Thursday, November 7, 2013

We Need to Talk About Ender's Game...

I've been seeing all sorts of venom on social media directed at Orson Scott Card because of the new movie version of Ender's Game. While I appreciate your support in a way as a gay man, it also appalls me as a writer that people seem unable to grasp that being a bigot does NOT make someone a bad artist. I want to talk a little about why I think everyone should go see Ender's Game, regardless of where some of Card's money goes.

As an intelligent, geeky kid, I got teased and bullied a lot. Being socially awkward made it worse. So when I finally got to go to CTY (the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, a.k.a. nerd camp), it was a revelation. Here was a place where liking Rocky Horror and Monty Python actually made you one of the cool kids, after a fashion. Here was a place where it was okay to discuss philosophy while lounging on the couches with your friends. And CTY was the first place I heard about Ender's Game. (Unfortunately, my roommate ruined the twist for me when I asked what it was about, but that's not the point here.)

Everyone there had read it. Everyone there loved it. Ender's Game is the quintessential parable of our time about being intelligent and socially awkward. Beyond that, it's a story about how capable outsiders seem eternally destined to get screwed over. This makes it an effective allegory for gay or transgender people just like any other marginalized group. The great irony of the story of Ender's Game is that a homophobic writer has written one of the most powerful stories about tolerance ever told through science fiction. I personally happen to think it was the tolerant part of him, deep inside, desperately trying to get out. But regardless of the reason, art ceases to be the property of the artist once it's out in the world having people interact with it. Ender's Game is a story about tolerance, plain and simple, and that story has great potential to help closeted gay kids just like it has helped so many shy gifted kids in the past.

More importantly, it's a damn good story. The characters are real, the geopolitical power structures are believable, and the twist is one you won't see coming if you haven't read the book. This is because Card is a master of his craft. His book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy has been my bible on the topic ever since I first read it in high school. Yet another way this homophobe has benefited this gay Jewish writer. I would argue that because this particular work is written in such a way that it might easily give hope to people who aren't comfortable with themselves, supporting it is the ultimate act of protest against Card's politics. And if we discarded artists' work because of their archaic or bigoted beliefs, there goes Carl Jung, Aleister Crowley, Walt Disney, and all of the Founding Fathers, just to name a few. Surely you must see how little sense that would make.

Finally, if you've read the book, you might find the absence of the word "bugger" conspicuous in the movie. We hear "bug" once or twice, but usually it's "Formic" instead. This is a convention from the Ender's Shadow series, but it's more interesting to me that the one homophobic slur that appeared in the book has been deliberately omitted. I doubt that was Card's choice, but more likely a smart one on the part of the studio. When I first read the book, I didn't know that "bugger" meant "faggot", but it would bother me now rereading the book and the movie avoids that problem entirely.

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