SUPERMAN

I refrained from commenting when the whole hoopla over DC hiring Orson Scott Card to write an issue of the upcoming Adventures of Superman first broke out.  But the more I thought about it, the more the issue interested me, mostly because I realized I didn’t know how I felt about it.  This is my way of mentally navigating through the social/moral/political implications of the situation.

For full disclosure, I liked Ender’s Game and its subsequent novels when I read them a few years ago on a big sci-fi kick.  I admit, however, that I knew nothing of Card beyond his name on the cover and probably would have remained ignorant for years to come had it not been for this whole incident.  Needless to say, it’s always a surprise to discover the more unsavory details of someone’s life, but while Card’s prejudices may be deplorable, I’m actually not sure all this upset is warranted.

Prejudiced or not, Card is a talented and powerful storyteller and Superman is a fantastic subject for stories.  I personally would love to see what Card does with one of the most iconic fictional characters of all time.  But does that interest trump the fact that to purchase and read one of Card’s stories would be allowing a person with objectionable viewpoints to make a living?  If so, then does that mean we have to stop everyone from buying another copy of Ender’s Game or going to see its movie adaptation later this year?

Maybe the upset people are experiencing comes from the fact that this is Superman we’re talking about.  This is a character who embodies compassion and goodwill towards all humanity; doesn’t it go against the spirit of Superman to allow someone who despises a major segment of humanity to handle him?

So how shall we deal with this Card we’ve been dealt?  I’ll be honest: I don’t know the answers.  But I do think that if Card had simply never expressed his views, then no one would have a problem with his writing for DC.  He would be no better or worse a person either way, but at least he wouldn’t be stirring trouble by expressing himself.  In a way, people are attacking Card and DC not necessarily because of Card’s views, but because he had the gall to express them.  I’m not sure how I feel about that, either.

A bigoted cab driver can still drive you from Point A to Point B.  A racist butcher can cut your side of beef as well as one who is not.  The caramel macchiato served by your Muslim-hating barista tastes just as sweet.  We wouldn’t refuse to patent a vaccine because the inventor thinks women were put on this Earth to slave to men.  Their wrongful ideas can’t affect their work; they’re just ideas.  But ideas are what stories are all about, so we have more reason to decry giving a storyteller a chance to sneak his own misguided perspectives into a medium that can reach a whole lot of people.

And that is where I think I can take a stand.  I think most of us are intelligent folks.  We can recognize something as racist, sexist, religiously intolerant, or homophobic.  And we can respond in the most effective way possible: simply avoid it.  I don’t think readers need to be protected and coddled by trying to prevent such invective from ever reaching their hands.  I think we have a right to decide if we as individuals want the products from a bigot or not, particularly when that product has nothing to do with bigotry, as I expect Card’s Superman story will.  So if people want to keep protesting DC, hoping to convince the publisher to give Card the boot they think he so deserves, go ahead; I just can’t say that I think it’s the most useful way for them to be using their time or promoting their ideals.

– Minhquan Nguyen

We have a pretty nice community here at WCBR.  I trust you all to be polite in your responses, but no less passionate or thoughtful.  And if you know me at all, you know I’m always willing to listen to a different point of view.  Though it need not be said, the opinions I’ve expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of WCBR or its other writers. 

Grade

Conclusion


31 Responses

  1. sidewalkstand says:

    I’ve found myself wrestling this very same conundrum with my friends. I liked Ender’s Game quite a great deal – I think it’s a lovely coming-of-age novel dealing with the classic ideas of loss of innocence and learning one’s place in the world. Also, in this age of drones, casual wargaming and smarter military tactics, I think it’s become eerily prescient of how the Western world (and particularly the US) has come to view youth in war. It’s an important part of literature and I think it should be discussed, debated and reviewed time and time again.

