Orson Scott Card’s Personal Beliefs Are Appalling, But...

...does that mean you can’t enjoy his work? A lot of comic book fans are asking themselves this question since the controversial news broke that Card was tapped by DC to write a two-part story in its forthcoming Superman Anthology - The Adventures of Superman.

Since originally writing this piece, artist Chris Sprouse has dropped out of the project, adding new dimension to the problem, but also miraculously saving DC from having to go through with Card's story -- at least for now. Supposedly DC will be re-soliciting the story at a later date when a new artist has been hired, and will kick off the anthology with a different story. Sprouse's reason for leaving? "The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that's something I wasn't comfortable with."  Which, to this reader and fan, seems like a way of stepping out of something you're uncomfortable with, without taking a side or position.

Originally I had no interest in discussing whether DC was right or wrong in their decision, since it's already been discussed to death, and I still feel that way. And from Sprouse's statement, it seems he is wrestling with the same issue we're discussing here. Where does one draw the line in supporting (or engaging) in a book that has become controversial, driven by media speculation, and perhaps doesn't align with your personal views? The Adventures of Superman was not a book I was very interested in to begin with, so it’s very easy for me to ignore it/boycott it since I find Card’s personal anti-gay beliefs and activism to be abhorrent. But it got me thinking of other creators I vehemently disagree with when it comes to personal beliefs whose work I have much more trouble ignoring. It also got me thinking about how hypocritical it was to boycott or ignore something I didn’t really care about when I disagreed with the creator, but to fail to do so when I disagreed with the creator but was highly interested in the work they created. 

Where does one draw the line in supporting (or engaging) in a book that has become controversial, driven by media speculation, and perhaps doesn't align with your personal views?

I think I really began considering this issue the first time I caught a weekend re-run of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, after the racist Mel Gibson freak out.  I looooove Mad Max (especially Beyond Thunderdome) and suddenly I found myself unable to focus on the film, consumed by guilt over enjoying it and difficulty separating Gibson’s racist behavior from the film. This of course sent me on a downward spiral. On examination there were so many things I loved that came from people whose personal beliefs and behaviors were anything from suspect to outright disgusting.

Some were easy to let go of. I’ve never read Card’s beloved Enders Game novels, so I probably never will, no real loss. I’ll likely never be the wiser to what I’ve missed and I’m okay with that.

Other things are no so easy. Roman Polanski is a great example. I mean, forget for a second Chinatown. CHINATOWN!!! His recent film Carnage not only starred a ton of actors I like, but it just looks like the kind of movie I’d love. My boyfriend wanted to see it in the theater, but in the end I couldn’t justify it. I’m sure I’ll see it eventually, but I’ve rationalized that catching it on cable allows me to see it without putting any money in Polanski’s pocket and unwittingly “supporting” him or his actions. Besides, if I do a full Polanski boycott do I have to boycott Kate Winslet for being in his film? Because that’s going to get complex and fast (also, there’s no way I can do a Winslet boycott, I’m just not that strong). 

In 2012 DC comics began a prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons groundbreaking (and best selling) Watchmen called Before Watchmen. Given DC’s treatment of Moore and Gibbons (especially Moore, who has been very outspoken about his feelings regarding DC) I opted not to buy, read, or review any of the Before Watchmen books. But a lot of creators I respect whose work I love participated in Before Watchmen – writing, drawing, and contributing covers.  Do I not follow those insanely talented creators because they disagreed with me about DC’s behavior relating to Watchmen and creator’s rights, or because they didn't disagree with DC enough to turn down paying work that they surely needed? And if we're talking about creator rights — comics have been terrible about that issue for just this side of forever. So this is getting incredibly complicated and the list of what I can't ingest is becoming massive. What a mess!

Perhaps the most difficult one for me personally is Woody Allen. Just thinking about his personal life “situation” turns my stomach, but I’m hard pressed to think of a writer and director that I respect more. Sure, he’s made some crappy ones, but he’s also made some of my favorite films of all time – Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, and his recent Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are all wonderful. And again, am I supposed to swear off Scarlett Johansson for not only being in Allen's films, but also being a muse of sorts to him? I just can’t do it.  Allen has brought me so much joy, so many brilliant films — is that worth nothing when compared to his personal choices? How do I distinguish between the artist and the art? Should I? And is there a line? What's the line? Does it have to do with what the personal belief is? Or how active they are in supporting it or living by it? Or should the line be about the quality of the work created and not the creators themselves? How far does guilt by association work? Should I not be watching the Seinfeld re-runs I love because Michael Richard's had a disgusting freak out/break down years after the show ended? There's no end to this madness and now I have a headache. 

