The Art, vs The Artist

There have been several columns published by people who are shocked or disappointed to learn of Orson Scott Card’s homophobic and hateful rhetoric, and his activism attempting to deny human rights to the LGBTQ+ community. Some people have come to the conclusion that they cannot in good conscience support such a person, and have therefore decided to boycott his books and anything based on them. It appears that OSC didn’t profit directly/monetarily from the Ender’s Game movie, but it did still promote his books, and I see why some people are uncomfortable spending money on the stuff this guy has produced. I’m not sure it actually has any effect on his bottom line, and I doubt any sort of boycott will change his stance on gay rights, but I definitely support a person’s decision to buy (or not) anything based on their comfort level.

All that said, I have personally made the decision for myself to separate the Art from the Artist. At least, this is my stance so far, for now, until something changes my mind. But this has been my stance for a long time, and I’ll tell you why.

Star Trek is an amazing franchise, even if you don’t care for part or any of it. When Star Trek holds true to creator Gene Roddenberry’s original vision, it’s an optimistic, hopeful look at what humanity might become: peaceful and united in the spirit of exploration and discovery. The original series addressed political issues of the time, and illuminated the absurdities that codify racism and hatred in societies. The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager tackled such issues as well, and also expanded on the ideas of freedom, justice, and morality (Starfleet) versus secrecy, despotism, and bureaucracy (Romulans & especially Cardassians). The TV series at least (if not the rebooted movies) are the battleground for morality, and Gene tried to show that there was reason to be hopeful about Humanity’s future.

Gene Roddenberry was also extremely misogynistic, repeatedly cheated on his wife, and said (and I’m quoting): “you’d never want to let women actually get into power. All women are cunts, and you can’t trust them.” There are also those who speculate that Gene may have been the unidentified television executive that actress Grace Lee Whitney said sexually assaulted her just before she left the show. (There’s certainly no evidence for this particular idea either way, and I don’t put much faith in rumors like this, but I included it for the sake of being thorough.)

I wish I could say this was uncommon among Sci-Fi writers, but it’s not. Jim Hines wrote on Gizmodo:

In the 1960s, fandom agonized over whether to ban known pedophile Walter Breen from conventions, despite multiple eyewitness accounts of his sexually assaulting children. Meanwhile, author Isaac Asimov’s proclivity for groping women was so widely known that in 1961, the chair of Chicon III wrote a letter inviting him to give a lecture on “The Power of Posterior Pinching.”

Marcus Ranum recalls confronting Asimov at a Worldcon some 30 years ago, after Asimov groped his girlfriend in an elevator. The convention kicked Ranum out. In their view, the true crime wasn’t Asimov’s harassment, but Ranum’s complaint about it.

He goes on to describe how this problem still exists today, though his article is focused more on convention-going culture than the media itself. I admit, I had to look up who Walter Breen was, but I still consider Asimov’s Foundation and Robot series to be important and insightful.

Robert Heinlein is another example. An article by M. G. Lord appearing in the NY Times called “Heinlein’s Female Troubles” details how his early books were remarkably forward thinking regarding women, but that changed substantially in his later books.

Heinlein has also been attacked for being a misogynist — in large part for his 1982 novel, “Friday,” whose eponymous woman narrator enjoys being raped.

To be clear, I am not saying that misogyny and/or sexual assault are “the same” as OSC’s active campaigning against the LGBTQ+ community. I’m not making any commentary on one being “worse” than the other. And there are plenty of other examples of Old White Men doing or saying ignorant, hateful shit, but still somehow managing to produce insightful, meaningful content that I want to exist in the world, and that I want to consume.

Part of me thinks “No one is perfect, and if I demand perfection from authors, I’ll never get to read anything.” (I haven’t read anyone demanding perfection from authors, so I’m not making accusations here.) Another part of me thinks “But there’s perfectly good content out there that’s NOT written by racist/sexist authors, consume that!” – and I DO consume that content, too. Would I still consume content from someone who was actively politically campaigning to deny me basic human rights? I highly doubt it. So am I complacent with OSC’s bigotry because I re-purchased the entire Ender series in ebook format?

On the other hand, would OSC change his mind about LGBTQ rights if I didn’t buy the ebook reprints of the Ender series? No. He’d never even notice. And maybe that’s part of the problem, there’s no report OSC can look at and see how much money he’s losing because of his intolerant rhetoric. But even if there were such a report, would that change his mind? Still no.

In fact, the only way to get someone to change their mind on something is to engage with them. If you ever want someone to understand your point of view, you have to talk to them, not shut down. I follow a wide range of people on Twitter, from the super socialist to ultra conservative. I try to engage in a dialogue when I disagree with people, to understand why they think what they do, to find common ground, and to grow the conversation together. It’s not that talking will always result in changed minds, but it’s the only thing that has even a chance at doing so.

I absolutely support the decision of my fellow Sci-Fi consumers to purchase (or not) material based on values and morals, and what you enjoy, and what you feel comfortable doing. I’m not trying to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do. Personally, rather than disengage from those I disagree with, I want to listen, understand, research, and discuss. And read good Science Fiction along the way, even if it was conceived in the same mind that fosters intolerance and hate.