I was planning on including the news about this controversy in my Week in Review, but I got interested enough to spin it out into its own post. I’ll post the Week in Review tomorrow.
Orson Scott Card has two significant pop culture products coming out this year, and that has given activists who dislike his past statements about homosexuality and political stance against legalizing same-sex marriages a chance to publicize their anger, and call for boycotts of his work. This should climax in November, when the long-awaited film adaption of Ender’s Game will premiere.
Sparking the recent internet criticism of Card is the announcement from DC Comics that Card will be co-writing a chapter of a new Superman anthology, Adventures of Superman. A digital version of the chapter will appear on April 29, and the print edition will be released on May 29. Card’s chapter will be co-written by his frequent collaborator, Aaron Johnston, with art by Chris Sprouse and ink by Karl Story. The organization Allout.com organized an on-line petition asking DC Comics to drop Card as an author. Some comic book stores say they will not carry the anthology.
Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic website wrote “The Real Problem With Superman’s New Writer Isn’t Bigotry, It’s Fascism.” Deseret News columnist Matthew Sanders replied to that article with “The Atlantic is super wrong for using fascist label in Superman story.” Sanders criticized Berlatsky for using the term “fascism” too broadly, and for labeling Card a fascist. Strictly speaking, Berlatsky did not call Card a fascist. First he discusses Card and Superman, and clearly empathizes with those critical of Card. In the second half of the essay he focuses on a supposed link of Superman with fascism. He uses an article by Chris Gavaler in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics which argues that the Klu Klux Klan was one of the main historical sources for 1930s superheroes. Not having read the article, I wonder how the author deals with the fact that many of the early comic book authors, including the creator of Superman, were Jewish? He concludes that having a scary author like Card link up with a scary character like Superman is a terrible thing to contemplate.
Berlatsky: “The super-goodness that Saunders describes is a big part of why many fans are worried about DC’s decision to have Orson Scott Card write a story for Adventures of Superman. Card, the popular and critically acclaimed author of sci-fi novels such as Ender’s Game, is also an outspoken and active homophobe. He has argued in favor of sodomy laws, and is on the board of the National Organization of Marriage, which works against the legalization of gay marriage. In his fiction and non-fiction, he has often conflated homosexuality with rape and pedophilia, sometimes seeming to suggest that people become gay as the result of childhood sexual abuse. News of Card’s selection has sparked a backlash. All Out, an international campaign for LGBT equality, has started a petition to call for his removal from the title, and it has already reached more than 12,000 signatures . . . But there’s another, less-obvious reason why people might find the juxtaposition of Card and Superman so disturbing. An anti-gay Superman is upsetting not just because Superman is not a bigot, but because, in some ways, he is one.”
Jason Cranford Teague (Wired) wrote “Should Orson Scott Card Be Allowed to Write Superman?” Teague talks about how Card encouraged him as a writer when he was young, then he was disappointed to see his political stands were so much to the right of his own. “That’s the crux of my quandary with Card: what he says personally seems like a direct contradiction to the message of acceptance and inclusivity I found in his books. Card is doing more than holding an opinion I disagree with: he is an activist for that opinion against those people he feels are objectionable, showing no tolerance for their lifestyle or point of view. Despite the fact that these people’s life style and point of view do him no direct harm, he wants to deny them their basic freedoms. And by buying his works, are we supporting his goals? Will he take our money to fund organizations with goals we feel offended by? . . . Let him write the story, and let DC publish it. You can then choose to buy the comic or not. You can then choose to protest the message in the actual story if you are offended by it. But silencing a voice — even one with as intolerant a message as his — is not the answer. It’s better to hold that intolerance up to the light of day and show it for what it truly is: fear. Fear of the alien. Fear of the other and the strange. A fear that, ironically, it was Orson Scott Card who helped me confront and vanquish at an early age, whether he meant to or not.”
Glen Weldon, a freelancer at NPR who writes about books and comic books (and member of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, which I enjoy) did an opinion piece on NPR criticizing DC Comics for hiring Card.
The next major moment in this debate will be the release of the Ender’s Game film in November. A February 20 Hollywood Reporter article “’Ender’s Game’ Author’s Anti-Gay Views Pose Risks for Film” quotes anonymous sources attached to the film saying that they would avoid using Card in their publicity.