I doubt I’ll ever again pay to see a Mel Gibson movie again, but I’ve watched (and enjoyed) Mad Max (as well as that silly Ransom movie) since I started thinking about this issue years ago. Does that make me a hypocrite? Does it somehow not matter because I’m not actively putting money in his pocket anymore? Where is the line? Wait...IS there a line?

I'm curious how each of us, especially those of us that consider ourselves creators (or "future creators") approach this issue. Can you easily separate creator from project? Can you separate the personal from professional? Do you take each on a case-by-case basis?  Is this a black and white issue for you, or is it filled with shades of grey? 

In the end, I think I’m going to try to embrace the philosophy of a creator I DO love and respect – Neil Gaiman. Just this past weekend he answered a fan’s question about this issue by reposting something he’d written in 2006, which used Ezra Pound as an excellent example of getting something terribly positive out of a creator’s work, even though Pound himself was a nightmare (fascist, anti-Semite, possible traitor, confirmed collaborator). Here’s the link to the full post, but the gist is his feeling that “the art isn’t the artist, the poem isn’t the poet” and to “trust the tale, not the teller.” But he also encouraged people to do what they felt was right, and that does indeed feel right to me. Keep perspective but follow your gut…so that’s what I’m going to try to do, what about you?

Kelly Thompson

Column by Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson is the author of two crowdfunded self-published novels. The Girl Who Would be King (2012), was funded at over $26,000, was an Amazon Best Seller, and has been optioned by fancy Hollywood types. Her second novel, Storykiller (2014), was funded at nearly $58,000 and remains in the Top 10 most funded Kickstarter novels of all time. She also wrote and co-created the graphic novel Heart In A Box (2015) for Dark Horse Comics.

Kelly lives in Portland Oregon and writes the comics A-Force, Hawkeye, Jem & The Holograms, Misfits, and Power Rangers: Pink. She's also the writer and co-creator of Mega Princess, a creator-owned middle grade comic book series. Prior to writing comics Kelly created the column She Has No Head! for Comics Should Be Good.

She's currently managed by Susan Solomon-Shapiro of Circle of Confusion.

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Comments

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 7, 2013 - 10:38am

Most artists never gain infamy for their beliefs, but that doesn't mean they don't have beliefs you'd find untenable. Therefore I can't always know what the people whose works I enjoy really believe(d), and so I can't worry about it too much.

Some art is illuminated by knowledge of its creator, and some is not. Likewise, I suppose some art could be ruined, and some not.

Nick Marino's picture
Nick Marino from Long Beach, CA, USA, Earth, Sol, Milky Way March 7, 2013 - 11:01am

Awesome op/ed!!! I struggle with this issue all of the time. And I'm in a similar boat, where I take a clear stand on certain artists (Mel Gibson, for example) but then I definitely enter into borderline hypocritical territory with other artists (James Brown, for example).

I definitely think there are shades of gray when it comes to each artist. It's hard to ever understand the full scope of a person's violence or hatred without being in their shoes and seeing things from their perspective.

Most of the time, however, I can't separate the art from the artist... nor do I think that it's healthy to do so all of the time. Gaiman has a valid point, but it's a point I tend to disagree with because I think his view is an easy way of self-rationalizing enjoyment of art by an artist that you despise without taking a stand about the values that artist and art represent.

Especially when it comes to artists who hold prejudice and hatred. Those beliefs often seep through in their art in undercurrents that not only alter their approach to characters but often settings, culture, expression, and values.

Granted, no one is perfect and every artist will have some prejudices. I'm not advocating a fascist idealistic mentality where anyone who transgresses my values should be boycotted.

But I do believe strongly in emphasizing the positive and advocating tolerance and intelligence. To me, that often means disowning an artist's (or a  company's!!!) body of work if they represent violence, hatred, or intolerance.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life March 7, 2013 - 11:12am

Yeah, there's no way I could swear off Chinatown, Repulsion, or Rosemary's Baby. I feel the less we know about our favorite artists, the better.

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep March 7, 2013 - 11:20am

For me, it's more important to support the art than to worry about supporting the artist. I love me some Cerebus, and own the entire run of graphic novels (phone books, my husband calls them). They weigh down my bookshelf like nothing else. But I think Dave Sim is a misogynist pig for his views on feminism. But I didn't buy the books to support him or his ideas. I bought them because it's a wonderful tale (Jaka's Story breaks my heart every. damn. time.).  Well, wonderful until right around Melmoth...  But that's not really the point.

