The conflict between the enjoyment of art and the nature of the artist that creates it has always been a source of cognitive dissonance. The revelation that a work you love was created by an individual you despise can be a source of great confusion, especially when continued appreciation of said loved work is seen as a passive endorsement of the artist.
Perhaps the most infamous example of this in the film industry is the case of Roman Polanski. Throughout his career Polanski has created some masterful pieces of cinema from the award laden (Oscar winning) The Pianist to the genre-defining Rosemary’s Baby. He has also spent 30 years fleeing a conviction of raping a 13-year-old girl. Whatever the details of the case or the people involved, does the continued consumption of Polanski’s work morally compromise the viewer? Does watching The Ghost make you pro-paedophilia? Or can a film be enjoyed on its own merits, independent of its creator and Daily Mail lynch mobs? This seemingly unresolvable conflict is set to rear its head again this November with the release of Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game, a film that may act as a barometer for the public attitudes towards gay rights.
First a little context:
Published in 1985, Ender’s Game is the first book in a series that would eventually include twelve novels, twelve short stories and 47 comic books. The series follows the students of ‘Battle School’, a futuristic military academy where children are trained to lead humanity the war against a race of ant-like aliens. Basically Harry Potter but with genocide instead of British character actors.
While the books have become extremely popular, Card himself has become a highly contentious figure due to his outspoken views on gay marriage and homosexuality in general. While a whole article could be filled with Card’s poisonous nonsense, this one quote should be enough to summarise his position;
“The dark secret of homosexual society—the one that dares not speak its name—is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”
- Orson Scott Card - Homosexual "Marriage" and Civilization
There are countless layers to this statement and it is not difficult to perceive an undercurrent of self-loathing that would suggest a man repressing his own sexuality. Card is also a devout Mormon (a faith known for it homophobic rhetoric), a former missionary and creationist, as well as climate change denier. All this suggests a man deeply committed to the dogma of the religious and political right.
Regardless of its nature or intent, opposition to Card’s work has existed for as long as his views have been public. The debate has only escalated as the Internet has enabled both Card’s rhetoric and the formation of protest against it. As with Polanski some disgusted fans have abandoned Card’s work, while others continue to enjoy it in spite of the author’s views. However, the case of Card and the Ender’s Game movie has an added controversy. Not only is Card an outspoken homophobe, he is also a significant contributor to the National Organisation for Marriage; an anti-gay marriage campaign group that in 2010 was declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. For this reason consumption of Card’s work would likely lead to more funding for NOM or other anti-gay groups. This distinguishes Card from artists like Polanski since buying a Blu-ray of Chinatown isn’t going to make it any easier or harder for people to sexually assault children. Many view the purchasing of any work related to Card as not just giving money to a homophobe, but also giving money to groups with the political clout to act on their hate.
Perhaps the first conflict on the issue came in 2009 with the release of the Xbox Live Arcade game Shadow Complex. While Card had no creative involvement with the game, it was loosely based on his right wing masturbatory fantasy Empire and as a result Card was entitled to a share of the games sales. There was a great deal of discussion across the gay and gaming press. However, the story and the game were both small scale and a suggested boycott failed to gain momentum, and while Shadow Complex was a success it doubtful that it set NOM’s world on fire. Nevertheless the story highlighted the issue of social awareness in viewership for the gaming community and established a combative relationship between Card and the more enlightened areas of the geek press and culture.
Now four years later, and after decades in development hell, Summit Entertainment is bringing a Gavin Hood directed Ender’s Game to the big screen.
While its release will trigger another round of charged and likely grammatically incorrect debate, the outcome this time things may be slightly differently. Because between 2009 and 2013 something happened. Chick-Fil-A happened.
Chick-Fil-A (it’s like KFC except it isn’t) came to the attention of civil rights groups in 2011 when it was discovered that since 2003 the company had made nearly $5 million in contributions to various anti-gay Christian organisations. A year later the story reached critical mass dominating the national news and igniting action on both sides of the issue. The Mayor of Boston announced his intention to block expansion of the franchise, The Jim Henson Company ended a kid’s meal toy deal and boycotts were staged across America. Meanwhile conservative pundits encouraged their followers to patronise the restaurant en masse on “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day”.
Like with any controversy or unresolved Third World conflict the news media lost interest and the story petered out, but once the dust had settled there had been an undeniable impact. Chick-Fil-A was forced to cut ties with the groups it had funded in a greasy-palmed expression of self-preservation and continued selling its chicken, which is apparently as tasty as it is evil. In the wake of the boycott it seemed as though every fast food outlet and snack food company was coming out of the woodwork to declare their allegiances, with Wendy’s and Papa John’s joining the greasy gay bashers while Oreo brought out its “gay cookie”. It seemed that not only could boycotting have an effect, but that the culture war may finally be entering the most sacred part of America’s culture: The consumer culture.
So, in this new atmosphere of consumer awareness which way will the tide turn? Many of Card’s fans are mystified and often dismayed by the revelation of his political opinions and affiliations. It will be interesting to see how many of his fans will be enlightened to the personality of the author during what will likely be his greatest period of media scrutiny.
Ender's Game isn’t out until November of this year and the films quality will remain a mystery until its release. However the first trailer was underwhelming and the chances of it being good are pretty low. Gavin Hood’s last directorial job was X-Men Origins: Wolverine; a film that achieved the seemingly impossible feat of making a naked Hugh Jackman boring. In the meantime Card is embroiled in another controversy concerning his selection as one of the writers of a new Superman series, a consumer conflict too complex to discuss here. Regardless, come opening weekend, assuming the issues have been appropriately publicised, the box office for Ender’s Game may say something very important about both British and American society. If the film is a success, it could highlight either a worrying lack of consumer awareness or a general disregard for gay rights. Or, if the inevitable boycotts succeed, it could be a sign of another step towards civility. Unless of course the film’s a turd and everyone knows it, in which case it’ll join the long list of failed franchise starters and the media will move onto the next offensive thing. My guess is a remake of Triumph of the Will starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.