“A controversy involving novelist Orson Scott Card and DC Comics could foreshadow problems for the big-budget adaptation of his classic 1985 sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, which is scheduled for release Nov. 1. Card’s long record of opposition to same-sex marriage and gay rights came into sharp focus when DC Comics announced Feb. 6 that it had hired him to write a chapter of a new Superman anthology series . . . Card’s appointment provoked a firestorm of controversy from LGBT activists and comic fans. Queerty called him a “rabid homophobe”; Allout.org, a social media-oriented LGBT activist group, drew more than 14,000 signatures to an online petition asking DC to fire Card; and at least one comics retailer said he would refuse to stock the comic when it was released May 29 . . . DC Comics issued a statement calling Card’s opinions “personal views” that were not “those of the company itself,” but noting that the company nonetheless “steadfastly support[s] freedom of expression.” The new scrutiny of Card’s views could be a problem for the $110 million Ender’s Game movie . . . Now Summit faces the tricky task of figuring out how to handle Card’s involvement. The first big challenge will be whether to include him in July’s San Diego Comic-Con program. Promoting Ender’s Game without Card would be like trying to promote the first Harry Potter movie without J.K. Rowling. But having Card appear in the main ballroom in front of 6,500 fans could prove a liability if he’s forced to tackle the issue head-on during the Q&A session. “I don’t think you take him to any fanboy event,” says one studio executive. “This will definitely take away from their creative and their property.” Another executive sums up the general consensus: “Keep him out of the limelight as much as possible.” Ender’s insiders already are distancing themselves from the 61-year-old author. “Orson’s politics are not reflective of the moviemakers,” says one person involved in the film. “We’re adapting a work, not a person. The work will stand on its own.””
I would like to see a serious study of Card’s views of homosexuality. While he certainly has strong views, is he a “homophobe”? How should one define that term? What has Card said in the past, and have his views changed over the years? That is, I would like someone else to do it. But maybe I can help get someone going by introducing a couple of key texts.
The Hypocrites of Homosexuality
The place to start when looking at Card’s views would be his 1990 Sunstone article “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality”. The link takes you to Card’s Nauvoo website, and contains a copy of the article, as well as Card’s commentary on the fallout, probably written for his 1993 anthology of essays A Storyteller in Zion.
Card, writing to other Mormons, essentially says that Mormons should not reject, hate, or be violent towards anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Yet social tolerance cannot be extended to “accepting” a homosexual lifestyle within the LDS Church. One cannot actively pursue a homosexual lifestyle, and still expect to be accepted as a member of the Church.
On passage in the essay seems to have raised particular ire. Writing about the anti-sodomy laws in some states, which were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1986 (but later struck down in 2003 when the Supreme Court reversed its decision with the Lawrence v. Texas ruling), Card wrote:
“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society. The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.”
Here is an excerpt from Card’s addendum commentary to “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality.”
“In all of this, I was not attempting any kind of brief either “for” or “against” homosexuality. In my own life, I live in a religious community whose entire raison d’etre is that we believe God makes his will known through prophets. Those prophets have taught us to regard homosexual behavior as a sin, along with many other desired acts, both “natural” and “un-”. Just as our natural desires for heterosexual contact outside of marriage are to be curbed, we are also taught to curb homosexual desires — along with many, many others. It is not easy for any of us to control those things we desire most (though of course we always do well at controlling those desires we barely have at all).
“It is quite possible for me to regard homosexuality as a temptation toward a difficult sin, much to be avoided by members of my religious community, and at the same time recognize that others feel differently about it — and that even those homosexuals within my religious community (which means most of those I have known in my life) are people of value, as they either struggle to control their desires or, despairing of that, leave the religious community that requires of them what they no longer desire to do. The only people I have contempt for are those who try to remain inside Mormonism while denying the validity of guidance from the prophets, and I oppose them, not because they live as homosexuals, but because of the hypocrisy of claiming to be Mormon while denying the only reason for the Mormon community to exist. If they prevailed, it would destroy our community. Homosexuals themselves pose no such threat, provided that those who are Mormon admit that a homosexual act is a sin as long as the prophet declares it to be so, while those who do not accept the prophet’s authority refrain from pretending to be Mormon.”
Homosexuality in Card’s fiction
There are two sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in Card’s fiction. The first was in Songmaster (1980), where Josef, a bisexual man who survives in a homophobic society by entering into a mutually beneficial heterosexual marriage with a friend. He has a sexual encounter with the male teenage protagonist, Ansset, which leads to tragedy that neither of them foresaw.
The Homecoming saga (1992-1995) is set in a pre-modern (in some ways) society on another planet, based on Jewish culture as depicted in the Book of Mormon. The character of Zdorab (based on Zoram) is a homosexual who enters a happy heterosexual marriage, both because of affection for the woman, and the desire to have children. His sacrifice is presented as a heroic one. In both cases, the homosexual characters were depicted as being “born that way”, naturally inclined to homosexuality, and engaging in heterosexual relations as part of a social choice. The exception is Ansset, who agrees to participate in a homosexual act as a kindness to his friend, but is not otherwise homosexually orientated.
Eugene England wrote about Card’s Hypocrites of Homosexuality and Homecoming in 1994.