 

Mel Gibson may be a racist prick, but he's also a very talented filmaker, and while the films have his name on them, they certainly weren't a one-man-show. Think of all of the cast and crew and support personnel that worked on the films he's made over the years. You can't tell me that not one of those people were Jewish or black or latino, or "ethnic" in any way. So while he may be racist in his personal views, that doesn't mean it carries over into his professional life. In this day, it can't. There are too many people that will call "shenanigans" if he tried to. He'd never make another film ever again if he walked into a studio and said, "let's do this thing, but don't hire any non-European-descended white folks.". 

 

Let them have their personal views, however we may disagree. But as long as they create art that still manages to resonate with non-racist, non-homophobe, non-crazy people, then that art will have value for us. Even if we disagree.

 

IMHO.

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry March 7, 2013 - 11:27am

Hell, I'll read it because I like his stories.  I've never made any bones about the fact that I honestly couldn't care less what an artist's (or entertainer's) "politics" are.  I don't buy their product because of a political message.

Gerd Duerner's picture
Gerd Duerner from Germany is reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm March 7, 2013 - 12:19pm

In the end one can only follow his own conscience. I guess a man is entitled to his beliefs, how wrong they may ever be. If somebody feels threatened by homosexuality I don’t have a a right to tell him that he’s not allowed to feel that way – problem begins when somebody, like Card does to an extent, takes his beliefs as grounds to take action against others. Although, I guess here again goes that Card has to follow his conscience there…

Mel Gibson is a different case, far as I took note of that it was a personal fallout, nothing public, he isn't out to impress his beliefs on others there – though, strictly personally his bordering on misogyny remarks worried me more far as I followed it.

People like Roman Polanski, Woody Allen or Mike Tyson are criminals of the lowest kind, pure and simple, and I can’t see for the life of me how anybody can support them to whatever degree with a clear conscience – as such I do feel that it reflects negatively on the people that hire/work with/award them - and do boycott their work, not that this hurts them any but it makes me rest a little better.

And I guess it is hypocritical of me to use my beliefs as a base for my actions. :D

Shannon Barber's picture
Shannon Barber from Seattle is reading Paradoxia: A Predators Diary by Lydia Lunch March 7, 2013 - 12:48pm

Welcome to the wonderful world of double consciousness. These are problems I have struggled with most of my life. The only real answer is do what makes you feel okay. If you don't want to support someone you think is a racist douchebag, don't. If you can overlook douchebaggery, sally forth. It's easy to say, sometimes it's much harder to actually do.

James McArthur's picture
James McArthur from Potato is reading a book March 7, 2013 - 1:40pm

I like the stance of supporting the art and not the artist. If I only saw movies by directors who voted the way I voted or read the books by authors who share my views on every damn thing, I would be left with very little to enjoy.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words March 7, 2013 - 3:38pm

If my revulsion for the artist affects my enjoyment of the art, then I give it a pass. If I don't feel dirty while reading material from authors with ass-backwards moral opinions, then I read it.

completely subjective and irrational, but that's how it goes. I read Dave Sim, but I don't read Frank Miller. Has nothing to do with any hierarchy of crimes. Can't say what it's about, honestly.

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry March 7, 2013 - 4:09pm

Maybe you just don't like Frank Miller.

You don't like Frank Miller?!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 8, 2013 - 4:19am

I draw the line at will buy a product go to support some horrible action? Hence Polanski would be off limits, but Card wouldn't (he seems content to rant incoherently). 

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies March 8, 2013 - 6:46am

You say his beliefs are "abhorrent" yet you only mark him as "anti-gay", a very broad term that tells us nothing, especially if we don't know his beliefs. Just because his beliefs are different than yours, it doesn't make them abhorrent beliefs. And it's stupid to protest or boycott. You're not going to affect anything, it's just to give yourself some sense of self-importance. People are allowed to believe whatever the hell they want.

Heather Senter's picture
Heather Senter from Hampton, Ontario is reading Something Strange And Deadly March 8, 2013 - 8:30am

As a Mormon, I am appalled at your lack of understanding of both our beliefs and our right to have those beliefs in a free society.

In a democratic society, we all have the right and mandate to work within the framework of the law to create a society that reflects our beliefs. And then the chips will fall where they may. That's how democracy works. We teach love and tolerance and I have no problem whatsoever being friends with or reading the works of individuals whose personal beliefs run counter to mine.

I'd like to see a little more tolerance and a lot less prejudice and bias in the world. I certainly don't see it here.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life March 8, 2013 - 9:18am

Yes, but when someone's beliefs infringe on other people's rights, that's a problem.

