any of the following actions that I’ve seen in science fiction fandom’s numerous culture wars: call your new enemy a “right-wing, fascist, homophobic fundie”; start a flame war; demand that a science fiction convention ban the person based on your interpretation of its anti-harassment policy; and write to his/her publisher to demand that it never publish another book by that awful author.

Before you start a secular crusade or LGBT-friendly jihad against people who want to see Ender’s Game, consider the following reasons why some people oppose the boycott.

1. They’re Not All Right-Wing, Homophobic, Fascist Fundies

It’s tempting to stereotype people who disagree with you. Stereotyping people makes it easier to oppose them because they can be demonized as members of a vile, backwards culture. There’s also a bonus of feeling morally and intellectually superior to them; if they don’t agree with you, they must be immoral and stupid. Science fiction has conditioned us to stereotype the Other. Our genre is full of alien and human races whose members all look alike, think alike, and act alike, usually badly.

Inevitably, someone will demonize the Ender’s Game audience as homophobic Christian fundamentalists and Chick-fil-A regulars. After all, doesn’t all anti-gay activity come from religion and pressure-cooked chicken?

But not everyone who opposes the boycott is a right-wing, fascist, homophobic Christian fundamentalist (“fundie”). Opponents of the boycott include science writer Cory Doctorow (http://boingboing.net/2013/07/09/why-im-not-boycotting-ender.html), religion writer Jana Riess (http://janariess.religionnews.com/2013/07/23/why-the-enders-game-boycott-is-stupid/), and Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning writer of Milk, the movie about gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jul/15/milk-writer-enders-game-boycott-misguided). Their reasons for opposing the boycott vary, as do their personal backgrounds and beliefs. What they do have in common is what they are not; they are hardly the religious extremists whom you like to hate.

Alas, the typical hard-core sci-fi nerd demands one hundred percent agreement on one hundred percent of all issues from his friends. Friendships have ended over issues as trivial as how an airtight Klingon starship can sink in San Francisco Bay at the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I’ve always thought this attitude to be immature as well as hypocritical. Is total agreement really a basis for a liberal society?

(Note: Jana Riess is a religion writer who, like Card, is a Mormon. Some people will brand her as a homophobic religious fundamentalist on those grounds. That’s odious stereotyping again. Riess has blogged that she thinks that Card’s views are reprehensible. She is also the author of What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide. She’s cooler than you or me. Deal with it.)

2. Orson Scott Card Isn’t the Only Other Person Here

Card wrote the novel Ender’s Game by himself, but the movie is a collaboration of hundreds of cast and crew. Perhaps some may share Card’s views of gays and marriage, but many probably don’t, especially given that they work in the movie industry. Yes, by boycotting the movie, you are denying your money to Card (assuming he still gets money beyond the sale of the movie rights). However, you’re also denying your money to the cast and crew, whose continued employment depends on their studios making successful movies. Some, perhaps most, of these people will have fewer financial resources than bestselling author Card. It’s your choice whether to watch Ender’s Game or not, as it is with any movie, but if your decision is driven by financial punishment, think who your collateral damage will be.

Also consider that the movie industry is one of the most LGBT-friendly industries in America, and Hollywood is one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world. True, their industry is always at the mercy of the whims of the public, but if your decision is driven by punishment, are these the people you really want to punish?

3. We Fail to Fight Other Forms of Prejudice

The liberals in the science fiction community are very vocal to condemn Card’s anti-gay views. But before you pat yourself on the back, realize that we, as a community, have utterly failed to fight other forms of prejudice in our genre. For example, how many boycotts have targeted the major comic book publishers for their sexism and racism?

Much has been written about the blatant sexism in comics. Yet nobody has boycotted or blacklisted comics writers who think a woman’s role in life is to be raped, maimed, depowered, or killed and stuffed in a refrigerator (Google “woman in refrigerator” a term coined by writer Gail Simone, if you don’t know what I mean). The abuse and murder of the woman spurns a superhero boyfriend to fight the villain, who is usually another male. In other words, women exist only as plot devices for conflicts between men.

What did the comics community do? Not much. Some women have criticized the “woman in refrigerator” syndrome, but many more fans and professionals (mostly white males) have ignored it. Even worse, some have accused Gail and the syndrome’s critics of pushing a “radical feminist agenda.”

Racism is pervasive in the comics industry too. Heroes of colour are few and racial stereotypes abound — the Mandarin still lives in Marvel Comics and is closer to his Fu Manchu inspiration than his movie counterpart is.

Consider what Ian Sattler, DC Senior Story Editor, said at HeroesCon in 2010 when asked if non-white characters were being removed to make way for white heroes:

“It’s so hard for me to be on the other side because it’s not our intention. There is a reason behind it all. We don’t see it that way and strive very hard to have a diverse DCU [DC Universe]. I mean, we have green, pink, and blue characters. We have the Great Ten out there and I have counter statistics, but I won’t get into that. It’s not how we perceived it. We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters.”

This was one of the most racially-insensitive comments uttered by a comics industry professional in public. However, only fans and writers of colour objected to Sattler’s views. The vast majority of comics fans and professionals simply ignored or defended Sattler, saying that his critics were “politically correct.” “Politically correct” is the new pejorative used to invalidate the views of minorities, women, LGBT, etc.

What’s galling about comics fans who ignore or defend sexism and racism is that many of them would self-identify as liberals; they voted for Obama, they want the theory of evolution taught in schools, they’re pro-choice for abortion, they support same-sex marriage, etc. But they won’t support those who oppose sexism and racism in comics.i

You can get an easy rush of moral superiority and self-satisfaction when you condemn a person who saw Ender’s Game. It feels better than binge-eating chocolate. But think of what you’ve done to fight sexism and racism in comics. Think of the boycotts you’ve organized against Marvel or DC. You’re no better or worse than anyone else who refuses to take a stand on these issues.

