I find myself in a bit of a pop culture dilemma this week.
When I was 15 or so, I read Orson Scott Card's science fiction masterwork, Ender's Game. As a sci-fi geek from way back, I was predisposed to love the story of a young boy on a future Earth, recruited by the military to learn how to fight a looming alien invasion. The story was simple and elegant, the writing crisp and vivid, and the book rocked my socks.
I read it several times. The last time was only a few years ago. I'm 43 now.
Last fall, I read a press release announcing that Hollywood was finally making an Ender's Game movie. I proceeded to have an immediate nerdgasm.
But shortly after the movie announcement was released to the far corners of the Internet, I started seeing more news stories, unexpected ones, about Card himself, and the fact that he's widely reputed to be a major bigot. More specifically: a big-time homophobe.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet, several articles and statements have emerged since then, all authored by Card over the years. In a 1990 article, Card postulated about the dangerous "homosexual agenda." In 2004, he claimed that gay people are the result of child abuse and molestation, and that gay marriage will never count as "real marriage." And in 2008, he wrote an article for the Mormon Times, arguing that gay marriage will result in the end of American democracy.
There's more. There's a lot more. Go Googling and see. But that was enough for this sci-fi fan (and newly out gay guy) to bum hard. And I didn't feel any better when I saw that a couple months ago, Card spoke out again (in an exclusive comment to Entertainment Weekly, no less) about his previous statements, essentially throwing up his hands in surrender:
Ender's Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state. Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.
In my imagination, I picture Card getting phone calls from studio execs, saying, "Dude: we need you to do some backpedaling stat before this movie comes out." And this was Card's best effort.
I know how to separate reality from fiction. With a few exceptions (I'm lookin' at you, Chris Brown and Mel Gibson), I'm usually able to appreciate a piece of entertainment for what it is, without letting my perspective be tainted by a less-than-savory backstory about the creator.
But this just makes me sad. See, I LOVE Ender's Game. I remember visualizing the main character so clearly: Ender Wiggin, the boy taken away from his family, isolated in interstellar Battle School, and forced to become a genius at the game of war. I already have a copy of the book ready for my daughter to read as soon as I think she might be interested. How do I do this, though? How do I pass along one of my favorite childhood treasures, knowing that it was authored by someone whose beliefs are truly ugly to me?
We're not talking about some random novelist crouching in a dim corner of the Geek Literature basement. For many fans my age, Card is the J.K. Rowling of science fiction. What if you found out the creator of your beloved Harry Potter was, let's say, a big racist?
I still think Ender's Game is an amazing book. And I know my daughter will love it. I also know that if she finds out about Card's homophobic beliefs, she'll refuse to read it. (She's very protective of her gay dad that way.) Do I tell her about Card? Do I let her enjoy the book for a while and then tell her?
And in a more immediate sense, what if she asks to go see the movie this weekend?
While I can't picture myself withholding the book from her (my old copy is still on our bookshelf), I could boycott the film. Not that I think Card himself will feel any big hurt from my measly ten-dollar protest. Not that I think studios will learn a valuable lesson. But because it might make me feel just a little bit better. On the other hand, I'm so curious about the movie. I want to see it.
This may not seem like a big decision to some people. Maybe I should just get over myself and let my girl read and see what she wants. But the thing is, I've discovered that one of my favorite childhood writers thinks I'm an abomination. And I'm just not sure what to do with that.
As my daughter gets older, she'll learn that sometimes, great works of entertainment come from less-than-great people, and she'll decide for herself when she is and isn't able to separate Art from Artist.
Ender's Game opens in theaters nationwide this weekend, and I may have a Teachable Moment on my hands. I'm just not quite sure how I'll handle it.