    (Not to say that the book doesn’t have its flaws and solipsistic points, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    But can we divorce the art from the artist? Sure – Picasso was an endless philander, Hemingway a misogynist. I think the stutter that most people have with Card is that he is contemporary – he’s living in a culture that has over and over again affirmed feminism and queer rights as benign turns towards a more equal society and greater enfranchisement for all. And yet he resists. Vocally. Publicly. Over and over again.

    And that’s the rub.

    Can I have a racist butcher? Sure, as long as he doesn’t spit on my steak when wrapping it. But can I have a racist butcher who insists that he’ll be using my money to fund racist groups, that he is driven by an intense moral code to publicly declaim his bigotry, and that as far as he’s concerned, I shouldn’t be allowed in his state, let alone his store? Well….that’d better be one hell of a steak. And I might start to think about whether I’m okay with him using that butcher shop as a stepping stone to an megastore, wherein he’ll have access to a lot more capital to pursue his beliefs.

    The vitriol and blatant homophobic nonsense that Card has written over the years could be forgiven as early 90s anxiety, or the product of an intense fundamentalism in his youth – except that he refuses to walk away from previous comments, usually citing a vague ‘well, if people choose to be offended, that’s their business.’ And the man’s about to rake in some serious cash from the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game. A portion of which will, without a doubt, go directly towards (probably religious and/or political) people that seek to disenfranchise and diminish those people who do not fit within their sexual and social parameters.

    Avoidance of uncomfortable and hurtful actions by others is never the answer – and is certainly not a futurist, SF trait. Queer rights, like any other civil struggle, is about human rights, and ensuring a better, more wonderful and fantastic world for our descendents.

    So I guess the question is – what would Superman do?

    • Minhquan Nguyen says:

      I think you’re well within your freedom to express your disapproval of his views by simply not supporting his work. I think you’re well within your freedom to express your disapproval by persuading others to not support his work. And I also think you’re well within your freedom to express your disapproval by criticizing those who associate or work with him. But where does that end? Do we also criticize Tor Books for continuing to publish his novels, which inevitably supports his living? Do we criticize Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment, which are producing the film adaptation of his novels, which as you say will probably give him some serious cash? I suppose all of these things are possible; I just think that we’d end up spending more time protesting products and companies rather than really promoting ideals and values.

      As for what Superman would do? Well, if we’re talking about the brash, modern age Superman under Grant Morrison, he might just hang Card out a window and bully him into changing his mind–which I would take issue with. If we’re talking about classic Superman, I think as a reporter, he’d simply publish a well-written op-ed countering Card’s views, but I have my doubts as to whether he’d go so far as to deny Card’s writing talent in spite of his beliefs. I imagine he, too, would be curious as to how a man like Card would write a Superman story.

      • sidewalkstand says:

        Heh, I would LOVE to see a Morrison/Quitely vignette of Superman giving Orson Scott Card a good talking-to.

      • sidewalkstand says:

        Also, good article! I think this is the most comments I’ve seen on a post on this blog in a while. You guys should do more opinion pieces like these.

        • Minhquan Nguyen says:

          I think since we focus on reviews, we don’t often have time to comment on issues in current affairs. I personally don’t like to express an opinion unless I feel secure in it and feel I can explain it intelligibly, with good reason. In this case, it’s such a loaded issue that I had no idea how I felt about it, and I wanted to try to work my way through it with others. I guess I’m hoping discussion will help shape my views, and in some ways it has. Thanks for reading!

  2. Ben says:

    If Superman could choose his writer, I think he would look at not just the talent, but the character of the person penning his stories. He’d be nice to Card, thank him for his interest, but ultimately choose someone who understood his ideals, what he represents to all people. And I do think this is worth people’s time. Having not just a conservative, but a bigot with strong political ties, creatively direct an American icon is a big deal. Saying it isn’t, is like saying storytelling doesn’t matter. It’s the old “it’s just comic books” argument. Writers and critics talk about the importance of narrative, its power to transform and create worlds, immersing people, but then they downplay the importance when things get uncomfortable. You can’t have it both ways. Pop culture, fiction, and the politics that go into creating it, matter. They reflect our beliefs, values, and character as a nation. If we didn’t discuss it, then it means we were still a long ways before acknowledging gay men and women as full citizens. The more pop culture, which is mainly heterosexual and white, cares about how minorities are portrayed and created, the more it shows the majority acknowledges the existence of these groups and wishes to seem them treated as equals.