4. Great Art Is Often Created By People We Don’t Like

If we’re going to boycott Ender’s Game because of Orson Scott Card, should we not also boycott the films of Roman Polanski? Polanski was convicted of statutory rape in the United States and fled to Europe, where he still makes movies that are shown all over the world, including in the United States. Yet there has been no campaign to boycott Frantic, The Pianist, Rosemary’s Baby or The Fearless Vampire Hunters.

How about singer Chris Brown, who has been convicted of beating his girlfriend Rhianna? Like Roman Polanski, Chris Brown has been convicted of a crime –- unlike Orson Scott Card.

The French film Les Enfants du Paradis is one of the best films ever made, hailed as a classic practically from the moment it was released in 1945. Yet its star, Arletty, had a wartime romance with a German Luftwaffe officer. Arletty literally slept with the enemy, a liaison that earned her some prison time after the war — yet she helped create French cinema’s greatest masterpiece.

Much great art has come from artists who committed acts or held opinions that many find repulsive. Artists are not the perfect beings we imagine them to be. Their art may inspire you, but the artists are just as human and flawed as you. As Alexandra Petri says in her Washington Post editorial, “If you are only willing to support artists who agree with you, you wind up stuck with a lot of mediocre art.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/07/10/why-skipping-enders-game-because-of-orson-scott-card-is-a-bad-idea/)

5. A Boycott Will Not Change Orson Scott Card’s Mind

If you want Orson Scott Card to see the error of his ways and change his mind, realize that he’s firm in his opinions. If he can’t be turned, your efforts will achieve nothing. Even if there’s a possibility that he can change his mind, that chance might be slim; why spend a massive effort to convert just one person?

If you want to tell Card that you dislike him, go ahead. Send him hate mail and boycott the movie. But in the end, you’ve still changed nothing.

You’re better off promoting your views to multiple people aside from Card, and you’re better off using positive, not negative, energy. Try these ways:

6. Support LGBT-Friendly Artists: It Helps Them More Than a Boycott of Ender’s Game Does

Instead of bragging about your opposition to something, why not show positive support for something? Regardless of whether you choose to see Ender’s Game or not, you can always buy books or watch movies that have LGBT-friendly themes or whose artists accept the LGBT. They will benefit more from your support than from a boycott of Ender’s Game. They will use your funds to create more works of their own. If you’ve paid for an Ender’s Game ticket, supporting these other artists will offset whatever money Card gets. If you won’t watch Ender’s Game, your money still goes to support these artists.

However, if you truly want to support works and artists whom you like, please do not download or buy a pirated version of Ender’s Game. You think you’re cheating Card, but you’re only encouraging piracy, which hurts all artists, not just Card.

7. Use Ender’s Game to Support LGBT Causes

Lionsgate, the company that made Ender’s Game, plans to hold the movie premiere as a benefit for the LGBT community. Cynics see this as a self-serving attempt at damage control, but is the LGBT community better off without it? Lionsgate may be on to something here (as well as annoying Card).

How about a cosplay event, where people dress as Ender’s Game characters, to raise awareness of LGBT issues? Maybe there should be a prize for the best crossplay for a guy dressed as Valentine or Petra (not that every male who dresses as a woman is gay –- many are not –- but our society views crossdressing as a subversive act in gender roles, and the LGBT community usually accepts crossplayersii.

8. Use the Novel Ender’s Game to Promote Gay Self-Respect and Affirmation

In their online comments, some boycott supporters say they have not read the novel and refuse to do so because it must be full of anti-gay hate. However, here’s a surprise: the novel Ender’s Game reads like a story of gay self-respect and affirmation. I won’t get into plot details because they would be spoilers, but Ender’s Game is about a boy rejected by society because he is a Third child in a family during a time of strict population controls. Bullies constantly attack Ender Wiggins because he is a Third. He finds acceptance only after fighting for it at Battle School, whose students are almost all male (Petra is the only girl cadet mentioned by name). They also spend a lot of time naked in the barracks; I suspect Card was trying to evoke ancient Sparta with his nude military cadets, but even so…

Aside from his sister Valentine, Ender’s only close emotional relationships are with other boys, including Alai, who kisses him on the cheek.

People on the margins of society can relate to Ender’s struggle. Hence, the novel Ender’s Game can be a great tool for inspiring people to find acceptance and respect.

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No matter what you choose to do, keep the discussion civilized. Science fiction fans have the superpower of getting into heated arguments over anything. Neither side will gain anything by yelling across the hotel lobby or fighting flame wars on the SFWA forums. It’s true that feuding is a tradition of science fiction fandom. But it’s a tradition that should end, like refusing to bathe for the four days of Comic-Con.

Whether or not to see Ender’s Game is your choice. Read the arguments for and against the boycott and make up your own mind. Don’t let others force you to conform to them. Making a personal choice is not the same as choosing whether or not to boycott the movie. Knowing the difference is a sign of maturity.

Don’t declare nuclear war on those who disagree with you. Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game are not simple questions of right and wrong. The Ender’s Game issue has more shades of grey than another bestselling novel, but that’s another issue entirely.

i I have a theory on why white liberal male science fiction and comics fans will defend the LGBT but not women and minorities, but that’s a topic for another column.
ii Most of the time. There are some members of the LGBT community who oppose crossplay and “drag”, but they are a minority within a minority. The LGBT community, like straight society, is far from homogenous.