“Card is unpredictable (and certainly not “politically correct”) on this matter. He reprints in Storyteller his famous essay from Sunstone, “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality,” in which he condemns the “homosexual community,” including Mormon homosexuals who “instead of repenting of homosexuality, wish it to become an acceptable behavior in the society of the Saints” (p. 184); and he adds an addendum about the strong reaction of some to that essay, including accusations of “homophobia” and attempts to censor him. My own sense is that the essay is neither homophobic nor a candidate for censorship but that, despite Card’s effort in it to distinguish between same-sex orientation and sinful sexual acts outside of marriage, his strongly emotive language, unfortunate stereotypes, and imprecise language (see the quotation above, where “homosexuality,” elsewhere a condition, suddenly becomes a behavior to be “repented”) tend to encourage the current tendency, even among Mormons, to confuse the condition and the behavior and to bash gays, verbally and even physically.
“However, in Homecoming, Card gives us a very sympathetic homosexual person, one who is able to speak eloquently of his condition as exactly that, a condition rather than a choice, and describe the violent (even murderous) prejudice he and others like him (including one of his lovers) had experienced back in Basilica. He movingly reports the humiliation of having to cultivate a persona as “the most unnoticeable, despicable, spineless being” in order to survive in this male-dominant desert troop of near-baboons—which sometimes sounds much like our own society. Card also has Zdorab, chosen by the Oversoul to be the mate of the only remaining female, Shedemei, whose lack of traditional beauty and shyness makes her think no one will want her, gradually, over months, learn to open to her and show his strength and goodness and accept her—and they marry, at first simply for mutual protection and friendship.
“Later Zdorab discovers in the Index evidence that homosexuality is not genetic but “just the level of male hormones in the mother’s blood stream at the time the hypothalamus goes through its active differentiation and growth” (3:170), which is pretty much in line with our present science and shows that Card, contrary to many Mormons, believes homosexuality can’t simply be “repented of” or removed with some kind of therapy. Zdorab decides he wants to be part of the biologic chain, part of the tree of life Wetchik has seen in vision; then, in wonderful scenes of difficult tenderness and pain and exploration, he and Shedemei decide to bear children and succeed—Zdorab even stating quite persuasively that he has been caught in “the great net of life” because, despite being pointed away from it at birth he had “chosen to be caught, who is to say that mine is not the better fatherhood, because I acted out of pure love, and not out of some inborn instinct that captured me. Indeed, I acted against my instinct. . . . Anybody can pilot his boat to shore in a fair wind; I have come to shore by tacking in contrary winds, by rowing against an ebbing tide” (3:252).
“Card is not suggesting, and I certainly am not, that this is the only or best “solution” for homosexuals—the tragedies in Mormon culture of homosexuals who married, out of guilt or ignorance or hope, and damaged not only their own lives but those of many others are well known; what Card has done is give us a deeply sympathetic homosexual person, whose story can help us learn understanding and mercy through the imagination.”
2004 and 2008 columns
Card has been writing political and social criticism on the internet since the mid-90s or so. In his February 15, 2004 “Homosexual “Marriage” and Civilization”column at the conservative Rhinoceros Times, Card claimed that heterosexual marriage was a bedrock principle of civilization, and criticized in strong language the political and legal tactics of his opponents (“Jacobian”).
“What happens now if children grow up in a society that overtly teaches that homosexual partnering is not “just as good as” but actually is marriage? Once this is regarded as settled law, anyone who tries to teach children to aspire to create a child-centered family with a father and a mother will be labeled as a bigot and accused of hate speech. Can you doubt that the textbooks will be far behind? Any depictions of “families” in schoolbooks will have to include a certain proportion of homosexual “marriages” as positive role models. Television programs will start to show homosexual “marriages” as wonderful and happy (even as they continue to show heterosexual marriages as oppressive and conflict-ridden). The propaganda mill will pound our children with homosexual marriage as a role model. We know this will happen because we have seen the fanatical Left do it many times before. So when our children go through the normal adolescent period of sexual confusion and perplexity, which is precisely the time when parents have the least influence over their children and most depend on the rest of society to help their children grow through the last steps before adulthood, what will happen? Already any child with any kind of sexual attraction to the same sex is told that this is an irresistible destiny, despite the large number of heterosexuals who move through this adolescent phase and never look back . . . Now, there is a myth that homosexuals are “born that way,” and we are pounded with this idea so thoroughly that many people think that somebody, somewhere, must have proved it. In fact what evidence there is suggests that if there is a genetic component to homosexuality, an entire range of environmental influences are also involved. While there is no scientific research whatsoever that indicates that there is no such thing as a borderline child who could go either way. Those who claim that there is “no danger” and that homosexuals are born, not made, are simply stating their faith. The 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.”
