Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | November 4, 2013

Are We Still Talking About Orson Scott Card?

Clark at Popehat has contributed this post to the apparently-still-ongoing discussion of whether people should, in good conscience, go to see the movie Ender’s Game in theaters, despite the political activities of Orson Scott Card, author of the book on which the movie is based. An excerpt:

I’m not a huge OSC fan myself – I read one or two of the Ender books and found them OK, read one or two of his Tales of Alvin Maker books and found them OK, and read a collection of his short stories which I thought were quite good. I don’t think I’ve bought a book by him in over 15 years.

Which is to say, I post not in defense of OSC the man.

I lean culturally conservative, yet many (if not most) of my favorite authors are from the left, if not the far left. I regularly read – and even buy – fiction from self-declared Marxists (the most recent was Kraken by China Mieville (a member of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Workers Party) a week or so ago.

By buying Kraken (and then mentioning it here) did I culturally endorse Mieville and his views?

One presumes that of the $20 or so I spent on the book perhaps $2 ended up in Mieville’s pocket, and if he donates 10% of his after tax income to political charities, perhaps 10 cents of my money ended up helping socialists print up broadsheets full of propaganda and lies to convince British voters to further infringe the rights of their countrymen.

Am I aiding and abetting evil?

On the one hand, the argument that I should never give a penny to any creator who might then donate a fraction of that penny to authoritarian political groups that seek to squash individual liberty seems airtight. I wouldn’t voluntarily write a check to the KKK or Hezbollah or the US Federal Government for even ten cents.

And yet, on the other hand, should I deprive myself of art that might entertain or even enlighten? And then, on the gripping hand, is that not a weak aesthete’s argument for enjoying himself in the moment, while ignoring his own contribution to the enslavement of others? Northern abolitionists refused to wear slave state cotton cloth, because the purchase supported a terrible institution.

Or, perhaps, on the one-beyond-the-gripping-hand, we should all be willing to consume art even when a minor fraction of the purchase price ends up in evil hands as an explicit endorsement of a Popperian Open Society.

On the fifth hand, maybe we should actively strive to consume art from those with whom we disagree, so that we are open to new ideas, avoid epistemological closure, and – if the art both has a memetic payload is convincing in its moral and message – perhaps allow ourselves to change and converge on ideas that are foreign to us now but are more correct.

Like Clark, I too “dislike the idea of [an] Index Librorum Prohibitorum, whether it is run by a Church, a State, or a decentralized Github-of-received-opinion.” But to be clear, I also don’t think the current boycott amounts to a modern-day Index.

(The real Index was an abomination. It’s abolition was one of the good things that Pope Paul VI did — part of the immediate post-Vatican II spirit of reform/renewal. The Artist Formerly Known As Cardinal Ratzinger used to drive me bonkers when he would say things like “the Index retains its moral force despite its dissolution.”)

There are some good comments following Clark’s post. (Kudos in particular go to Kathryn and others for substantively pushing back against Clark’s downplaying of Card’s public statements and activities. On a different level, nota bene this comment by JT: “I teach literature, and if you used the same standard that some of my colleagues use to “boycott” current pop-culture artifacts, we’d lose much of the canon. For instance, I had a colleague who was shocked that I was showing Mel Gibson’s Hamlet in class because of Gibson’s anti-semitism, yet had no issues with T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound.”)

Also, back in July, Ken White, also at Popehat, had this to say: “I’ve decided to give Orson Scott Card the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t want me dead!”

It is perhaps worth noting that, allegedly, Card years ago sold the film rights to Ender’s Game for a flat fee; so he does not directly benefit from the box office sales for the movie.

Incidentally, though I have not seen the movie yet, initial reports from friends are positive.


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