The Orson Scott Card/Superman Controversy Examined and Questioned

As writers and authors it is difficult to remove yourself from the worlds you create. Often times the utopian or dystopian ideals that you set forth into a story are those that you foresee as the most, or least, preferable world possible. The worlds we create as fiction writers are indelibly marked by our own personalities and politics—even our most villainous characters are in some way part of ourselves because they are created in our imaginations. Regardless of this, our works are not reflective entirely of our particular view point—only informed by them. It is, of course possible to write or imagine worlds, people, and scenarios with resolutions that we wouldn’t condone or advocate for in the real world. The beauty of creative writing and fiction writing is that we can build and populate realities that are as based in the real world as we want (or not).

Therefore, this raises an interesting question about the political power of supporting a particular author in regard to whether or not you agree with their actual worldviews, as opposed to whether or not you enjoy their work on its own. Recently, Orson Scott Card—writer of the famously popular Ender’s Game Series—was consigned by DC Comics to write an out-of-continuity Superman story in the relaunch of the title Adventures of Superman and all of fandom exploded in tirade. Card, a Mormon with a pedigree so prestigious that he is actually the great-grandson of Brigham Young, has openly opposed gay marriage in recent years and has historically held extremely conservative views regarding the Civil Rights of homosexuals (which have admittedly been at least revised over the years to keep current with the trends of Constitutionality and legality) that are based in his personal morality and, no doubt, his religious upbringing.

When DC announced the author of this one-shot tale, fans all across the internet swore to boycott the issue and rallied to have the company fire the author from the story. Meanwhile, Card’s novel Ender’s Game is consistently held to be one of the best Science Fiction novels of the 20th century (and considered the best by many), is recommended reading for Marines recruits and Officer’s Candidate School students, and has been adapted into a major motion picture to be released later this year, boasting an all-star cast including Harrison Ford. Where is the boycotting of the beloved Ender’s Game in the face of his never-been-secret views? In the meanwhile the story has been held up as, amidst the controversy, the artist attached to the issue has stepped down leaving the story without an illustrator and the release of the issue—the first in the relaunched series—has been apparently delayed and comic retailers are saying that due to the feedback they will only order the comic on a demand basis.

Are we as readers relegated only to consuming fiction by authors who we philosophically agree with? Are we as authors delegated to keeping our opinions to ourselves in order to be more commercially accepted? Certainly authors like Ayn Rand found a political following (posthumously) in the Tea Party and Fiscal Conservatives with her works, notably Atlas Shrugged—but I thoroughly enjoyed the book while having some issues with its philosophical underpinnings. Likewise for Ender’s Game. It’s a great book and deserves its much-lauded status. In reading Atlas Shrugged I found myself constantly challenging the ideals in the book, and checking them against my own which in turn required me to closely examine the beliefs I held gospel. I found that in reading a story so firmly entrenched in a philosophy that I did not agree with, but was nonetheless well written and well argued with a compelling plot (though arguably the characterization in Shrugged was lacking, and in the case of the protagonist ultimately disappointing) was like having a great conversation, taking a challenging course, and getting swept up in the escapist joy of fiction reading. I liken it to having a debate with a good friend with whom I am completely politically opposed—only in contest can we test the veracity of our own beliefs. Additionally, I have found very little in Ender’s Game that betrays a homophobic tone or even an abnormal amount sophomoric adolescent ribbing.

 

As a Superman fan, a person who enjoyed Ender’s Game, and someone who firmly believes personally that homosexuals deserve the full gamut of civil rights, privileges, and benefits as heterosexuals I find myself wondering “What’s the big deal?” Don’t we suffer as readers and thinkers when we relegate ourselves to have intellectual discourse with those who exclusively agree us? Aren’t we then doomed to never test our opinions and beliefs against opposition, making our opinions all the weaker?

So I turn the question to you—what do you think of the controversy over Orson Scott Card’s issue of Superman? Do you believe we should only support and read from authors and writers we agree with? What do we really look to get out of our reading?

