Malice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part One

“But mostly he got to power on words, the right words at the right time.”
Ender’s Game

With the upcoming release of the Ender’s Game film, adapted from Orson Scott Card’s novel (which is rightly considered a sci-fi classic), a flurry of controversy is building up around the release, especially since Geeks OUT called for a boycott of the film due to Orson Scott’s Card vocal views on homosexuality and gay marriage (some of Card’s views on the subjects can be found a little more rationally in his early work here, and a lot less rationally in his later work here). This is not the first time this issue has come back to haunt Card recently, as DC Comics had to temporarily shelve a Superman story Card had written for them due to some backlash the company had received about Card’s views (even to the point of the artist leaving the project). And, frankly, I can totally understand why the gay community wants to color Card as a boogeyman when he issues incendiary, inflaming, alienating statements like this:

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die (Deseret News, July 24, 2008).

Now, whoa there, pardner! This style of “vive la revolution” diatribe is seriously extreme, no matter one’s belief system or worldview. And it’s also pretty impractical. This sort of rhetoric did much more to paint Card as a fanatic, than it did to rally the troops around Captain Moroni’s flag (I don’t actually think Card’s crazy, he’s actually really brilliant, but this particular article certainly made him LOOK crazy).

Card can hardly play the victim, nor be particularly surprised that the gay community has organized so thoroughly against him, when he says that he would prefer to see the government destroyed than let gay marriage stand in America. Statements like that are like holding a lightning rod in a thunderstorm. Card put too many of his RISK armies on one part of the board, and the opposition took advantage of his tactical error.

“I will remember this, when I am defeated. To keep dignity, to give honor where it is due, so that defeat is not a disgrace. And I hope I don’t have to do it often.”
Ender’s Game

“Since when do you have to tell the enemy he has won?”
Ender’s Game

Yet such brash words were obviously spoken in the heat of the moment since Card has now given up the fight, stepping down from his position on National Organization for Marriage, and has called the gay marriage debate “moot” (technically not correct, since there are still 37 states who still outlaw gay marriage, but I do think Card is prescient to see the writing on the wall). No revolution, no overthrowing the government, no going down with the ship… Card has presented the “enemy” with his sword and conceded defeat with this statement, “With the recent supreme court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The full faith and credit clause of the constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.”

And yet this is not enough to placate the boycotters and activists. “He hasn’t apologized!” many have cried. “He’s still a bigot and not one cent of mine will go to support him!” others have proclaimed. And, honestly, there’s some real feeling and rationale behind their sentiments. As some one who is a believing Mormon writer like Card (well, minus his phenomenal success and possibly a great deal of his talent), but also as someone who has much more gay friendly beliefs than he does, I find myself conflicted regarding him and his work. Card’s work was hugely influential on me when I was younger, sometimes ironically so (for example, it was Card’s Homecoming Saga , which presented a strongly sympathetic and noble gay man in the character of Zdorab, that helped soften some of my own rigid beliefs when I was much younger).

And yet it seems as he’s gotten older, a lot of the qualities that I loved about his earlier work have slowly disappeared (in both style and content), and some of his extreme rhetoric on a number of issues has really turned me off. However, I think I may be a little more understanding of the cause of those views than the secular pundits that know very little about Mormon culture and how it has influenced such issues for believing Mormons, especially those prone to believe everything said by a Church leader is an inspired utterance, rather than the “line upon line, precept upon precept” principle outlined in the scriptures.

Through all of this, however, I have never once seriously thought of boycotting the Ender’s Game film. For one thing, I agree with the academy award winning screenwriter of Milk, gay rights activist, and former Mormon Dustin Lance Black (interestingly enough, he was the only writer with Mormon connections on the staff on HBO’s Mormon Fundamentalist series Big Love), who said, “There’s so much good to be done right now. Boycotting a movie made by 99% LGBT equality folks in an LGBT equality industry is a waste of our collective energy. Making one phone call to a relative in the south who isn’t quite there yet would be 1,000 times more effective…The homophobic novelist who wrote the book hasn’t been involved in decades. Misguided boycott.”

Also, I keep thinking of the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, and the many mistakes that were compounded in that period when the victors of the North sought out their pound of flesh and were more eager to punish the defeated than in forgiving them and letting the healing begin. Lincoln called for a merciful treatment of their former enemies in the Confederacy, pleading for “malice towards none” in his second inaugural address. After Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson tried to carry out Lincoln’s legacy of mercy and moderation, but the Radical Republicans overwhelmingly gained enough seats in Congress to override Johnson’s vetoes and thus proceeded to enact a vengeful crusade against the South, inflicting punishing laws against the region which they still have never quite recovered from. Even more tragically, however, this quest for the pound of flesh resulted in a setback of Civil Rights, reversing many of the initial gains that black Americans received after the Civil War. Instead of helping the cause, such acts of political vengeance created a backlash from Southerners that stalled progress, not encouraged it.

