When some of my gay friends decided to keep eating Chik-Fil-A, I was outraged. "But it's so good," they said, and I rolled my eyes. They are giving money to a corporation who actively supports anti-gay hate groups. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just chicken.
Now here comes the Ender’s Game movie. I won’t deny it: I went through an Orson Scott Card phase so intense that it rivaled my love of Stephen King for a few years. Ender’s Game was the start of all that. The first four books of the Ender series shifted my way of thinking about what heroism means, and how people are sometimes at the mercy of their compulsions, and how it was important to tolerate the parts of other cultures that seem weird to me. Yeah: Speaker for the Dead, the second book in the series, is specifically about being tolerant and accepting of other societies you don’t understand.
I read a lot of it. Lost Boys, Card’s only real horror novel at the time, gave me a glimpse into the world of Mormonism, and his depictions made it seem interesting and supportive (a view which grew when I read Ken Jennings’ Brainiac years later). I read Lovelock, the intermittently fantastic Homecoming saga, and the balls-out mindblowing Alvin Maker books. I read criticism about him. I formed opinions of his work. I loved him.
Then I read something in an obscure magazine that talked about his time in the theater. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’m fine if my theater friends want to be gay. I don’t hate them, I just hate that they do that. Being gay and acting on it are different things.”
I was outraged. At the time, I was probably twenty. I went to Pride every year, and I told my friends who didn’t that they were betraying the community. Ellen had recently come out on TV. I’d been out since I was sixteen and I was still fired up about it. The early 1990s were a historically significant time to be gay. Things were shifting, and I was disappointed that one of my favorite writers wasn’t shifting with them. Of course, the accusation of homophobia had been labeled against my favorite human in the world, Stephen King, but there had been enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that King didn’t hate gay people at all. This was solidified when he moved the production of The Stand miniseries out of Colorado when they banned gay marriage; his daughter coming out likely had something to do with it.
Back on Card: from that point on, I was determined that I had to separate the art from the artist. I bought his books used. I had people dub me his audiobooks. Then came a book called Legends, which was comprised of novellas set in the worlds created by famous fantasy writers. There was a Pern story by Anne McCaffrey, a George R. R. Martin Game of Thrones story, a Stephen King Dark Tower story (which is why I bought it), and an Alvin Maker story, by Card. I read it … and was profoundly sad.
I could separate art from artist, but apparently Card couldn’t. In the middle of this fun story about Paul Bunyan, Alvin Maker literally makes a speech about why male/male sexuality is wrong. A speech. It’s out of context with the story and the character, and clearly feels like the author stopping the fiction to espouse his rhetoric. Shawn, my guy, later read further than I did in the Ender series, and told me the speeches didn’t stop there. He actually got so disgusted by one of them that he stopped reading Card, forever.
And so did I. I’ve tried to separate art from artist. I know there’s a more direct sequel to Ender’s Game out there, and as badly as I want to read it, I don’t want to suddenly find out that Ender Wiggin, who was a hero to me in my twenties, is behaving erratically because his author is fucking with him. Making things worse is that Card became something of a poster child for anti-gay marriage, speaking out about it publicly and vehemently. And when DOMA got shut down, he was a super sore loser about it.
There’s a lot of stuff at play here. I find that I’m able, in general, to continue to love a singular work of art, no matter what happens later. Sequels, prequels, adaptations, shifting perceptions, an author’s later output – none of it matters to me if I like the original work. You don’t retroactively hate Pulp Fiction because Death Proof wasn’t A+ work. No matter what happens in Doctor Sleep, I’m still going to think The Shining is one of the best books ever written.
But this is different. Right? Or, better: it has the potential to be different. Because it’s not just crappy work that hinges itself to better work. It’s the author discovering a political/sexual agenda, and then forcing his characters to support and voice that agenda. His nonfiction has mixed into the fiction, and that’s the problem I have. And when he goes back to writes stuff in the world of the fiction I love with this new agenda, that’s an even bigger problem. An awful movie adaptation can’t ruin the book on which it’s based. It can color your perceptions, but it can’t ruin the work. What Card started doing can ruin the work. And that sucks, because it’s still amazing work.
So. The movie. The movie I wanted to see more than anything else in my bleak year of 1994, when I was hungry a lot and lived in a rooming house where junkies and the elderly died. The Ender’s Game books buoyed me up during that time and made me happy at a time I desperately needed happiness. And I wanted to see that spectacle on the big screen. So bad.
The film’s distributors, Lionsgate, are doing everything to distance Card from the movie. They released a statement saying that they do not share Card’s views on gay marriage (or, as my friends refer to it, “marriage.”) Lionsgate touted recent movies they released that focused on gay-positive messages, and they’re doing a benefit premiere for the LGBT community. I know it’s all about marketing and saving face, but I still think it’s the right move. Some people have called what they’re doing “pandering,” but if they didn’t do anything, those same people would say they were supporting Card implicitly. I suppose the only way to “win” an argument like this is to just not have made the movie … but I’m glad they did.
Look, I’m going to the movie. I will try to sneak in or see it for free, but that’s going to be the extent of my political involvement. What I find weird and disturbing is that a lot of my friends who still frequent Chik-Fil-A are all up in arms over this film and telling me that my wanting to see it is a violation of my basic rights. What they’re saying is that directly handing money over to people who support hate groups is less offensive than seeing a movie that will eventually partially benefit a koo-koo writer who doesn’t like that I like dudes, and that the company making said movie is going out of their way to make sure they love the gays. It’s homophobia in both cases, and none of it’s good, but it’s also bad math.
I’m going to the movie because the book was a bright spot in a really bad time of my life. I’m going because the author betrayed me, but the book didn’t. I’m going because I want to see Harrison Ford be cool on screen again.
I’m going because it’s not chicken.