Can We Balance The Genius Of ‘Ender’s Game’ Against Orson Scott Card’s Hate?


This post discusses the plot of both the novel Ender’s Game and the movie adaptation in extensive detail.

I haven’t seen Ender’s Game. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m going to because I’m still trying to process how I feel about seeing a movie based on a book I loved that benefits a notorious bigot, no matter how indirectly.

The film adaptation of Ender’s Game has been polarizing in ways that very few modern pop-culture controversies have been; I’ve lost track of how many articles I’ve seen regarding whether boycotting the movie is warranted, whether we should be separating the artist from the art, or just what the desired effect would be. On the one hand, Orson Scott Card apparently has already received his payment — the deal was inked over a decade ago — and stands to make absolutely no money off the film. On the other hand, if Ender’s Game is a box-office success it might prompt studios to license more properties or spur people to buy the book which he does profit from. On the third hand (because this isn’t a cut and dry issues, plus I am a mutant who has a hard time finding shirts), director Gavin Hood, producer Greg Orci and stars Harrison Ford and Abigail Breslin are all vocal LGBT allies and a boycott of the film affects them far more than it does Card.

This isn’t even the first time that the question of how to support the art without supporting the artist has come up with Card. In 2009, Chair Entertainment and Epic Games produced the 2D side-scrolling game Shadow Complex. It was an almost universally acclaimed game — an excellent call-back to similar complex platformers like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid, but it was also developed in conjunction with Orson Scott Card’s Empire novels. There was a similar conflict in the gaming community over the product: at what point does the political views of one of the contributors override every other aspect of the game? In this case, Card was hired by Chair Entertainment to flesh out the world rather than licensing an original IP to developers – does this tangential relationship mean that the game is tainted by association? Is there some way of partaking in the game without contributing to an outspoken bigot? Is it possible to do a moral “carbon offset” by donating to a gay charity or cause, as suggested?

It certainly helps that Card has gone out of his way to look like a cartoon villain in his stance on homosexuality. In 2004, he wrote an essay that insisted that homosexuality was the product of childhood molestation. In 2008, he famously pledged to revolt against the government and seek its destruction in the event that it “redefined marriage.” It’s one thing to talk about other flawed yet beloved artists of the past — Walt Disney happily contributed to the Hollywood blacklist of suspected Communists, T.S. Eliot was a notorious anti-Semite, H. P. Lovecraft was virulently racist — but quite another when the person in question was a board member of an organization dedicated to fighting equal rights for gay and trans individuals up until this year. Even separating his personal beliefs from his fiction has become more difficult over time; the Empire series posits an American civil war between the treacherous Left (fueled by a thinly-veiled George Soros) and the noble Right, while the novella Hamlet’s Father tries to connect pedophilia to homosexuality.

It would be easier if Card’s books were as bad as his politics are noxious: we could relegate him and his works to the same kook file that we assign Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck’s attempts at fiction. But Card, unfortunately, is a brilliant writer and a visionary. Ender’s Game is significant not just as a justifiably beloved literary classic, but for the freakishly accurate way it presaged the future. In the span of 256 pages, Card correctly predicted the development of tablet computers, massively multiplayer RPGs, instant messaging, blogs, and even sock-puppetry and trolling. In fact, the only thing that he seemed to get wrong was the idea that somebody could — in the words of Randall Munroe — collect enough Reddit upvotes to be President of the World:

Credit: XKCD

Credit: XKCD

But for someone who seems consumed by hate, he has produced what is, in many ways, his own counter-argument. The ultimate message of Ender’s Game is about compassion and understanding. The Formics weren’t evil or genocidal; they simply never comprehended that humanity wasn’t a hive-mind like they were. The moment they realized that they had killed tens of thousands of sapients rather than mindless drones, they were so overcome with horror that they ceased any further attempts at colonization. Their last act as a species was to create a new queen in order to apologize to humanity and reveal the depth of their sorrow at what they had done.

Ender’s ultimate strength isn’t his willingness to win at any cost, it’s his empathy. To quote Ender: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” Ender’s own horror at the realization that he has committed xenocide is born out of that empathy; in the end, he realizes that the “buggers” were never truly the threat that everybody thought them to be.

It’s a shame that Card seems incapable of equal understanding, instead of grumpily complaining about the intolerant reception of his own intolerance. The irony inherent in this is so thick that it’s practically dripping off the pages.

Which brings it all back to the question: what do we do about something beautiful that has its origins in something so vile? Alyssa has listed several options for ethically “consuming content created by awful people like Orson Scott Card;” I find myself torn on which to choose. Boycotts can work to affect change at the corporate level, but Summit/Lionsgate is alreadyan LGBT-friendly company, as are the cast and crew of the film. Does a boycott make as much sense when it ultimately doesn’t materially affect its target? Would it be better to boycott his books — which could actually affect him financially — rather than the film? Perhaps the point is less about damaging the movie financially and more about making Card so radioactive that companies will think twice before working with him? But then again, Roman Polanski is still making films despite being as well known for his rape of a 13 year old and his flight from justice as he is for Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. Does a moral carbon offset — say, a donation to The Trevor Project — make more sense in light of Card’s lack of financial investment?

I feel obligated to observe that it’s easy for me, a cis-gendered hetero male, to talk about this. Card’s actions don’t affect me the way that they do my LGBT brothers and sisters, friends and family. All I can say is that, to my mind, it’s never going to be a simple and easy answer. I think it ultimately comes down to trying to decide which matters more to you — Card’s hate or the love and compassion espoused by his creation.