    • Minhquan Nguyen says:

      I agree that it’s very tense when you have a bigot creatively direct an American icon. But in this case, where it’s highly unlikely to not possible that Card can use Superman as a voicebox for his views, I question whether that concern is applicable here. If so, then we have to cease publication of Ender’s Game and all its related products immediately, because they are no less tainted and far more touched by Card, who undoubtedly had the same views back then as he does now.

  3. Jim says:

    I guess the problem is that it’s more than just helping Card make a living. Card is a part of some sort of anti-gay marriage group, so basically, anything Card makes off of writing his stuff could be (and has a strong chance of) going to a group actively working against the legalization of gay marriage. It’s one thing of a racist acts racist, and it’s another thing if a racist tries to get legislation to reflect his views. I think that’s the greater problem at hand.

    • Minhquan Nguyen says:

      I can definitely see that as a problem, but I think what I take issue with here is that people are attacking DC for this. Card is not being hired to write an anti-gay story, nor can you presume that DC will allow such a story to be published. And I have some concern about the idea that you can be attacked for hiring/paying someone because of that person’s individual, private, and personal conduct. I also have concern about how far we can extend that taint.

      For the sake of fairness, I’ll use myself as an example. I attend a law school that has some very conservative faculty–outspokenly conservative, in some instances. In many ways, these faculty members have just as much sway as Card and even more because as great legal minds (which you can’t deny they are), they have tremendous ability to influence policy and legislation. Some of these members do share the same views on gay marriage as Card and they undoubtedly use their money to support their views.

      First question: should my school be attacked for retaining these faculty members? Unlike Card, who is more of a contractor for DC, these faculty members are actual employees of my school. They even occasionally use the school as a forum to express their views. Surely if DC can get grief for hiring Card for this one project that has nothing to do with his anti-gay views, then my school would be in even more trouble.

      Second question: should I be attacked for attending that school? My tuition does go into the school which then goes (in part) to maintaining these faculty members. In fact, since I pay my tuition mostly from public grants and scholarships, should all the institutions which gave me that money be attacked for the fact that their money may be spent by faculty members to promote their anti-gay views? Because that’s essentially what people are attacking DC for here.

      So that’s why I’m a little ambivalent about this situation. I just don’t know if we should allow the taint of a person’s personal expression, to which he is entitled by both natural and national law, to extend that far. And I really mean it when I say I don’t know. A part of me says of course it should, for the sake of principle. A part of me says it probably shouldn’t, for the sake of practicality. What do you think?

      • sidewalkstand says:

        I think that assumes that none of his personal feelings will leak into the story – writers are human, after all, and Superman deals with the core of what it means to be a good person.

        As for the school example – ehhh, the academy’s meant to be a forum for all sorts of awful ideas to be bounced around, examined and dissected. Curtailing knowledge or opposing viewpoints in a scholastic setting would be counterproductive to the entire idea. But should the administrators of your school have some sort of say over whether their professors engage in public political speech? Especially when intimately representing an aspect of their brand? And when said professors’ speech may or may not be predictable? I can appreciate the can of worms that would open up.

        • Minhquan Nguyen says:

          To your first point, I think we’re smart enough to recognize disagreeable expression in a written piece; it’s not as if Card can somehow trick us into not seeing his anti-gay views. In fact, it’s least likely for him to do so because people will be on the watch for it.

