Books / LGBTQ / Movies / Religion

How’s that Ender’s Game Boycott Going?

You didn't sneak out and see it, did you, soldier?

“You didn’t sneak out and see it, now, did you, soldier?”

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.

"Ender, I feel kind of weird eating lunch with you ever since you exterminated an entire sentient race." "But I didn't mean to!!"

“Ender, I feel kind of weird eating lunch with you ever since you exterminated an entire sentient race.”
“Give me a break, I didn’t mean to!!”

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.

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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.”

-Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender’s Game, Intention, and Morality

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.

7 thoughts on “How’s that Ender’s Game Boycott Going?

  1. It could be argued that manipulating a reader into experiencing forgiveness for someone who commits genocide is actually a great emotional exercise. I’m not saying that anger and vengeance are less useful emotions, but taking occasional moments to consider how we might forgive the worst people on the planet might just be the first step to preventing those sorts of people from existing in the first place. It also gives the reader a safe and imaginary place to consider the possibility of their own evil emerging, by providing the reader with a very likeable character who became evil via a unique set of situations (which is arguably how most evil occurs).

    • Yeah, I agree. I think the book is really interesting in that respect, and it’s a response to the Hitler essay that the author addresses in a FAQ addendum.
      “It’s a bad movie” is the only reason I would support for “boycotting” the movie, I just think “it’s a story about a *good* genocide” is worth more boycott points than “OSC is a prick.”

  2. “Orson Scott Card is a big, dumb, homophobic, racist idiot. ”

    Which is better and why?

    a) A big, dumb, homophobic, racist idiot, called Orson Scott Card…

    b) A big, dumb, genocidal, anti-White, called Solomon Wong?

  3. “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.”

    You must have read a different story than I did. No one forgives the genocide, least of all the one who perpetrated it. Ender spends the rest of his life trying to atone for it. He’s in much the same position as — and here’s the real parallel, because the Hitler analogy is ridiculous — American draftees who fought in Vietnam and committed atrocities. They were legally compelled to fight, so there’s at least some sense in which they couldn’t be held fully responsible for what they did. Yet they were human, and had to live with it. Thus the hell that so many lived (and still live) through every day when they came home.

    What would have been an acceptable outcome for Ender for those who like Kessel (author of “Creating the Innocent Killer”) think up this crap? For him to kill himself? For the last remaining hive queen to kill him and end her own chances of survival? Ender was considered a hero until he himself revealed the truth about the genocide in “The Hive Queen.” He brought the hatred on himself. He could have kept his mouth shut and been revered, but he chose otherwise. I don’t think Kessel accounts for this. He discounts any such actions on Ender’s part. Which is ironic, because Kessel implies that actions completely trump intentions. I suppose he’s philosophically against manslaughter as a charge? All homicide is first degree murder?

    “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.” Nope. The human invasion was a response to an earlier Formic invasion which killed millions of people. That doesn’t justify a genocidal response, but don’t read the Iraq War back into something that was more like Pearl Harbor.

    And whoever said the genocidal intentions were good? Certainly not Ender. Only the human authorities who controlled and manipulated Ender. When he destroys the alien’s home planet, he thinks he’s playing a game. He thinks he’s beating an older teacher who has been pretty rough on him. Had he been told he was actually killing a whole species, Card makes it clear, he would never have done it. Which is why he was deceived.

    Card’s sympathies are with Ender, not the adults manipulating him to genocide. It’s made clear in the book and the movie that the Formics weren’t going to attack again, were no longer a threat to the human race, and thus the human attack on their home planet was unjustified. The problem is, there was no way to communicate this to the humans. And how many wars are fought over miscommunications and cultural differences?

    I think condemning Card because he wrote about a genocide is a little like accusing Ray Bradbury of being in favor of book burning or George Orwell of totalitarianism or Stephen King of being a sadistic murderer. I don’t like Card’s politics either but both the Kessel article and the Radford article are pseudo-intellectual ad hominem attacks. “I don’t like the man so let me find some way to piss on his work.” Hey, that’s enlightened. Way to go there, progressives.

    I’ve especially been dismayed with the ridiculous notion that Card is a closet homosexual because of some kind of perceived “homoeroticism” in Ender’s Game. The boys walk around in front of each other naked, ergo Card is a repressed homosexual. When I was in high school 40 years ago, we all walked around naked in the locker room. We even horse-played in the shower. Does that mean we were all gay? I think that’s a particularly anti-gay thing to say. It plays right into the kind of irrational fears that heterosexuals have about gay athletes and gay soldiers. To infer that Card is a repressed homosexual because he depicts what has always been fairly routine locker room behavior is anti-gay bigotry of the worst kind and can only harm the actual cause of LGBTs.

    You Card-haters, don’t give him any help bashing gays by using his work to accuse him of being a closet gay himself.

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