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Doc Cleveland: Police, Danger, and the Social Contract
Hey, wow. This fall, a movie version of Ender's Game is coming out. It's based on a science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, originally drafted in 1977, when I was 2 years old. I read it in high school and I really liked it. It's the story of Ender Wiggin, tormented at battle school as part of his training to become the ultimate weapon that saves humanity of a nasty enemy from space called "The Buggers," who remain mysterious in the first book and are explored later in the series.
Ender's Game is, says critic John Kessel, the story of "a character who exterminates an entire race and yet remains fundamentally innocent." It is also, he says, a story where morality is judged only by a character's intent, not the result of their actions. That's the adult take.
The young nerd's take is that Ender Wiggins is smarter and better than all of the kids around him, but is alienated and abused and is surrounded by enemies who would actually try to kill him even if doing so might doom all of humanity to destruction. This speaks to a certain young reader who might feel like, at school, some of those other kids would hate him no matter what he might do for them, even if he saved their lives. You can just see it in your head, that smarmy guy telling all the pretty girls, "Geek pushed me out of the path of that bus and then got run over himself. The spaz." Yeah. Fuck you, Carlos. And fuck you for laughing, Alicia. I died saving his life. Wait, where was I?
Oh, yes, the book and the forthcoming movie. So, the thing about Orson Scott Card is that he is a devout Mormon from Utah and a hardcore social conservative. Now, science fiction and fantasy is full of Libertarian types. The hero's journey upon which most of these stories are based just speaks to Libertarian fantasies. So much early science fiction is about people who build space ships on their own, in secret and go out to represent humanity to the rest of reality without permission from a single government and without a thought that the rest of the world might have something to say about a self appointed scientist rocketing off to Mars to antagonize monsters.
Social conservatives are maybe less common. These are imaginative people, after all. Star Trek offered us the notion of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," which sounds like a cool idea for an adult party, with the right people.
Well, it turns out that Card, while writing science fiction and fantasy, also had a whole career writing for conservative magazines and journals, very often targeting gays, claiming that they had no place in society and fighting against same sex marriage rights, bellowing the usual rhetoric about how the government should be overthrown to prevent gay marriage. You've heard it all before, but it sucks to hear it from somebody who is a competent artist, especially when they make art that you liked in childhood and that it stuck with you. Later, when I read Infinite Jest I was struck by how Hal Incandenza's experiences were a bit like Ender's, though far more complex -- the game of Eschaton definitely recalls Ender's training.
This guy turned out to be a homophobe? Ugh. Not surprising but, ugh. Now that his movie is coming out he is criticizing his critics for being intolerant of his bigotry, just like those dummies always do. Ugh.
Cory Doctorow, another writer I like (Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town is entirely unique, try a free copy on him), will not boycott Ender's Game. He doesn't believe in boycotts. I get it. Like Doctorow, I don't demand that artists I like share my politics. But this is out and out bigotry.
Also, as I think back to reading Ender's Game, I can't help but remember that my own isolated self was not, as some of my classmates were, even further isolated as either closeted or out homosexuals. So, there's a bit of a slap in the face from the author to other young men and women who might have identified with the story. "You're special and amazing," says the story. "Oh, not you. You have no place in society."
I don't know if I'm going to see it. Anyone else made up their minds?