          To your second point, I think we both recognize the hard questions that this situation would present in an academic setting. But I think those same questions are no less difficult when applied to the creative setting.

    • paladinking says:

      by that logic, doesn’t that mean that record labels should never offer recording deals to band who’ve used recreational drugs? Or for the same reason, Stephen King in the late 70s-early 80s? After all, labels that signed Nirvana, Pantera, Black Sabbath, and just about everybody in the 70s, by this logic, were all supporting the drug trade.

      I mean, if you’re paying Nirvana and recording and putting out their albums, you’re helping Cobain and friends make a living. And anything Nirvana makes off their music has a strong chance of going to various and sundry drug dealers.

      • sidewalkstand says:

        As far as I know, Nirvana wasn’t campaigning for NORML – or beheading rival bands in Mexico, for that matter. They’re tangentially associated with the drug trade at best, and certainly not making a political statement that record companies would need to consider. Look at what happened to Sinead O’Connor after SNL, or the Dixie Chicks – that was political speech and they got dropped like a hot rock.

        Card is a big deal in the comic/SF/geek community, and he’s actively campaigned against the idea of gay marriage. And as that community is getting more and more mainstream, its voices are moving more and more into the cultural and political forum. That’s DC’s issue – is it worth dealing with the fallout of having a highly visible bigot write what will probably be a great comic book? Probably – but I think the bigger issue with that is that people tend to see corporations as things with feelings, rather than machines designed to make money, just because they’re associated with your hobby/livelihood. People at DC might care about human rights, DC itself probably could care less.

        (and as a p.s – using the drug trade as an equivalency for human rights?)

        • Minhquan Nguyen says:

          Yeah, I think a lot of people would have a lot of disagreements about analogizing gay rights with the drug trade. But I think Alex’s point is that people have a right to use their money as they please for the causes they believe in, and if we find ways to discourage them from doing so, then we’re getting very close to a society that tolerates free speech only so long as it is in accord with the mainstream beliefs of a given time.

          I also tend to agree with you that it’s risky to attribute feelings or opinions to entities like companies, because suddenly the taint spreads to everyone who works at that company.

  4. M0rg0th says:

    I liked Ender’s Game when I read it years ago but haven’t really read anything else from Orson Scott Card. In fact I didn’t even know that he had this problematic anti-gay-background. Of course I don’t agree with his views and despite that what I read in Ender’s Game made him out to be a good writer. His views, as long as they’re only verbally expressed, shouldn’t keep him from expressing himself artistically, though and if his anti-gay-views taint his storytelling in some way then one has the right to criticize him for it. But they shouldn’t ban him from writing anything.
    Above all, though, I think the real misstep was done here by DC. I mean, a brand as big as DC just can’t allow themselves to hire writers simply on the merit of them being good writers. They also have to be respectable because DC is so popular and gets the attention that comes with it. And with that I don’t mean just the public backlash that will be avoided that way. I also mean the way the comic will be edited then. I hope it won’t happen but I can imagine Card’s editors now fretting over every bit of his work so that really nothing of it can be interpreted as anti-gay in any way. And in the worst-case-scenario they get so paranoid that the end-product can be nothing but the most bland generic story so as to not offend anyone.

    • Minhquan Nguyen says:

      I tend to agree that as long as his views aren’t promoted through the work he’s doing for DC, then I have no problem with his being hired.

  5. locuas642as says:

    here is my opinion. As long as your point of view does not get in the way of your story. if you don’t say “this is how things are, this is how you must feel” but let room for discussion, then, you are free to think whatever you want. You may not be a NICE person, you may even be a total asshole, but you are in your right to be an asshole.

  6. dfstell says:

    This is an easy one for me. I don’t support Card’s views at all. He’s so publicly associated with his views that I think supporting his work is kinda the same thing as supporting his views.

