Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card is in the news again hoping the Ender’s Game movie won’t be boycotted. But his call for “tolerance” doesn’t read like a desire for mutual civility. It’s not even a discussion of his views or their merit. He’s all about the money, snarking about others’ right not to pay into his product, and driving the canard that people working against demographic discrimination are oppressive haters who shouldn’t be trusted when the power tables ever turn. The logic: “I can lobby against your marriage and civic standing & that’s not intolerant. But you organizing against my profits—that’s intolerant.”
No. No, no, no.
Card is a private citizen and entitled to his personal and religious beliefs. He’s not providing a public service so he’s under no mandate to offer his work to everyone. He may be hired by whoever wishes to hire him; and no one is obliged to patronize him. This is the essence of market trading: producers aren’t entitled to consumers. Producers earn consumers via product resonance, price, quality, and great experiences, and so smart producers will cultivate their brand to increase resonance and improve their product, its image, and client relationships. This being so, I wonder what the strategy sessions at Summit Entertainment look like this week!
The Artist’s Outsized Influence
There’s another issue beyond market strategy. As well as being a private producer, Card is also an artist. One doesn’t have to agree with an artist’s politics or endorse their psychology to engage works derived from the artist’s art. Students of literature and music often learn to trace artists’ psychology, politics, and life experiences in their work, and some of us use that assessment to determine what we do and don’t want to consume.
Centuries ago, Shelley wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I’ve always agreed with this, not just in relation to poets but also re. other artists and cultural creators. Card has an outsized public influence among a range of readers because of his art and the worlds he creates in that art. He’s also developed influence among religious-political lobbyists because of his willingness to speak beyond his art. How does he not grasp that because of his outsized influence he’ll receive outsized praise and scrutiny when members of the public—his audience—affirm or challenge his contributions?
Boycotting as Freedom: The Right to Opt Out
Unlike those harmed by his political lobbying and the climate he contributes to through his writing and speech, Card is not at risk for harm. There’ll be no referendum on his opinions as there’ve been referendums on other citizens’ rights, relationships, and families. Though he, NOM, and his church have promoted diminished civil rights for LGBT people, they are at no risk of diminished rights themselves.
The freedom of expression that Card enjoys as a citizen and an artist has never included freedom from criticism, and anyone may boycott his work if they wish as an expression of their rights. Economic boycotts are native aspects of American politics. They’re not “monstrous” or inherently “intolerant”; they’re an instance of liberty. They are sometimes based on un-reflective groupthink; they often channel consumer ire at local franchises rather than at corporate owners and policy-makers, and so they can be ineffective change-agents—but these are deployment issues, not essential characteristics.
A boycott is a symbol of the right to opt out, the liberty not to buy, the freedom to consume consciously and at will. It’s a tool, not an end, and sometimes it’s warranted.
Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender’s Game | (c) Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate)
I’d like to see Summit Entertainment’s Ender’s Game eventually though I’ve never read Card’s series: I’m a fan of Asa Butterfield and expect him to shine in this role. I also have some empathy for the cast and crew involved in this production: it looks solid and they’re not responsible for the source writer’s work or personality. Orson Scott Card is responsible for that. I don’t yet have any info on how much he will earn from the Summit film; early rumors are that the studio isn’t including him in pre-screening publicity—yet clearly the marginalization approach isn’t helping them and they may need to be more direct about their relationship.
There are lots of other films to see this year; I may save my pennies and watch the film a few months late with a free Redbox code. In the meantime, all the best to people convicted otherwise: buy or boycott as you will.