Dear Orson

Note: Below you’ll find racist and homophobic language. These words were not originally used by me, and I never use such filth, but I happen to agree with Louis CK in the notion that the censored version of a word is as bad as the word itself. I take responsibility for the words below: if their presence offends you, I apologize. Please know that I do not use them lightly. These words are necessary for clarity, and so I feel they should be spelled out in full.

“Of course they can’’t let niggers use the beach at a Southern resort—can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, & I wish they’’d apply it in N.Y. both to niggers & to the more Asiatic type of puffy, rat-faced Jew. Either stow ‘em out of sight or kill ‘’em off—anything so that a white man may walk along the streets without shuddering nausea.” —H. P. Lovecraft, February 1925

“I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” —Stephen King

“The dark secret of homosexual society—the one that dares not speak its name—is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.” —Orson Scott Card, February 2004

When I was 12, I discovered the world of Ender’s Game. It was summer, and I was explicitly ignoring my assigned summer reading in favor of the things I wanted to read: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Heinlein and Asimov, and a new book from the library called Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender, the child prodigy main character, felt everything I felt as a kid. I was in accelerated academic programs, I was freakishly smart, I was… well, I was spending my entire summer vacation reading books. I felt the loneliness of intelligence, the impatience of youth, and Ender understood me.

In one scene in the book, Ender is forced to part ways with the first real friend he’s ever had. Alai, a talented young man of North African decent, embraces Ender, kisses him, and whispers, “Salaam, Ender.” Arabic for peace. The two are friends, but their fates are pulling them apart, and they both wish that they were someone different, in a different time, so they could stay close. Ender cried, and I did too.

There’s a long tradition in history and literature of evaluating people in slices without forgetting the whole. Authors and great historical figures have to be seen as people with flaws, but admired for the work they did and the impact they made. Thomas Jefferson was a patriot and a slave rapist. H. P. Lovecraft was a pioneer in the horror fiction genre and a breathtaking racist. Ben Franklin was an inventor and a womanizer. In literature, this is known as the death of the author: when a creator creates, their work is good or bad or transcendent based on the work and only the work.

Orson Scott Card is a despicable homophobe. He’s a bigot who is responsible for my favorite-ever books, and he uses the money he’s earned from entertaining the world to donate to horrible groups like the National Organization for Marriage. He wants laws against non-procreative sex to be enforced, and he’s worked (and failed) to make sure that gays never see the legal protections of marriage in America.

As I’ve become aware of this, I’ve become more and more conflicted about my love for Ender. Do I continue to recommend his books to friends exploring science fiction for the first time? Should I join in discussions of the book; should I write an essay about the treatment of memorials in Speaker for the Dead (as I did in high school)? The art is separate, and I love the art. Plus, it’s easy to go too far about this. Should I boycott books by religious authors, since I’m an atheist? Should I avoid movies created by outspoken Republicans if I am a liberal? You can’t police people’s thoughts, and great art is rare enough without more restrictions. I’m finding an author that I like, not auditioning for a new best friend.

But Card is still out there, and when I buy his books he earns royalties. My money is his money is NOMs money is spent to hurt people I care about. That’s more than red state/blue state disagreement. It’s unconscionable to me.

Ender’s Game, that transformative book of my youth, is now being made into a movie. It looks like everything I’ve always wanted my Ender’s Game movie to be.

I won’t go and see it.

When we separate the art from the artist, we are applying an artificial barrier that doesn’t exist in the wild. Contractual forces tie Card and Ender together, and what is good for one is good for the other. Card is co-producing the film, so he will almost definitely see a cut of the profits. Even if the movie never pays him a dime (if, say, his producer credit is purely ceremonial), his profile will be permanently raised by a successful blockbuster based on his series.

Card is in his sixties now, and odds are good that he will die long before me. I don’t wish him dead, you understand, it’s just a reality of mortality that he’ll probably go before I will. Maybe then, when his money can no longer hurt people I love, maybe then I’ll be able to buy a new copy of Ender’s Game to replace my dog-eared old paperback. Maybe then I’ll be able to see my old friend Ender again without feeling Card’s bigot eyes watching over us both.

Until then: thanks, but no. I’ll pass. Salaam, Orson. I wish that you were someone different.


2 thoughts on “Dear Orson

  1. Love this. I feel the same way when I find out something despicable about a beloved author or actor or what-have-you. Here’s what I say you do: Wait until Ender’s Game comes to RedBox, use a code to rent the movie for free, watch to your heart’s desire. Well, for one day. 😉

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