For a long time now I have struggled with my own feelings concerning Orson Scott Card and his books, most notably Ender’s Game. I read Ender’s Game when I was a freshman in high school, and while I can’t say it had a fundamental influence on me or my writing, I did enjoy it, and read more in the series, and carried my enjoyment of Card’s writing with me into adulthood. And then I learned that he is a terrible person.
Since then I haven’t really known what to do about having liked Ender’s Game. It has actually caused me quite a bit of anxiety, because I suppose I always worry that by liking things like that I am somehow being terrible myself. It’s a strange thing, but I do find I have to constantly examine why I might like or dislike a certain thing, must constantly scrutinize my choices. Not just because I’m mostly straight and completely white and male (though that is definitely a part of it). I don’t want to be complacent, or complicit. I want to go through life with open eyes.
So when I first learned of Card’s views I decided first that he wasn’t going to get any more of my money. In fact, that I was going to get some of it back. I sold the books of his I owned and, despite having liked Ender’s Game, slew any desire I had to see the movie. I filled the empty spot on my bookshelves with other authors whose politics I could get behind. But I still felt this strange feeling whenever someone would talk about Card or his works, because I found I still did like Ender’s Game.
Basically, how do we handle texts like this, texts that seem to lend themselves best to readings completely contradictory to what the author believes and practices? Because when I read Ender’s Game what I got from it was that we should not let ourselves be institutionalized into believing that anything, any sentient life, should be undeserving of compassion. Basically, that we shouldn’t let people convince us that a person can be less than human. And while I don’t think that sentiment is something that Card would disagree with, he would qualify it a great deal so as to make it useless, hypocritical. He has again and again explained how he things that rule shouldn’t be applied to some while it must be applied to him. He has warned that gay rights activists have to be understanding of religious intolerance while defending religious people’s right to discriminate against gay people. Time and time again he has said he cannot see the parallels between racial discrimination and sexual or gender discrimination.
Yet I keep on being drawn back to making a parallel between a text like Ender’s Game and a text like the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Obviously we can read that all people are created equally and see what a positive message that is. We do, however, have to know that the framers of those documents, many of them, owned slaves. To them, slaves just didn’t count as people, in the same way that Card wants to argue that gay people don’t count as people. In the same way that certain people and species in Ender’s Game don’t count as people. And yet the message of Ender’s Game is that those voices are wrong and must be fought against.
So does the fact that the text does not seem to line up to the doctrine of the author mean that it should not be read? I don’t think so. I think, in some ways, it makes a much more interesting reading of the novel to read it as a sort of return of the repressed. That somehow what Card was and is doing by writing using these themes is expressing his own frustration with the beliefs that he had been raised with, that a part of him understands and would agree that everyone deserves equal respect, but that he himself has become indoctrinated, that he has sublimated his own yearning for acceptance into these works, but is unable to recognize and confront them as such. He becomes then like a parody of himself, a shell by which we can all see the hypocrisy of the institutions like religions and like the Battle School that try to draw lines around what should and should not be considered human. If anything more people should take his work and use it as a tool against his movement, against the institutionalized discrimination. Just as the Declaration of Independence was used by the Civil Rights movement to show the hypocrisy inherent in American racism.
That said, I do not think anyone should be supporting Orson Scott Card as a person. It is basically like supporting someone who owns slaves, because he does use his money and influence to try and promote discrimination and inequality. So I stand reaffirmed in my resolve not to give him any of my money. For people wanting to read his books then, I’d say buy them used from a local used book store, or rent them from the library. Just don’t buy them from the publisher new. And maybe don’t see the movie, or don’t pay to see it. Because I cannot justify supporting him as a person.