2013-11-12

The Redemption of Orson Scott Card

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It might surprise you that my almost seven-year-old post "The Damnation of Orson Scott Card" has nothing to do with how the lgbt community feels about him. Less surprising will be that my eight-plus-month-old two-part series "The Orson Scott Card Stigma" (one, two) has a great deal to do with that.

Anyway, I'm just back from seeing Ender's Game. My primary reactions to the film (other than my actual reactions to the actual film) are, in order of relevance to this post:
1. I would love to see a Shadow of the Hegemon movie or tv show. In part because wouldn't Hailee Steinfeld be sweet as Petra in that story?

2. I know it's by far the Orson Scott Card book I'm most familiar with, but I really ought to reread Speaker for the Dead.

3. There's some real-world irony out there, given the emphases Ender's Game places on Ender's character.

(Note, I'm not interested in debating the validity of anyone's take on the specific issue under discussion, or even one closely related. So for purposes of this post, we're going to say that Orson Scott Card has a popular YouTube channel in which he drains and drinks the blood of kittens. Kitten killer!)


A lot of ink has been spilled about how ironic it is that a book like Ender's Game was written by a kitten killer in the first place. After all, isn't what makes Ender special his empathy? How can someone who created a superhero powered by empathy kill kittens?
“I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” *
This is the irony everyone's been talking about. How can the man who created Ender kill kittens? What is wrong with Orson Scott Card?

Well, besides all the trite things I could say about how Ender also doing some killing or about Orson Scott Card also creating the mass of humanity who rejects Ender and views him as a monster---besides all that, this irony can be turned either direction.

If Orson Scott Card is the enemy (if), and if (if) you feel he must be quote-unquote destroyed, then:
“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. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.”
If you want to "destroy" Orson Scott Card, if you take Ender so seriously that it makes Orson Scott Card that much more monstrous, then you need to take Ender seriously enough to understand/love Orson Scott Card.

But the fact is, most of us aren't Ender. Whether it's hideous space bugs or a man with kitten blood dripping from his goatee, we're not willing to look that enemy in the face and love them.

No matter how you feel about the kitten killer himself, I think thirty years has proven enough time to prove Ender's Game a great book (personally, I prefer Speaker, but I don't think thirty years have been enough to prove that). And someday the storm that is apparently going to be the rest of Orson Scott Card's life (kitten killer!) will end. And even the way we feel about the kittens being killed today will soften with time. And what will be left is the people of the future (kittens inclusive) and Ender Wiggin.

If we insist on conflating Orson Scott Card with Ender Wiggin then we have two options. First: stop it. Second: if we respect the book so much that we can't pretend Ender doesn't matter, then we have to try to be like Ender.

Because here's the thing: you can never make someone else as empathetic as Ender (kitten killer!).

Empathy is not a thing you can force on people.

Nor is it something I'm comfortable judging the health of in other people.

However: Empathy is something we can strive to develop in ourselves.

We can't make Orson Scott Card Ender Wiggin. But we can make ourselves Ender Wiggin.

Is anyone up for the challenge?



[note: images from here and here]

9 comments:

  1. I do find it ironic that someone who could write a character with such immense capacity to empathize with others (which is one reason why I love Speaker for the Dead, too), that someone who could feel his way into and explore so deeply the ethics of otherness could be a kitten killer. Having said that: I like how you turn the issue around here and foreground the challenge of literature: that if we take narrative worlds seriously, we should respond to the demands they make on us and in the process become more empathetic people. I think that's the ethical imperative of the life engaged in giving and receiving stories.

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  2. The movie refers to the aliens as "formics", never by the term "buggers" so prevalent in the book. Many reviews of the movie bring this up only to snidely remark how homophobic Card was to name the aliens "buggers". To me, this seems incredibly simpleminded. I've always thought the name "buggers" was explicitly chosen to make a direct analogy between gay people and the aliens, to suggest that our demonization of gay people is a dreadful mistake just like our demonization of the formics.

    Am I the only person who read it this way? I thought Card was being super blunt with this parallel, but it seems the entire planet doesn't see it.

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  3. Maybe I read it this way because I've read Card's other books, like Songmaster and the Homecoming saga, which prominently feature positive homosexual characters. It's a much more contiguous reading to believe that Card named the aliens "buggers" to advocate for human rights for homosexuals, rather than as a homophobic slur.

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  4. 1) Speaker. Yes. I just read it for the first time last year and the mere mention of it makes me want to read it again. So good.

    2) I'm secretly hoping for an Ender's Shadow movie because: Bean. And more Petra. Obvs.

    3) Other thoughts which I don't feel articulate enough to...uh...articulate at the moment. Mostly I'm just nodding my head at all of what you said.

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  5. .

    I didn't know what buggers meant in the Commonwealth until I was well into adulthood, so to me it was just the sort of dismissive thing of course soldiers would call an enemy. Considering that a controlling motivation for Ender through the original four books is his desire to understand and help and resurrect the "buggers", IF the term's connection to homosexuals IS intentional THEN I think Recession's argument is by far the stronger one.

    And I liked Bean too---I wish the once-upon-a-time idea of making Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow either two simultaneously filmed movies, or a single movie, had happened. But ah well.

    I do think the movie was good enough that a sequel would do well, but I'm sure any sequel would be a nonce kids-in-space thingey and, well, whoopdedo.

    But finally, thank you, Tyler: I do think that reading has the potential for making us better people. But everyone just wants to talk about the author. This isn't a Card-specific problem.

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  6. The word "bugger" is attested from 1550 via the following evolution Bulgarian -> Heretic (since they're Eastern Orthodox) -> Homosexual. So the word itself is a history of bigotry, first against Bulgarians, then against Christians that believe "differently", then against homosexuals. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=bugger

    It's an old word with a long history that to me really makes a point.

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  7. (And I always believe that writers do these sorts of things deliberately, rather than by accident. Maybe too much literature studying in my youth, but I do tend to believe authors choose words like these carefully.)

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  8. Finally, it doesn't actually matter to me whether Card called the aliens "buggers" in order to make a homophobic slur, or to advance gay rights, or just because it was a derogatory sounding name with the word "bug" inside.

    Art invites us to bring our own external references and interpret works in their light. My set of external references leads me to read the Ender books as a plea for empathy, and even if Card were to disown my reading, I would still read them that way.

    I don't require ideological agreement or purity from artists, I am perfectly happy interpreting their work to suit my viewpoints regardless of whether they see things my way. Such is my right as a reader. And isn't it wonderful that there is no One True Meaning for art - what a boring world that would be.

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