We Need To Talk About Orson

As a Southerner of a certain age, it’s inevitably true that many of my ancestors were racists. Even some of the relatives I knew growing up were racists. It doesn’t make me happy to recognize this, but it wouldn’t be any less true if I didn’t. They were mostly white Southern Baptists who lived most of their lives in the Jim Crow era; they simply weren’t equipped to evolve with the rest of society on the matter of race.

As a person who was born and raised in more enlightened times, I didn’t excuse this failing in my forebears. But it didn’t prevent me from loving them, either. After all, if they didn’t support the Civil Rights Act or integration, it’s also the case that none of my kin ever marched against integration or gave money to white supremacist groups, and they all were kind and polite to everyone they met, regardless of ethnicity. If racism can ever approach being benign, theirs did.

Orson Scott Card, the award-winning author of the acclaimed novel Ender’s Game, is a homophobe. That’s true of many men his age (61), and in his religion (Mormon). But while many people have a passive dislike for LGBT people, the same way I’m averse to American League baseball (I mean, American League “baseball”), Card goes much farther than this; he has penned impassioned editorials in opposition to marriage equality, has put anti-gay propaganda into his fiction, and most significantly, until recently was a board member of the National Organization for Marriage.

All of which would be interesting and sad, end of story, except that Ender’s Game has now been adapted into a big-budget studio movie, set for release this weekend (November 1) in the U.S.

The fallout began months ago. Everywhere movies are shown, LGBT nerds and their allies are deciding whether their desire to see this movie is great enough to permit them to (at least indirectly) lend comfort and support (and money) to a man whose beliefs are so abhorrent. There are multiple “Boycott Ender’s Game” groups on Facebook and a ”Skip Ender’s Game” website. I have a friend who told me she will “screen-hop;” that is, she’ll pay to see a different movie, then go to the auditorium showing Ender’s Game instead. Another friend said he’ll skip the movie’s theatrical run and pick up a bootleg of the DVD when he can find one. Obviously these two schemes raise different moral questions, and I’m not equipped to examine right now. It’s enough to know some people are troubled enough by the thought of enriching Card to go to such lengths to avoid it.

A Superman comic book from DC Comics that was to be penned by Card has now been canceled after comics fans complained and the assigned artist quit the project rather than work with Card. I have no doubt DC hired Card in the first place because he was a well-known author whose association would increase buzz for the Superman movie, Man of Steel, and never gave a moment’s thought to his homophobia. I also have no doubt DC will be more careful next time.

Certainly boycotts have their place in the world. It’s only been a few months since the LGBT community collectively performed an Amish (or Klingon) shunning ritual against the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain in light of revelations that its owner, Dan Cathey, holds homophobic views and has donated big money to Exodus International (now defunct) and other anti-gay organizations.

A boycott by a small percentage of the chain’s potential customer base is unlikely to affect its bottom line, but that’s not the point. Knowing that some of Chick-Fil-A’s revenues go into Cathey’s pocket, then back out of his pocket and into Exodus International (still defunct) and other homophobic institutions’ coffers, boycotters can say with a clear conscience that they haven’t indirectly contributed to those institutions. Bringing down Chick-Fil-A isn’t the purpose or the point.

I’ve known people who declare “I don’t let politics influence my purchasing decisions,” as if that puts them on a higher moral plane; as if the deliberate non-consideration of such factors is a principle unto itself. I find this really hard to justify—“Yes, of course I oppose Nazis, but this is such a handsome lampshade!”—and most people who say this don’t even try. We make moral choices every time we spend our money, and ignorance is no excuse.

At the same time, some ignorance is inevitable. Ours is a complex, endlessly interconnected world, and no matter how much of our time is devoted to study, we can’t acquire all the information we’d need to make fully-informed buying decisions. Yes, I know Wal-Mart destroys American small towns and benefits from child labor in China, and that Nestlé gets Third World babies hooked on infant formula their mothers can’t afford, and that Georgia Power pumps noxious gases into the atmosphere from its coal plants…but who makes the toothpaste I use? I usually get whatever’s cheapest. I haven’t (yet) taken the time to find out of Crest and Colgate are good corporate citizens. I guess I need to get on that.

Wait, didn’t I read that Nestlé stopped doing those infant formula shenanigans? And Georgia Power is a monopoly; as long as I live in Georgia, that’s where I have to get my electricity. And Wal-Mart…well, no, I haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart (or subsidiary Sam’s Club) in years, and that’s not going to change until quite a few of its policies become radically different. That’s a line I’ve successfully drawn in the sand.

Unless we live in a shack in the woods like the Unabomber we’re going to have to make a few compromises, and many (most) of those compromises will be unwitting ones (I bet even the Unabomber wasn’t all that careful about where he bought his hoodies and sunglasses). But we do what we can, when we can, and if someone like Card indulges an in-your-face enthusiasm for his retro belief system, it’s entirely right and proper, necessary even, to make a proportional, opposite response. Ender’s Game isn’t getting any of my money.