 

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Written by Brandon Melendez

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12 thoughts on “The Orson Scott Card/Superman Controversy Examined and Questioned

  1. A horse of a different color is still a horse, it’s just a different color. Okay I have no idea what I meant by this but it sounded good at the time I wrote it, I hope someone else didn’t say this first, I wouldn’t want to be arrested for copy rights infringement.  To read or not to read what is agreeable or not is the question, If one is strong in their own beliefs, reading something that is contrary should not be a concern.

  2. It’s a complicated situation for sure.  That said, for me the issue is not the intellectual viability of the comic (or book, or what have you), but the fact that you’re talking about a product.  Are boycotters of the comic closed minded or voting with their dollars?  To say that not buying an intellectual product from someone who chooses to publicly espouse specific political ideas is a bit of a canard.  The implication is that consumers have the time or the wherewithal to screen the producers of their goods for ideological simulacra, but that’s just not the case.  People read and consume products from people of opposing viewpoints all the time and they just don’t know it – and that’s fine, or they have weighed what is known about the producer against their own ethical code.  Superman will continue to prosper if nobody buys one story arc, even if it’s a really good one.

    • @JaredBerman you raise really valid points, sir and I agree principally with most if not all of what you are saying–especially the part about voting with dollars. I have no qualms with that. What is confusing to me is how Enders Game and the series at large are seemingly celebrated universally, but anything out of that context is to be protested on a suddenly political an moral basis (Enders game is criticized for being machevellian, for absolving the aggressor of guilt, an for justifying violence but these are apparently thing that have won it military endorsement and public approval). Is it that the beloved icon of superman is suddenly relevant only when handled by card, or that he is tolerable only in his own context, or is Enders Game transcended from Card’s views, and only works out of that series are open game? This doesn’t strike me as a pure case of voting with dollars because I see little rallying against his landmark work–in fact the book is more popular than it has been in years in anticipation of the movie. I’m striving for a consistency here–and that’s probably my problem…

  3. I am with you. I like Card’s, read all in the Ender Series and sporadically in the ones that came after. The guy is pro-science, pro tolerance for different races–even insect ones. He’s serious about women’s equality with men and pokes fun at male or religious preconceptions. And he’s is against war on a profound level. Why do liberals, as well as conservatives, increasingly use a “litmus test” of writers/artist’s politics separate from their vision?  Bipartisan Tolerance and action is the only way the US govt will stop being dysfunctional. It is a disgrace Superman was compromised by such diminutive thinking. Hire a more enlightened illustrator and move  forward. Card can be trusted with a great American story.  Now Disney…

  4. I am with you. I like Card’s books, read all in the Ender Series and sporadically in the ones that came after. The guy is pro-science, pro tolerance for different races–even insect ones. He’s serious about women’s equality with men and pokes fun at male or religious preconceptions. And he’s is against war on a profound level. Why do liberals, as well as conservatives, increasingly use a “litmus test” of writers/artist’s politics separate from their vision?  Bipartisan Tolerance and action is the only way the US govt will stop being dysfunctional. It is a disgrace Superman was compromised by such diminutive thinking. Hire a more enlightened illustrator and move  forward. Card can be trusted with a great American story.  Now Disney…

    • @susanweinstein the story is largely sight unseen as well. I could understand if it was entitled “Superman gets the Gays outta town!” Or something wildly enflamatory…but that’s not te case. Nor is there equal retaliation against other works of Card’s. I’m not defending or attacking the boycott, I seek really to understand its overall purpose and goal.

  5. I get that you are seeking to understand the controversy. I am rushing to judgement of my fellow liberals for not being more tolerant. Not just of conservative beliefs, but of an artist being entitled to his personal political beliefs. They don’t necessarily detract from his art. But then Hitler was a bad painter and we know about his heinous beliefs. Seriously, I worked with two authors, a liberal and a conservative who did a book this election season about really sitting with discomfort of your opposite and understanding–not necessarily agreeing–with his beliefs. They both have background in dialogue to resolve differences. Country could use some of this.