He wrote a weekly column for the Deseret News’ Mormon Times site from December 2007 to December 2011. The piece that Card’s opponents quote the most often is “State job is not to redefine marriage” Mormon Times (July 24, 2008). None of his columns from before 2011 are available at the Deseret News or Nauvoo, but I found a copy at the Conservative website Free Republic. Written during the months leading up to the vote on Proposition 8 in California, he claimed that heterosexual marriage was a bedrock principle of civilization, and criticized some of the political and legal tactics of his opponents. In the incendiary (and often-quoted) final section, he wrote, “When government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary . . . If America becomes a place where our children are taken from us by law and forced to attend schools where they are taught that cohabitation is as good as marriage, that motherhood doesn’t require a husband or father, and that homosexuality is as valid a choice as heterosexuality for their future lives, then why in the world should married people continue to accept the authority of such a government? . . . 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.”
As mentioned above, in April 2009 Card became a board member of the National Organization for Marriage. The organization was founded in 2007, and works against the legalization of same-sex marriages, civil union legislation, and adoption of children by same-sex couples. NOM is a private non-profit, often accused of being a political front for the LDS Church. The Church has denied that allegation. Card is the only Mormon on the 8-member board. He replaced founding board member Matthew Holland, who resigned when he became President of Utah Valley University.
Hamlet’s Father controversy
Card’s novella Hamlet’s Father first appeared in a 2008 anthology entitled The Ghost Quartet. The re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was released as a stand-alone limited edition book by the specialty publisher Subterranean Press in April 2011. Card imagines Hamlet’s father to be a pedophile, who molested Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz, and Guildestern, severely damaging each boy emotionally. The ghost of the murdered father is a demon, who misleads Hamlet into killing the innocent Claudius. In February 2011 Publisher’s Weekly ran a negative review of the book, which said Card linked “homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia”. In August a blog named RainTaxi reviewed the book, and called it out as a homophobic work. The author pointed out that Card had written on his blog in 2004 “the 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”. RainTaxi and others, putting that quote together with the description of the novella accused Card of equating homosexuality with pedophilia.
The publisher of Subterranean Press put out a statement, saying, “We did not anticipate controversy for republishing a work which had received no controversy prior to our publication, and which remains in print elsewhere. Nevertheless, as publisher of Subterranean Press, I am responsible for everything we publish, and that means being ready to hear any complaints and criticisms about what we publish.”
Card replied to his critics at his own website. He called the Publishers Weekly review “dishonest”. “The lie is this, that “the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with … pedophilia.” The focus isn’t primarily on this because there is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don’t show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make.
“Because I took a public position in 2008 opposing any attempt by government to redefine marriage, especially by anti-democratic and unconstitutional means, I have been targeted as a “homophobe” by the Inquisition of Political Correctness. If such a charge were really true, they would have had no trouble finding evidence of it in my life and work. But because the opposite is true — I think no ill of and wish no harm to homosexuals, individually or as a group — they have to manufacture evidence by simply lying about what my fiction contains.
“The truth is that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was definitely not fashionable to write sympathetic gay characters in fiction aimed at the mainstream audience, I created several sympathetic homosexual characters. I did not exploit them for titillation; instead I showed them threading their lives through a world that was far from friendly to them. At the time, I was criticized by some for being “pro-gay,” while I also received appreciative comments from homosexual readers. Yet both responses were beside the point. I was not writing about homosexuality, I was writing about human beings.
“My goal then and today remains the same: To create believable characters and help readers understand them as people. Ordinarily I would have included gay characters in their normal proportions among the characters in my stories. However, since I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them — for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia.
“But Hamlet’s Father, since it contained no homosexual characters, did not seem to me to fall into that category. I underestimated the willingness of the haters to manufacture evidence to convict their supposed enemies.”
Okay, that is what I have so far. Are there any other key texts of which we should be aware? Looking at these texts, should Card be labeled a “homophobe”? Is opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage in-and-of itself enough to get one labeled with that term? Will this impact the ability of other mainstream/conservative Mormons (and Catholics, Muslims, and other conservative religious people) to get national recognition for their art? One could argue that Card, despite his pleas, is not as tolerant of homosexuality as he claims. What about recent liberal Mormons artists who have been writing plays and novels which sympathetically portray gay characters? If such a person was completely “tolerant” of homosexuality socially, but still held onto a religious belief that homosexual acts are sinful, or held that complete marriage equality was not desirable, will their works ultimately face the same rejection?
If the author keeps their mouth shut about political issues, they will probably avoid controversy. Stephenie Meyer is a test case. A quick internet search shows that Meyer has not said anything one way or another about homosexuality. While there is some minor blog grumbling about the possibility she has ever donated to anti-gay marriage causes, or her tithing money going to such causes, it does not seem to have gone anywhere. But what if you are conservative and want to talk about your views? Are you concerned?