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Saturday Supplemental: Why I Won’t Watch Ender’s Game, and Neither Should You

26 Oct

Sigh.

I really haven’t been looking forward to this. I wanted these reviews to be apolitical. Basic rules and possibilities of storytelling are not dictated by yours, or the author’s, voting habits.

But now I’m kind of in a bind: because one of the main events of the season, one which I imagine lots of people have been looking forward to, is the release of the film adaptation of Ender’s Game, the science fiction masterwork of Orson Scott Card.

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In a future where humanity has twice been attacked and thwarted an implacable insectoid horde from beyond the stars, Ender Wiggin, a six-year-old boy, is taken from his family to begin the Spartan-esque training for a new generation of ultimate space warriors. He’s put through the school of military indoctrination I tend to think of as the ‘post-Vietnam-era’ style of training: a rigorous, not to say brutal regime which instills soldiers with aggression, domination and machismo and conspicuously omits anything so lily-livered as courage, esprit de corps or honour.

Ender, in his innocence, learns the ways of this school, and begins to realize that Battle School is being puppeteered by its instructor, Major Graff, specifically to groom him as the ideal commander for the next, and imminent, clash with the so-called ’buggers’ (commence snickering, I certainly did). He faces the challenges of the training and conflicts put in front of him as well as the struggle to fathom the plots of which he is the object, all the while hanging grimly onto his humanity, the one thing the school seems determined to strip away at the same time as it is his saving grace.

The story is a profound one of the contest between humanity’s struggle to survive and to still remain itself, of children and their true worth. The movie looks epic and visually stunning, with a cast including justly honoured actors Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.

Unfortunately, I found all of that out after I learned that Orson Scott Card has distinguished himself in breathtaking statements of bigotry against the Gay and Lesbian community. While I am not a member of one of the initials in LGBTQI or however you choose to arrange them, enough of my friends are for this to make me angry even if I didn’t consider it blatantly unfair and unkind to de-legitimate and degrade my fellow human beings based on who they consensually fall in love with.

Okay, can o’ worms time over here. I’m not going to bother making a case for marriage equality because roughly twice the population of the planet Earth has beaten me there already. Let me lay down the law here on just a few salient matters:

In and of itself, the political leanings of a writer do not dictate the quality or worthiness of their work. Roald Dahl, author of such beloved childrens’ stories as the BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a candid anti-Semite. Even if, like me, you have objections to the Catholic Church’s stance on social justice, I would hardly think it rational to condemn or boycott J.R.R. Tolkien’s works simply because he was Catholic. To do so would be a manifestation of the same kind of silencing and bigotry I intend to rail against. Besides, it’d be bloody silly.

However, the problem we have with Mr. Scott Card is twofold: one, unlike Dahl or Tolkien, he’s still alive and carries no small weight among science fiction fan communities.

Two, while as far as I know Dahl merely shot his mouth off, Orson Scott Card used to sit on the American National Organization for Marriage, a principle bastion of the “gays are out to get you” lobby created to support California‘s Proposition 8. He stepped down this year, and one could be forgiven for thinking this was a political expedient timed to distance the much-anticipated movie from his politics.

Which brings me back to the first point: even if Dahl’s obnoxious views had been reflected by his membership in some anti-Jewish organization or other (it wasn’t as far as I am aware) the fact remains that he’s dead. Given Card’s frankly dehumanizing remarks about gay people and his known affiliations, buying his books or, now, buying a ticket to see the movie, I submit, very probably funnels funds through him to organizations dedicated to the oppression and contempt of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Which is why, with a heavy heart, I have to join those who are boycotting the Ender’s Game movie. I’ve only ever been ticked off enough to boycott one other movie, M. Night Shyamalan’s atrocious adaptation of Avatar: the Last Airbender, and most everyone agrees it was rubbish even without the racism.

For what it’s worth, though, I didn’t even like Ender’s Game as a book that much anyway. The story is grim, that one expects, but what staggers me is that at no point does Ender get his desired triumph over the brutal and manipulative system he is subjected to. There’s no success for him in the long run, and not much in the way of relief on the way. The story’s like the last Hunger Games novel: constant decline into misery and darkness with no sense of hope. Ender figures out how to play the system and excel within it, when a system like this cries out for its own subversion. To balance the books (see what I did there?), let me say that the Hunger Games had it right because as terrible as the choice was, Katniss chooses in the first book to take control of the game away from her puppeteers. Ender never does. Gratifyingly, his humanity is the thing that keeps him together through all this, but there‘s no payoff for him or the reader. If I’d been where he was through the book, I’d have been about ready to switch sides – not to SPOIL but, in a way, he kind of does, if only in the epilogue.

To the book’s credit Ender’s puppet masters are counting on his human goodness, and are built up as the kind of heartless chessmasters that President Snow in the Hunger Games seemed to think he was. That said, I was never completely sold on the idea that this little kid was the answer to all Earth’s hopes. I mean, this program of training has been going on for some time, it seems. You’d think an adult would be better trained for longer by the time they needed him.

The given reason is that they needed a child’s flexible thinking, which is fair enough. Just one problem, and it’s one that amazes me more people don’t point out. Ender goes from six to eleven through the story, and his brother and sister are just on the cusp of their teens at the end. Generally none of his fellow characters except the officers are over fourteen. But neither Ender nor his siblings nor any of the others act, think, or talk like children. Some of that can be explained by the psychopathy that almost all of them have for some reason but even after that they don’t talk like kids and they have way deeper grasp of psychology than any kid. Heck, they talk like David Weber characters: pedantic, political and detached. Ender’s brother and sister basically take over the government via the Internet when they’re about twelve! It’s this more than anything else that blows the whole thing out of the water for me because these kids’ actual ages make them too young to believably deal with the kinds of situations they’re in, and just making them teens would have mostly solved the problem. Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth understood that and their books’ characters fundamentally make more sense as a result.

I may be being overly harsh on the book since I rushed through it and am more than a little irate about the conduct of the man behind the proverbial curtain. Also there are a number of sequels so presumably there’s more to this. From a storytelling standpoint, it’s dreary and unpleasant if well-constructed, if you’re into that.

For me, though, I feel similarly about reading a book by Orson Scott Card as I would watching a Roman Polanski movie. I hasten to affirm that Card has done nothing illegal but my disgust at his treatment of his fellow beings is such that I don’t feel I can in good conscience offer him any material support by buying into his intellectual properties. I get why lots of people don’t want to think about it; I’m facing the wearying possibility that, to stay consistent with my convictions I’ll have to start doing informal background checks on all the movies I watch. Whether or not I ever walk the walk as far as that, I feel obliged to use the information in my hands here and now.

So I invite my readership, if you’re still out there after this diatribe, to turn aside from the drama and explosions, and spend your admission fee in nobler places. I live in parts rural but if anybody else is in a major city, some alternative events where you can donate to pro-equality groups are on the books for November 1st.

There’s nothing to hate but hate itself.

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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Book, Movie, Saturday Supplemental

 

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