    On the other hand, I don’t really fault DC. I mean….they’re in the business of making money and they’ll do business with just about anyone if it means more money. Marvel published lots of Card-based comics, so they’re obviously turning a blind eye too. Same things for his book publishers and the movie studios. They’re companies….they make money or die.

    It just shows were we are on acceptance of gay rights as a society. Obviously, someone can still be an anti-gay bigot and continue to find work. Thankfully, you can’t do that with racists anymore. It’ll be that way someday for anti-gays too where they’ll have to keep their opinions silent or never work again…..but we’re not quite there as a society.

    • Minhquan Nguyen says:

      Well, he’s not that publicly associated with his views apparently, because I and quite a few other people had no idea he held such views until now.

      And I definitely would be cautious about the notion that supporting his work, whether or not they reflect his views in any way, is the same thing as supporting his views. I’m not saying that this isn’t the case; I’m just saying that I think the idea would force us to intrude upon and question the views of everyone who produces a product.

      Again, I’m a little bothered (though not much, in these circumstances) by the idea that it’s okay for people to hold bigoted views as long as they can be bullied into never expressing them in public. I think there is something a little dangerous about that philosophy.

      • sidewalkstand says:

        Actually, I know tons of people, even here in San Francisco, that had no idea about Card’s views. Or his Mormonism. It’s not just you. Actually, I think readers just assume that science fiction writers are all Heinlein in terms of sensibilities. :)

        • Minhquan Nguyen says:

          That is so true. It’s easy to assume that people who are oriented towards science would leans towards anti-traditional values.

      • dfstell says:

        Card is pretty visible for me because he lives ~30 miles from my home. So, he’s kinda a local celebrity.

        But, I can understand that not everyone is aware of his bigoted views. So, you can’t really judge someone who you see reading Ender’s Game. Maybe they support Card’s views, but they mostly likely don’t know anything about his political views.

        On the other hand, once you KNOW, then you have to decide what you’re going to support.

    • M0rg0th says:

      I don’t like the “Well, they are in the business of making money”-explanation for what DC is doing. No business should get a free pass for what they are doing since they’re “only making money”. It’s like saying bankrobbers stealing money is okay because they are in the business of robbing banks. There should be more to doing business than just “making money”.
      That isn’t to say that DC shouldn’t be allowed to hire Orson Scott Card. But they should take responsibility and make clear that they hired Orson for his writing-skills and not for his opinions. Don’t know how Orson will feel about that treatment but if DC doesn’t want to seem like they don’t care about the issue that presents hiring someone with such openly presented opinions they should make this distinction clear.

      • Minhquan Nguyen says:

        I think there’s some merit to the idea that a company should, solely for the sake of clarification, make it clear that they’re hiring someone who is an outspoken or public figurehead of certain controversial viewpoints. I don’t think this should be a legal or even a social obligation necessarily, but one in the best interest of a company that wants to properly manage its public relations. Of course, making that distinction after the fact pleases no one, as we’ve seen from the reactions of folks after DC’s statement to The Advocate and Fox News.

      • dfstell says:

        I don’t like it either, but if you expect more of corporations, you’re going to be disappointed.

        I just think it’s sad that views like Card’s don’t result in an instant blacklisting. I mean, look at Michael Richards: That dude is still radioactive 6-7 years after he started using the N-word during a stand-up routine. And….rightly so. But, DC would never DREAM of hiring Michael Richards because he is so radioactive. But, they figured they could hire Card without causing too much fuss. Yeah….that bugs me. Bigotry is bigotry….

        • M0rg0th says:

          Yeah, it’s terrible how much “the end justifies the means”-thinking exists in most of today’s corporations with “the end” being “making money.”

          I agree with you there. Even if I wouldn’t want him to keep from writing, I definitely don’t like DC’s “Maybe we can sneak him in”-approach with them not being openly against Card’s views right from the start.

