First, it seems important to say it out loud what’s true: I’m gay and Orson Scott Card is a homophobe. He and I are both on record with sufficient information to back this up, so I don’t have any reason to clarify that further here. The other fact is that I plan to see Ender’s Game (the upcoming movie), despite the fact that my attendance will directly support the income of a guy who thinks I’m a genetic aberration. Yep, that’s all true and while I am mildly conflicted about this, it’s not enough to keep me out of the theater.
Artists, Art and the Audience
I believe that art exists in two realities…that of the artist who created it and that of the audience who consumes it. I don’t believe that the two perceptions need to match, nor do I think that either the artist or the audience is responsible for the other’s conception of the piece of art.
I’m a writer of poetry and I frequently share that poetry with audiences on a microphone. There are times when someone will speak to me about my work after a performance and some of those times she or he will express a reaction to my work that is completely different than what I intended. To some degree this is in the evolution of the poem will cause me to further edit the piece to see if I can bring my own interpretation forward. But in many cases, I’m fine letting that person’s experience be different than my intention.
Because the audience will always experience the poem (or in Card’s case, the book) through their own experiences, prejudices and preferences. And I believe that – good or bad – what’s created between the audience and the art belongs to the audience, not to the artist.
What I mean by all this is that Ender’s Game moved me in the way that many fantasy and sci-fi books move me. I read the book as an adult, but was easily able to access the memories of a childhood where it often felt like I took on more responsibility than was appropriate for a kid. What I found in Ender, and what I think lots of people found in Ender, was a kid who wanted mostly to be loved by his family, but who, in the extreme circumstances of his life, was required to take a different path.
Specifically, what I remember most from Ender’s Game is how the circumstances and other characters (which is to say, Card’s writing) maneuvered Ender consistently into situations where he found no choice other than to take increasingly aggressive action. He is advanced past his siblings and sent to Battle School, inciting the dangerous anger of his creepy older brother; he is advanced past his peers in Battle School, inciting brutal attacks from other young soldiers. In this latter example, Ender’s only way out of the conflict is to meet the attacks with even greater brutality. That he knows and uses this level of brutality is horribly painful to him and leads eventually to his choice to simply stop participating in Battle School…before he is manipulated and maneuvered back into the thick of it.
Why I Love Fantasy and Sci-Fi and Storytelling in General
I’ve been reading Fantasy and Science Fiction books since I was old enough to read. There is no question in my mind that the characters from these stories were, in many ways, more real to child-Greg than many live people were because I identified so closely with them.
This, of course, is what elevates mediocre art to great art but it’s also a reflection of how the audience will find themselves based on what they’re looking for (and why some stories work for some people and not for others). I’m willing to be led quite far by a decent storyteller, which is why I’m so disappointed when a writer (or filmmaker) pushes their agenda so hard that it becomes visible through the story. This was my major problem with His Dark Materials (Pullman, 1995). The author is an enthusiastic atheist which is fine, but in the books I felt that he bludgeoned me, his audience, about atheism when it didn’t serve the story. I did go see The Golden Compass (made from the first book of Pullman’s series), but found it as uninspired as I had expected.
Some criticism of Stephanie Myers’ Twilight Saga (2005) has been that she was pushing a no-sex-before-marriage agenda. I read all those books and that agenda didn’t occur to me (remember…I will go a LONG way with a storyteller…I’m not a critical reader in that sense), but I can see in retrospect how that could be true. So the difference I find between Pullman and Myers is that Pullman’s agenda was NOT in service of the story and I believe that Myers’ agenda WAS in service of the story (as wacky as it was). I don’t know enough about either of these authors to know their intent, so the only way I have of making this judgment is through my own reaction to their writing. (I don’t think either is particularly brilliant or particularly dim, but both series, especially Myers’, certainly captured a lot of people’s attention for a time)
All this is to say that in reading Card’s Ender series, I was never aware of an agenda being sold to me. There are those who have – and will – find messages of homoerotism (young battle soldiers running around naked) and accuse Card of being closeted gay. Stranger things have happened. There are those who will find messages of homophobia (wiping out “the buggers”, as in buggery) and that is also possible as a motivation from Card. But for me, the reader, even since knowing that Card thinks I’m a genetic aberration, I don’t get any of those messages.
The soldiers running around naked to me illustrated only that they were children and nakedness just means way less to pre-pubescent children than it does to adults. The “buggers” were way more convincing as large alien insects that are a primal fear among humans, than as some deeply hidden metaphor about anal intercourse. But as I said…I stick faithfully with a storyteller to see what she or he has for me, rather than examine the writing critically. Perhaps it’s a blind spot, but it’s why I read and watch stories.
Speaker For The Dead
In addition to all of that, I have to mention the second book in the Ender series: Speaker For The Dead. This is my favorite book of the series and the one I come back to again and again. In Speaker, Card has his brilliantly conceived characters wrestle with the idea of who gets to be “human” and who is “the other” that must be avoided or annihilated. While this seems like the perfect chance to push an agenda of who gets to live and who has to die, Card instead shows how everyone (the buggers, the piggies, and even a virus) is “people” and that we’re better off for how we work together than for how we try to wipe out people different from us.
As a writer, I’m constitutionally unable to write anything except my own story so I find myself unable to reconcile what Card writes with what he says about gay people. But, with a glimpse into my own view of the advancement of gay rights, I’ve decided that his homophobia may be a blind spot in worldview that otherwise mirrors my own. I also believe that the sexual nuances that get trotted out in gay rights issues often make it hard for some people NOT to get all creeped out. There is Victorian prudery at work here, indicative of greater societal issues around sex than I’m willing to explore here, but the bottom line is that I generally believe that folks are coming around, even if it will take more time than they have available on the planet (which may be the case in Card’s situation). But my inability to reconcile what he’s written in Speaker with what he’s said about gay people gives me hope.
Because I Love It
But seriously, the real reason I will go see Ender’s Game is that the story moved me and continues to move me. If the film has the same commitment to the story that Card did in the book, then child-Greg will again find solace and connection in a character who must bear the unbearable in a way that is dramatically beyond what I had to bear as a child, but still creates a connection which, just like it’s supposed to do, will make me feel even more connected to the world.