This past summer, a movement was started to boycott the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s middle-school-reading-list classic, Ender’s Game. You probably know the reason by now: Orson Scott Card is a big, dumb, homophobic, racist idiot.
“[t]he dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”
Mr. Card went on to scream and throw his own poop — wait, I mean, he went on to speculate about Barack Obama installing First Lady Michelle as his successor and employing black street hoods as part of a terroristic national police force.
So there was this boycott in the works, because who wants to give their money to a guy like that? He’s just gonna buy more poop to throw! But then some stick-in-the-mud had to go and point out that Orson Scott Card already got all the money he’s going to get out of the adaptation, in a lump sum when he signed the contract. There are complicating factors, such as spin-off video games, or toys, or whatever, possibly sending more money to Card, and the fact that there are plans for a franchise, which would result in more payouts. At the end of the day, though, seeing Ender’s Game in theaters isn’t exactly sending money to anti-gay hate groups.
Boycott ruined. Still, though, that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to skip the movie!
There’s much talk about OSC’s politics and why you shouldn’t consume his work, but I’ve always found that to be a little misguided. I mean, death of the author, right? Roman Polanski’s movies are phenomenal. They were made by a rapist who should be in prison instead of enjoying the hospitality of France and fucked-up defenses from celebrities, but they’re also great films that shouldn’t be missed.
Likewise, Ender’s Game is a pretty fun book. It’s like Harry Potter, except in space and with more abusive violence against children! It has heavy elements of sports stories, where much of the thrill comes from seeing Ender and his team struggle and emerge victorious in the eponymous Game. You shouldn’t deprive yourself of such childish fun on account of the author’s beliefs! Oh, you’re saying it’s not a book just for kids? It’s got deep philosophical messages and junk that adults can learn from?
Well, that’s where the interesting concerns lie. Not in what Orson Scott Card says in his personal life, but the messaging of his actual work.
HUGE SPOILERS APPROACHING. I’M GONNA RUIN A GREAT TWIST.
The big twist of the story comes when Ender wins the simulated war in Command School only to discover that the “simulation” was actually happening and the war is now won. Meaning that his last-ditch, unthinkably final strategy of destroying the alien home world really happened, and he ordered it. Naturally, he’s pretty upset. The plot proceeds logically and with a good cathartic conclusion. As I said, it’s a fun book! I really enjoy it, and every time, I feel taken in and affected by the story and tragedy of Ender.
But, this is why we criticize media. Because, so often, we’re taken in and enjoy ourselves and then walk away without thinking. Which happens with people who read/watch Ender’s Game, to a pretty crazy degree.
Ender is Hitler. I know, right? As soon as you hear it, it makes total sense. For the sake of clarity and not leaving anyone out, Ender represents genocidal leaders. Only he’s worse. He succeeded in erasing an entire intelligent race. As detailed above, the book has an answer for this stuff. It makes it clear that he didn’t mean to do it, that he was manipulated, he was trying to protect his family. He thought it was a game, and the adults in his life tricked him into doing it. And this is probably why it never really occurred to me that it might be interesting to consider what Ender’s story says about people who have committed genocide in the real world.
Check out this essay about Ender as Hitler that was written back when Ender’s Game was a new book. The parallels between the two people are insane, and the analysis on display in the essay is top-notch. The main thing to take away and apply here, though, is that Card’s plot is such that a monster like Ender is freed of responsibility and the hatred of the reader. It was constructed specifically to exonerate Ender not only of the “xenocide,” but every terrible thing he does, ever, in his life. Card has built a world in his books where genocide is forgivable if intentions were good.
This is the responsibility of the creator. You’re given a completely blank slate to express yourself however you wish. At the same time, you’re still operating in the real world, using elements of the real world, and generally commenting on the real world. So when you create a situation where a monstrous act is somehow justified or minimized, there’s serious questions to be asked of you. For a beat-you-over-the-head example of what I mean, here’s a webcomic where a character reluctantly rapes a young orc girl to save her from the brutal traditions of her backwards tribe (Not graphic, but trigger warning). See, the author made all that background shit up, so that his character could be a good guy for raping a child. That doesn’t sound okay to me, I dunno about you.
Card’s scenario is pure fantasy, and basically impossible, but it nonetheless states the opinion that genocide can, under the right circumstances, be forgiven. It’s intention that counts, not action. Which is an opinion that can be applied to any scenario. Now, just for the record, Card has come out and addressed this essay and said no, he doesn’t love Adolf Hitler, genocide is wrong, etc., and I believe him. But the story really seems to feel differently.
“In every situation where Ender wields violence against someone, the focus of the narrative’s sympathy is always and invariably on Ender, not on the objects of Ender’s violence. It is Ender who is offering up the voluntary sacrifice, and that sacrifice is the emotional price he must pay for physically destroying someone else.”
Ender is a sympathetic monster, so sympathetic that we don’t realize what he is. The book and movie are about humanity defending itself pre-emptively against an alien invasion, and posits a scenario where we might eliminate such a threat entirely with nobody really being the bad guy. Even taking into account Ender’s angst, his manipulative guardians, and the late-game humanization of the formics, it is a ludicrously fascist narrative. He’s Hitler, only essentially good.
Ender’s Game is a movie about a good Hitler. Also, I heard the Battle School section was cut really short? That shit was basically the heart of the story. Wait for the DVD.