  7. paladinking says:

    My gut instinct is that there’s something that makes me uncomfortable about a mass of people banding together to boot someone out of a job due to their social views. If Card’s work is vetted by editorial such that it’s clear that there isn’t even a whiff of his intensely homophobic views in it, the reasoning on the part of these petitioners seems to become less a concern about homophobic messages being propagated and more that those with homophobic views should not be allowed to be employed in any form of even remotely public job. Despite the fact that said dinosaurs have not actually done anything illegal and have not allowed their views affect their work at all.

    There’s something uncomfortable about that and it starts to beg the question of where the line should be drawn. For instance, should Card still be denied the job if he only was a member of that anti-gay marriage club he’s member of but DIDN’T publish those reprehensible writings he did in the 90s?

    Furthermore, what if Card, or anyone, never publicly voiced their homophobic, bigoted views, never published those writings…but actually feels nauseated at even the mere thought of homosexual couplings. Are they getting away with murder, so to speak? If Scott Snyder suggested in a tweet that he was against gay marriage or Jeff Lemire let slip in an interview that he found the sight of two men kissing to be disgusting, should their runs on Batman and Animal Man be immediately halted and should they be shown the door?

    Don’t get me wrong, I th ink Card’s social views are absurd, but at some point, things start to look like the enforcement of “right-thinking.”

    Furthermore, I would think it patently obvious that DC’s throwing work Card’s way is in no way an endorsement of Card’s views. After all, if that’s how it worked, how the hell could one entity endorse and adopt the views of, say, China Mieville, Gail Simone, Bill Willingham, and Ethan Van Sciver all at the same time?

    • sidewalkstand says:

      Oh, I actually quite agree with you on all of this – regardless of how much money’s he’s got, firing somebody in this economy on weird views is kinda wonky. And as long as you’re not infringing on somebody else, you can have the worst thoughts in the world. The only problem is, that tends to trickle out, despite our best efforts.

      And I think I posted this downthread, but this whole brohaha has little to do with Card and everything to do with people and their perception of companies. I think, post Chick-fil-a (ugh, I had to google that spelling), everyone has suddenly started to assume that corporations actually have feelings. I don’t know what that’s about. I’m sure DC doesn’t care one way or the other about the issue – but nowadays, it seems kinda weird to hire somebody who is starting to tip the balance between being famous for SF/being famous for crazy talk.

      • paladinking says:

        I think that’s sort of a case of the internet (which is almost purely inhabited by hardcore genre fans) kind of overestimates the average Joe’s knowledge. I really don’t think that anywhere close to the majority of people who’ve heard of Card or Ender’s Game are aware of his intensely homophobic views and certainly not the details of his stance/writings. At best, they MIGHT know he’s a social conservative.

        For instance, I really doubt the upcoming Ender’s Game movie is going to be butchered at the box office due to a mass boycott (though I’ve no doubt that there will be several attempts online to organize such a thing).

  8. paladinking says:

    Interesting thought I just had, not really expressing an opinion so much as it is food for thought.

    HP Lovecraft, through necromantic powers and shadowy rituals, is brought back to life. He really wants to get some work at DC (or Marvel) and, apparently, has fallen in love with Batman among other properties.

    Should he be denied or should he be given the job?

    On the one hand, it’s Lovecraft, a truly legendary writer and a landmark figure in several genres of fiction. On the other hand, he was a massive racist and, unlike Card, those views also bled into his fiction. Do you let him have a go at DC? And if there’s an argument for taking in zombie Lovecraft but denying Card, is that a tenable position?

  9. l- says:

    the funnies part about this whole mess is its probably gonna be the gay wedding in x-men or keven keller all over again. I don’t know if i would have even heard of this book if not for the controversy, and really controversy can sell better than sex sometimes.

    part of me thinks DC did this on purpose. i wont buy it, but it’s more to do with my having sworn off dc as a whole (thankyou reboot). card has never been one to overly push a bias in any of his works he’s better about leaving it open to the reader then most writers dc has right now.

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