    • @susanweinstein somewhere along te way we forgot that we should understand the opposition perspective in order to strengthen our own.
      But we have strayed slightly. In just wondering why superman and not ender?

  6. Why Superman and not Ender?  I am unsure what you mean. Superman is a hero of the past, Ender of the future. Superman began life as a comic book, Ender as a novel. That means like it or not, Superman is a bit superficial compared to Ender, who first fights  the Formicans, unconsciously and then as a choice to save the Earth. And he wanders as a Speaker for the Dead, throughout the galaxy as a kind of penance. Ender metaphorphizes, Superman stays the same. Strength in both forms. Superman is like the Olympians, his strength is that he’s easily recognizable and unchanging for generations. I think Ender is closer to Great Expectations.

    • @susanweinstein When I say “Why Superman and not Ender” I mean why the sudden outcry against Card writing about Superman and a boycott but no boycott against the Ender’s Game novels. Shouldn’t outrage against his views be consistent regardless of which property or genre he is working in?
       
      As for your assessment of comic books versus novels as presented as a comparison of Superman and Ender I have to say, respectfully, that I find the entire argument false. Superman is a constantly changing and developing character, arguably more so than Ender is as Superman has been in constant serialized story telling for seventy five years and handled by by countless writers who have strived to find new challenges for such a storied character, while Ender is a character generally handled by one author on only a relatively small number of occasions. Comparing novels and serialized comic books on this scale is unfair to characters in either genre of storytelling as the goal of the development arcs are generally very different, as is the scope of the story telling. Regardless of this, to assert that Superman has not changed or developed of the course of his 75 year history denies the changes in trends and attitudes and the ability of the character to stay relevant to generations of fans. The Superman of the late 1930s was more of a liberal activist which the “traditional” Sueprman of the 50s and 60s was reflective of the conformist need of the time. The Superman of today suffers with immigrant and assimilation issues, being an alien, while still living up to the ideal of his adopted world–and surpassing humans in their humanity. The complexity of the themes inherrant in a Superman story are generally wrapped in a problem that can be tricked or punched away, but the character himself has multiple levels which can and have been approached and developed. The “superficial” aspect (pun unintended) of Superman is only superficial as any real research into the character and themes surrounding him show, like the rings of a tree’s trunk, the growth and changes America has undergone in the better part of the last 100 years. What’s important to remember is that in reading Superman books, the more important part is to read about the Man who is super, and not the Super embodied in a man. Stories have been written that explore the idea of a seeking Superman as well, where he travels through space looking for answers, or trying to resolve great guilt. These are common themes that can be explored in any good character development given the right opportunity to take a story to that place.

  7. Sorry. You obviously are more deeply acquainted with Superman than I.  Consistency is not usually applied to issues people get worked up about, such as gay marriage. And Card probably isn’t so important, he’s just the scapegoat. That conservative I worked with on the book written with a liberal, was a Morman committed to running a center for troubled kids. A new father, young and idealistic, he also had deeply held views based on his religion. While he had friends met at college who were gay that he respected and liked, he couldn’t sanction gay marriage. He felt recognition of a civil union was okay, but not marriage, as he understood the institution. And that was the union of a man and a woman. But he understood the liberal argument, just didn’t agree. I think it’s fine not to agree.

  8. There’s no need to apologize at all, I hope I didn’t come off as offended or adversarial. I just disagreed, which as you said (and I also believe) is a fine thing to do. We have to remember that the strength of democracy is not in total agreedment but mutually beneficial compromise and the ability to build a greater good based on core principles. Unfortunately, many things in the preceeding comment are true, but one of my personal goals is to find a consistent perspective–with due deference to mitigating and extenuating circumstances (which in reality are few and far between). It is rare to find consistency, but I’m hoping that I can find at least some by cutting through the BS (or at least dishing out some of my own)

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