Image by Jenny Scott via Flickr Creative Commons

When the Personal Becomes Political

By Kaylia Metcalfe

I attended a writers’ conference recently where I listened to a panel discussion about the “The Politics of the Writer” that centered on the idea of separating the artist from the art. Should they be separated? Should they be treated differently? Can this affect sales? Do artists (writers) have the right to hide their politics or the responsibility to share them with the world?

Of course, we were talking about this because of the recent news hoopla regarding Orson Scott Card.

Quick background: Card wrote Ender’s Game, an influential sci-fi book that won the 1985 Nebula Award for best noveland the 1986 Hugo Award for best novel (two of the most prestigious awards in science fiction). Ender’s Game was also nominated for a Locus Award in 1986, and in 1999 it placed No. 59 on the readers’ list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels.

Card is also a member of the Mormon Church and has been a prominent gay-rights opponent going back for decades. In 2009, Card joined the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, the now famous organization that worked so diligently to support Prop 8. That same year, he penned an opinion piece for the Mormon Times in which he argued: “Marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.” In another column, he called homosexuality a “reproductive dysfunction born of choice.”

This goes way beyond a causal donation or being connected by virtue of your religion to a stance you may or may not agree with (not all Mormons are anti–gay marriage). He is using his bully pulpit of fame and fortune to actively work against equality.

In February, DC Comics announced that Card would be penning a new Superman story as part of the marketing surrounding the new Superman movie. The Internet went wild with opposition. Card’s vitriol isn’t just a few essays written in the early 1990s but also recent diatribes that gay rights could “strike a death blow against the well-earned protected status of [my], and every other, real marriage” (2004).

More recently, his view that “many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse” surfaced in 2011 after the re-publication of his novella Hamlet’s Father, which recast the dead king in the Shakespeare play as a gay pedophile who sexually abused Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when they were children, which led to them all becoming gay.

And it isn’t just bigotry. Card’s larger, fiercely conservative worldview has inspired essays arguing that President Barack Obama was reelected last year because the media conspired to help him win a second term and that America’s public school system is through selective history lessons in order to create an army of Democratic Party voters—or as he calls them, the “Leftaliban.”

Again, the Internet was enraged that DC had hired him. An online petition was started, bloggers ranted, news outlets did background checks and interviews.

And it worked. The artist attached to the DC project, Chris Sprouse, stepped down leaving the story in limbo until someone else is willing to collaborate.

The question of whether Card’s politics might be causing him to lose work is moot. They are. But they are because we know about them, because he doesn’t quietly donate money. He loudly pontificates to all who will listen, and in our society we then have the right to avoid his products and therefore not support him.

DC Entertainment’s Courtney Simmons gave Wired the following statement: “As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression. However, the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that—personal views—and not those of the company itself.”

True, but just as we, the public, have the right and the responsibility to pick and chose who we support, corporations need to keep in mind who they hire and what possible backlash that might incur. (And again, his personal views are very public.)

What interests me is how history will view Ender’s Game. The book changed the way sci-fi was written and viewed; it has already spawned two comic collections and it is currently being adapted for a film release in November of this year (co-produced by Card himself). Doubtless this isn’t the last we have heard from the angry public, and the movie studio has an uphill battle in terms of marketing toward a liberal and young key demographic.

Which brings me back to that panel discussion. The fact is that today’s world of fan creation and fellowship is driven by social media, and therefore it makes sense to be aware of how your politics might affect your readership. I, for one, refuse to hide. My politics are personal because they affect me; they affect my ability to marry, to have ownership over my body and to have access to health care and fair wages. But personal does not mean private—and I, like Card have chosen: My politics will never be private.

*****

Kaylia Metcalfe is a writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a cofounder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Her short story collection “Links” is available at www.amazon.com. Contact her at kayliametcalfe@gmail.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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