Ender's Shame

A few years ago, I was idly talking to a group of friends about Andrew Holleran's 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance. The book elegantly describes the gay culture of Manhattan and Fire Island at the time it was written, and in doing so shares some sentiment that reads less than politically correct to modern sensibilities. I lamented this—specifically some race jokes, which I think are supposed to be taken as straightforward humor—to the people that I was talking to, and one of them gently challenged my complaint. "I think that you have to take what you can from any piece of pop culture and ignore the bad stuff," she said with a shrug.

I think she's right, especially regarding art from less enlightened times. When something is rich enough with good, it's possible to willfully ignore, or at least set aside, a modicum of bad, provided that it doesn't somehow undo the goodness with hypocrisy. You can enjoy the observational humor of Girls while disliking Lena Dunham's tone deaf handling of race. You can appreciate Kanye West's musings on the way racism he's experience has shifted as he's climbed the social ladder without co-signing Yeezus' ostensible misogyny. You can rock "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" while staying far, far away from its film source and Disney's red-headed step child, The Song of the South. (I mean, if someone had a "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" ringtone, I'd be suspicious, but it's nothing that conversation couldn't ultimately clarify.)

If we worked through Woody Allen marrying his wife's daughter while still making highly personal films, we have the capcity to work through the virulent homophobia of Orson Scott Card, whose 1985 young adult sci-fi novel Ender's Game has been adapted into a $110 million movie, out today. Card has written extensively about the evils of homosexuality. It's not merely the usual know-nothing, sky-is-falling, anti-gay-marriage bullshit, but passionately ignorant screeds about the societal rot that is gay culture. The section of his Wikipedia entry on his views on homosexuality is long enough to be its own separate article. Here's an excerpt:

Card has also voiced his opinion that paraphilia and homosexuality are linked. In a 2004 essay entitled "Homosexual 'Marriage' and Civilization," Card wrote: "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."

You gotta hand it to the guy—he's a good science fiction writer. Card has since revoked several of his claims about homosexuality, though the statement he released in July after DOMA was overturned was unsurprisingly petulant:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

Though reports suggest that he'll see no backend profits from Ender's Game, and thus you can spend money on the movie guilt free, let's make no mistake: Card is tolerated. He's having one of his stories immortalized in motion picture. His views are widely reported and commented on as a result of the film (here here is comparing Obama to Hitler). The levels of tolerance he receives are higher than most people on Earth could ever dream of, regardless of his sexuality.

Preamble aside, the movie itself is the best big-budget mainstream sci-fi flick I've seen this year (if we aren't counting Gravity, which I don't think is fantastical enough to qualify for the genre), but that's only saying that it's better than Oblivion, Elysium, and, snort, After Earth.

Ender's Game's story will remind you of a million other things you've seen, including Starship Troopers (which Card swears was not an influence) and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film's guiding belief is that children are the future of the future and thus must be trained to fight and defeat a race of ant-like aliens called Formics. The protagonist, Ender (Asa Butterfield) is another white sci-fi messiah who's great at everything, especially the game of zero-gravity Laser Tag he and his gifted peers play at Battle School. Harrison Ford, as the school leader Colonel Graff, broods and rants.

Ender's Game is briskly told, well acted, and its scenes of weightlessness are almost as impressive as Gravity's (there's a particularly gorgeous shot of Butterfield turning circles, arms out stretched while shooting the temporarily paralyzing lasers at his competitors). Beyond Hailee Steinfeld's character's butchness, and Ender's borderline romantic fixation on his sister who's named, of all things, Valentine (and played by Abigail Breslin), there's little indication of the kind of "deviance" that Card has raged against.

However, Colonel Graff's tactic to foster Ender's greatness by isolating from his peers (to "make them hate me," as he puts it) speaks directly of experience so many young gay people had growing up—the main difference being that real bullies' goals are not so great. Regardless, if a person is fortunate enough to be able to convert that malice to motivation, what his bully bestowed upon him is the toughest of tough love. It's not fun to endure, there's no guarantee it will yield results, but sometimes it really works. Card is wise beyond his politics.