I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of days about how to approach Ender’s Game, Summit Entertainment’s forthcoming adaptation of the beloved science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card about children who are trained to fight off an alien invasion at an elite military academy to which they’re removed early in their childhood. I think I’m not alone in finding Ender’s Game to be a foundational text—Valentine Wiggin, the younger sister of the main character, who becomes a sort of proto-blogger, is one of the reasons I’ve ended up doing what I’m doing. And at the same time, I find the political views that Card holds abhorrent: he’s a member of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, and has publicly committed to fighting back against a government that, to his interpretation, would change the established definition of marriage. As someone who’s volunteered with Freedom to Marry, and who holds marriage equality as one of my political priorities, I have no interest in giving Card any of my money to pursue an agenda I find hateful and dangerous. I’m trying to figure out if Card has points on the back end, and if purchasing a ticket would mean, even in an extremely small way, giving him money above and beyond what he’s already received for the film rights to the novel.
But at the same time, Card’s involvement as the creation of the work that’s the basis for the movie isn’t my only interest in it. As someone who thinks the emergence of Abigail Breslin, who will play Valentine, and Hailee Steinfeld, who will play Petra Arkanian, one of the child soldiers in Battle School, as young action heroines is a significant tool in bending the curve on career trajectories for Hollywood actresses, I feel a strong desire to see Ender’s Game succeed as a way to credential them for an audience of genre movie fans. I’m also curious to see what Gavin Hood, as a politically engaged South African director, will do. Card, to me, is not the only person who matters here.
But he’s also a particularly noxious illustration of a paradox that plagues politically engaged consumers of culture: a terrible person who has made significant art. I’ve never given Roman Polanski any of my money, even though I think he’s unlikely to commit sexual assault again, because I have no interested in financing his ongoing mockery of the American justice system—but I also haven’t felt particularly drawn to any of his recent movies, with the exception of The Ghost Writer. I don’t believe in piracy as a means of consuming art while causing economic harm to someone I find objectionable, if only because it’s a form of subverting the system that isn’t targeted: lots of other people suffer losses when someone who was legitimately potential customer, as opposed to someone who never intended to purchase the product in the first place, pirates a work rather than purchasing it. So what’s a customer who wants to consume ethically to do? All of these suggestions come out of my thinking about Ender’s Game, but they’re equally applicable to almost any situation where a person with deeply harmful views has created something worth consuming on its own merits.