"Ender's Game': To boycott or not?

The Ender's Game debate: Of homophobes and knee-jerk reactions

Author Card (above) no longer attacks gay causes, but he never apologized either.
Author Card (above) no longer attacks gay causes, but he never apologized either.

Ender's Game is an epic military science fiction drama, due for release this fall through Lionsgate Entertainment. It's based on an enduringly popular 1985 Orson Scott Card novel that won numerous awards and spawned more than ten sequels.

In connection with the film's release, a relatively new gay advocacy organization, Geeks Out, has called for a boycott of the movie because Card (who is also credited as one of the film's executive producers) is an articulate opponent of gay and lesbian causes.

This call for a boycott has sparked debate in such diverse outlets as the New York Times (where columnist Juliet Lapidos came down in favor of the producers) to Entertainment Weekly (where columnist Mark Harris is solidly in the anti-Card camp).

Does Orson Scott Card deserve the ire of gays and lesbians? Oh, god yes! In 1990 Card published an article in Sunstone Magazine in support of sodomy laws, which, he wrote, should be "used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society."

Card was also on the board of the virulently homophobic National Organization for Marriage, which has opposed gay marriage in several forums, including the Supreme Court this year. (He has since left the board.)

Wal-Mart and Disney

Lionsgate and the film's other producers are trying to distance themselves from Card, arguing that they and their film are in no way homophobic, nor does it deal directly with any political issue directly related to the gay community. They point to Lionsgate's longstanding reputation as a supporter of gay causes, supporting and releasing numerous gay-positive films and causes. They ask, not unreasonably, that Ender's Game be judged on its own merits, apart from the politics of the original novel's author.

Boycotts are a popular tactic today, even if they're more effective as an intimidation tool than as an actual economic weapon to wield to induce companies to change their policies. Targeted companies like Wal-Mart (accused of unfair labor practices) and Disney (for its annual Gay Day celebration) have pretty much ignored the boycotts against them. In the process they've demonstrated that any company with sufficient spine can ride out a boycott and even engender sympathy from the boycott's opponents.

In that case, why would Geeks Out call for a boycott that very likely would exert precious little impact on Lionsgate's bottom line, or on Ender's Game's actual box office performance?

Disingenuous response

Lapidos, in her Times column, suggests that the geeks Out boycott call "isn't about stopping the dissemination of antigay sentiments; it's about isolating Mr. Card and shaming his business partners."

She may be partly right. Hate speakers often temper their speech, if not their attitudes, if they perceive that the tide is against them. Card's response to the Geeks Out issue has been along these lines: He's not going to fight this issue any more, he says, because the recent Supreme Court rulings have rendered the issue of marriage equality "moot."

That's actually somewhat disingenuous, since 37 states still prohibit gay marriage. Nor has Card recanted his past hateful ideas. There's a difference between acknowledging the tide of history and admitting you were wrong.

Innocent bystander

But still, the issue of the validity of a boycott remains. Another recent example has surfaced with those gay advocates calling for a boycott of Stoli vodka as a response to the rising tide of violent homophobia in Russia—a knee-jerk emotional response if there ever was one. The Putin regime's explicit homophobia has been extensively documented, but Stoli vodka is merely an innocent bystander.

I personally remain unpersuaded about the effectiveness of most boycotts. I do, however, keep my on personal "blacklist of conscience," as I like to call it. In today's world, it's impossible to live a politically pure. Even if you wanted to boycott General Electric, Exxon Mobil and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, how could you keep track of all their subsidiaries? But that doesn't mean that people of conscience shouldn't examine their priorities and act on them.

Gay rights are clearly one of my priorities. Consequently, I try to vote for gay-positive politicians when I can and purchase products from gay-positive companies. And I try to avoid contributing to the wealth of outspoken homophobes.

Writers I avoid

That's why I've never read Ender's Game, or any of Orson Scott Card's books. I avoid a number of writers in various fields for this reason— writers whose work I might otherwise support, save that they're on record as being anti-gay or in other ways socially regressive.

It"'s one thing to call for a boycott; quite another thing to organize a boycott. Perhaps, by calling for a boycott of Orson Scott Card, Geeks Out does seek nothing more than to shame people from affiliating with Card and his ilk. At the end of the day, righteous moral disapproval may be the only real weapon most of us possess.♦

To read a response, click here.

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