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry March 8, 2013 - 9:41am

Point of fact, beliefs do not inherently infringe.  Infringement only occurs when enough people are convinced by those beliefs to act (speaking politically, of course). 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 8, 2013 - 4:03pm

@Heather Senter - I don't think anyone was condemning Mormons as a group, just one crazy guy who is also a Mormon. I'm no expert on the subject matter, but I was under the impression that LDS stance was something like gays = Christians should pray for them, and that Cards is more like gays = probably child molesters we must stop. Part of the reason people (I thought) take so much issue with him is that he is way more harsh on gays then other groups who take fairly strict stances on the avoidance of homosexual acts.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder March 8, 2013 - 7:46pm

OSC isn't the villain here, despite being a repellant bigot of the first order. 

DC Comics is the villain, for knowing this, yet hiring him to do some writing for their comic anyways. Surely they could have chosen another high profile, talented writer—a writer whose name isn't slowly becoming synonomous with hate.

Looking past OSC's bigotry is passive acceptance of it. 

I can't worry so much about an individual writer's personal politics. The vast swath of writers' individual beliefs are not known. Will I re-consider a purchase if the beliefs of the artist happen to be public? Absolutely, but that doesn't mean I won't buy it. Case by case thing for me. Like, I still won't partonize that chicken place that's closed on Sundays. 

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 March 8, 2013 - 8:23pm

@Heather:

There's a reason that you won't find the words Mormon or Mormonism anywhere in this article. I didn't take Card to task for being a Mormon, or the Mormon religion to task for its beliefs. I took Card to task for having incredibly extreme and intolerent beliefs when it comes to LGBTQ people. I also didn't suggest any kind of boycott or blacklist of Card due to his extreme beliefs and activism that I personally find abhorrent. I simply asked the question (repeatedly and quite clearly) about where people personally draw the line between art and artists.

Having lived in Utah for my formative teen years - about five of them - and having all my close family still living there I can assure I am well familiar with both the positives and the negatives of the Mormon religion.

All that said, this is an opinion piece (obviously) and I stand by the title of the piece. I find Card's beliefs appaling.

 

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on March 10, 2013 - 2:46pm

This folks is called cognitive dissonance.

It is true that beliefs themselves do not infringe upon anybody's rights. It is also true that Card's particularly hateful kind of anti-homosexual rhetoric is not characteristic of all people who do not support homosexuality. That said, DC Comics was just plain stupid to hire Card during a time where there is no shortage of anti-gay garbage going on in national politics.

As far as the original question of this piece goes, I think that a person's work and their personal opinions can be seperated if the beliefs are not prominently displayed in their work. It's been a while since I read 'Ender's Game' but I don't remember any outright gay-bashing in the novel. Therefor, I still like it. It's a good novel and very influential in the realm of science fiction. Card deserves praise for its creation, even if he does hold views about homosexuality that are hateful, dogmatic, irrational, and entirely unsubstantiated by fact.

I see it this way, don't fight against the individual, fight against the harmful rhetoric. If you like Card's work but hate his views, it doesn't mean you have to boycot him. Donate your time, money, and support to organizations that work against hateful anti-homosexual rhetoric. Don't feel guilty if you want to go see the 'Ender's Game' movie or buy his next book. That sort of guilt is useless. You can only do so much to fight bigotry, and supporting organizations that work against it is way more helpful than boycotting Card.

As for hypocrisy, if you're a human, you're a hypocrite.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs March 10, 2013 - 3:49pm

Moore's tantrum was silly. DC owns Watchmen. It isn't sacred. He should have gotten better terms in his contract, but it doesn't make sense to object to it many years later. DC should improve their terms. If creators aren't down with them, they shouldn't work for the company.

I wonder if Frank Miller was always out of his mind. He used to be great. All Star Batman and Robin was so bad it was good and Holy Terror was totally unreadable.

didldidi's picture
didldidi March 14, 2013 - 3:51pm

I'm sure many of the artists whose work I enjoy were/are complete assholes. Who cares about work by well-adjusted, well-meaning citizens?

Earl Marischal David Greybeard's picture
Earl Marischal ... March 28, 2013 - 7:43am

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Adam Eaton's picture
Adam Eaton from Missouri is reading Dinosaurs Ever Evolving by Allen A. Debus March 28, 2013 - 4:49pm

I look at it this way. Everyone, no matter how evil, has the right to earn a living and support themselves with their talents. Orson Scott card earns a living by writing and teaching. Should he not be allowed to do either becasue of his views? How far should it go. If he became a janitor at a bowling alley, should we boycott the bowling alley because they pay him and are therefore somehow supporting his views by providing him with income?

leahzero's picture
leahzero from Chicago is reading everything Fitzgerald wrote. March 30, 2013 - 7:18am

Adam, interesting thought experiment. I'd say a teacher and writer is in a much better position to disseminate his personal views than a janitor, and so yes, I'd boycott the whacko with hateful views if they were in such a position of power.