“I don’t care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I. I won’t let you beat me unfairly. I’ll beat you unfairly first.”
Ender’s Game

“The power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.”
Ender’s Game

If gay activists are not careful, such seemingly vindictive actions on their part, towards individuals who once opposed them, may blow up in their faces. Germany was roundly defeated in World War I, but it was the sanctions leveled against them after the War, enacted by the Treaty of Versailles, that created legitimate desperation and a sense of victimization after the War. When victors are gracious and forgiving winners, then there can be great hope of building together towards a better future (the horrific nuclear fallout aside, think of America’s positive relationship with Japan after World War II… the US helped rebuild Japan, and did not further alienate them, which led to very positive relations between the two countries afterwards). Yet when the victor desires to punish its enemy, even after the defeat, then it cultivates the desperation among a people that will cause them to reach for demagogues promising re-birth, like Germany reached for Hitler, or to organize in unsavory ways, like the Ku Klux Klan bound itself together to counteract the death of the Confederacy.

Now a boycott of a commercial film is a far cry from the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Nazis or the KKK, and I don’t want people to run too far with that analogy. I am in no way equating those struggling for equal treatment in the gay community with such groups. If anything, they are still very much the underdogs in the marriage conflict (and anyway, the gay community would be on the Union/Allies side of the analogy’s equation). But I am reaching for a more universal and personal point here. I’m a little like Card in that I believe the writing is on the wall now… gay marriage is going to happen for most, if not all, of the States and territories in the US. The momentum is going in that direction and it would take a great deal to stop it. The Rainbow is reaching steadily across the country.

And when that happens, the gay community will have a choice. Will the majority choose to punish the leaders of their “enemies,” people like Card, with their equivalent cultural sanctions (for that is the kind of motivation that, at least on the surface, seems to motivate the boycott). Or will they be gracious in victory like Dustin Lance Black, who only pushes forward activism that has a quantifiable purpose, and thus cutting out the fat of all other acts of vengeance. Such attitudes of mercy, forgiveness, and grace will hopefully inspire greater tolerance on both sides and usher in the healing that inevitably is needed after every major conflict.

PART TWO of this essay can be read by clicking here.


8 thoughts on “Malice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part One”

  1. I like the idea of a gracious victor, Mahonri, and I’m looking forward to the next piece.

    The thing that has puzzled me the most about the boycott, however, is the strange notion that somehow it will primarily impact Orson Scott Card. What about the actors, some of whom are younger in their careers and could really use a big hit? What about the crew? I think Dustin Lance Black addressed this to some extent (in the quote you provided), but the reality is that boycott is an indiscriminate, broad weapon. It’s perfect for us against entire institutions (e.g. if you want to hurt a company, boycott their products), but makes very, very little sense to use against individuals.

    I think it indicates that a lot of what animates the (small, as far as I can tell) boycott movement is less a desire to do good for the gay community and more a desire to feel good about oneself. Because (again, citing Black) if they wanted to do good they could take proactive steps and do something good. This maladjusted boycott seems more like a culture war merit badge than a genuine attempt to achieve a positive goal.

  2. Totally agree, Nathaniel. If the boycott is successful, they will be hurting more allies than enemies, as Lionsgate and the cast/crew of Ender’s Game have all been very vocal about their support of gay rights. They’re shooting into a crowd to reach one target.
    But I don’t think the boycott will be successful. I understand the emotional impetus behind the boycott, but I think the controversy will do the exact opposite of what they are intending. This raises the visibility of the project and for every person they guilt into not buying a ticket, I would imagine there will be another three people who will be curious about the movie because of the controversy behind it, who may have not given two figs about it previously. Visibility is the key in marketing, and they certainly have increased the film’s visibility. If you don’t want some one to see something, you make it invisible and the worst thing you can do towards that goal is get people TALKING about it.

  3. Just wanna say, spot on historical analysis. Malice toward none, charity toward all is the way to truly put an end to a conflict.

  4. Thanks, Bryan! I’m painfully uncomfortable with contention and always see soft words and forgiving hearts as a better alternative, but I totally understand the hurt the gay community feel due to the troubles they have faced.

  5. Thanks for this well written post. I have been trying to figure out how I feel about the boycott, which I mostly disagree with even though I sympathize with the general feeling regarding OSC. Thanks for writing this!

  6. Yeah, it took a little to sort out my own feelings on the subject, and almost didn’t write it our of fear of alienating either side of the conflict, but I’m very glad I did. Writing it helped me manage my own thoughts and motivations on the subject matter.

  7. Your council is wise and would certainly be the best for the national character, but I think it will largely go unheeded. There is and will continue for some time a totalitarian impulse to the gay activist community. Conform or be punished. For example, even one of their own will get cut off for not conforming Bret Easton Ellis as the Leon Trotsky to GLAAD’s Stalin:

    They are no longer the under dogs either in my opinion. The elite media institutions and the political power structures are co-opted or completely cowed. They now have the power to punish those who fail to conform, and that is just to tempting a power not to use. You can chart the narrative strategy back to see where we are at now: in the 90s “tolerance” of the “lifestyle” was the goal, the 00s was about acceptance of homosexuality, and this decade the goal is making approval the only acceptable public position. Put another way, tolerance of the gay population will no longer be tolerated. Civil politeness will not be enough for any public figure; only public approval will keep the peace. The gay activist community is following the play book of post-MLK black activists. There will be the periodic ritual sacrifice of a public figure that puts a toe over the line (apologies not withstanding), or a local news story made into a national political passion play, to keep reminding the public consciousness about the rules of the game. Obviously this is just one mans prediction, but I’d like to hear a more plausible one.

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