Orson Scott Card and Superman

I’ve got mixed feelings about the petition to persuade DC Comics to drop Orson Scott Card as a writer for Superman.

For those not aware of Orson Scott Card’s background, he’s a once-successful science-fiction writer who has more recently been notorious for his aggressive homophobic views, and is a board member of the anti gay-rights group The National Organization for Marriage.

While a great many people are enthusiastically supporting the petition, I have seem some people question it, most notably the gay SF writer David Gerrold, who had this to say on his facebook page:

It is our responsibility as rational people to engage in reasonable and rational discourse on difficult issues. It is only when people actively work to hurt others that we have a responsibility to halt or prevent that harm. But we are never justified in penalizing each other based on beliefs. If it’s wrong in one direction, it’s wrong in the other direction.

Let me say it in the clear. I despise Card’s position on marriage equality — but I do not despise Card. He is an intelligent man and a gifted storyteller. As an American citizen, protected by the US Constitution, he is entitled to freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom to publish, etc. That I disagree (aggressively) with what he has said does not give me license to demand that his rights be infringed or that his ability to find work be compromised. I expect the same respect in return.

I do not expect that Card’s political beliefs will be part of his Superman story. That’s not Superman and I think Card understands that. And the good folks at DC likely understand that too. I hope he writes a good story. I also hope that someday he will recognize that some of the things he has said, some of the things he has advocated, are simply not in keeping with Jesus’ commandment that we love one another.

I can understand both sides of the argument here. One one side, there is a difference between denying a writer a specific gig because of their leadership position in what many would describe as a hate group, and attempting to deny someone a livelihood purely because of their beliefs. And customer boycotts are not the same as censorship. There are game writers I’d rather not buy stuff from because of their public behaviour (I shall not name names).

But I still wonder if there’s a can of worms here, and the actual rights and wrongs risk getting obscured by which side you on in the culture wars.

Should any creative type be blacklisted because of their views, or on their writings or activities outside of whatever it is they’re being hired to create? If so, where do you draw the line? Who gets to decide where the line is drawn? What’s the difference between the wisdom of crowds and the rule of the mob?

Or am I just being a stereotypical woolly liberal sitting on the fence?

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5 Responses to Orson Scott Card and Superman

  1. Amadan says:

    Obviously, blacklists have the potential for abuse, but I have yet to a see one of those slippery slope arguments actually manifest in real life, where some writer or musician or entertainer is deprived of a livelihood because of a backlash among fans for an unpopular opinion. To call Card “once-successful” is kind of a laugh, since he’s still a best-seller (he was invited to write Superman!) and Ender’s Game is about to be a big-budget Hollywood movie. I’d guess the net economic effect of all these people saying mean things about him on the Internet is approximately zero. I suspect whatever he’s being paid for writing Superman is chump change for him.

    So yeah, if you are a vocal bigot, there are consequences, but it’s not as if anyone is not finding work because they’ve been named and shamed.

    Gerrold says:

    “I do not expect that Card’s political beliefs will be part of his Superman story.”

    Well, I’ll bet there will be no positive (or any) portrayals of gay people in his Superman story. Now, in fairness, most writers probably wouldn’t mention gay people in a Superman story. But it’s becoming a little more common to see inclusiveness as a deliberate choice in popular media. What you don’t say can be as political as what you say. Of course Card isn’t going to have Superman give an anti-gay marriage speech, but you can be pretty sure he also won’t have any gay friends.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Or given that many homophobes are in the closet, maybe there will be a strong homoerotic subtext coming from the author’s subconcious.

  3. John P says:

    The McCarthyism of post-war America is a prime example of people being blacklisted because of their perceived/actual beliefs and for many of those in the entertainment industry it was the end of their careers as they were denied work.

    Please don’t let’s get into a deep analysis of the Superman stories. I admit I haven’t read one since I was a kid, but it has never struck me as being anything more than a superficial bit of day dreaming where the sexual orientation of the characters is completely irrelevant to the villians’ nefarious plans. Instead of looking for deeper meanings, do something more productive with life like going to the toilet for a satisfying dump.

  4. “I also hope that someday he will recognize that some of the things he has said, some of the things he has advocated, are simply not in keeping with Jesus’ commandment that we love one another.”

    As long as people like Card choose not to recognize that love includes things like acceptance-as-is and not merely proselytic love (I love you, you’re perfect, now change), then no.

    The problem with belief systems is that they grant the believer the (illusory) power of inerrancy. As long as they think they’re doing the Right Thing, and as long as the Right Thing doesn’t require any actual reality testing, everything is fine. Card sincerely believes he’s doing the Right Thing, which is why arguing with him about it accomplishes nothing.

    As someone else pointed out, it’s not so much about teaching him to change his mind — which I suspect is all but impossible — so much as it is about our not feeling complicit, by not giving him that much more money and opportunities to do things we find morally abhorrent.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    Some good points there. I’m seeing people drawing parallels with McCarthy in the 1950s, and it’s a very, very weak comparison.