Bubblegum and Superman
So Orson Scott Card, renowned science fiction author, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Locus award winner and all-round homophobic douche has been hired by DC to pen a new Superman anthology. A few minutes trawling Google under the parameters “Orson Scott Card” and “Superman” will present you with a flurry of diatribes, threats by retailers not to carry the line and the general outrage over DC’s decision.
DC have released an official statement about the hire:
“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.”
My first reaction was to applaud that sentiment. But honestly, thinking about it a little harder, this strikes me as a wantonly stupid hire for DC to be making.
Orson Scott Card is a bigot. A weak man hiding behind the dogmatic views of an organisation that preaches love but thrives on hatred. Not only does he write openly about the damaging effects he believes gays have on society, but he spearheads a group who actively campaign against gay rights. For my part, I will not ever knowingly spend a cent to support any of his work. Should I ever have the misfortune of meeting him, I will happily tell him so to his face.
Caveat – of course, if the execs at DC lose their collective minds and allow Card to publish anti-gay sentiment, open or veiled (such as the genocidal warfare against the “buggers” in Ender’s Game, yes Orson, I see what you did there) in the pages of his Supes anthology, this should be a no-brainer argument But the odds of the company allowing Card’s homophobic views to inform his writing on Superman are right up there with them releasing a Justice League movie before Fenrir the Wolf swallows the sun, so it starts to get a little more complicated.
Now, there are some who would say the artist should be held separate from the art, and I truly get that. In an ideal world, you should be able to watch a Roman Polanski film and judge it on its own merits, and never mind all that unpleasantness about him raping a 13 year old girl and fleeing the United States before he could be formally sentenced. But really? Fuck that. Because in purchasing art, you support the artist who created it. You make them money. You give tacit approval of their actions. “Yeah, you sexually assaulted a child, Roman, but damn, you can shoot good dialogue.”
In this age of twitter and fb and blogs and whatever, the line between the creator and the created grows ever thinner. And for good or ill, we’ve reached a point where art is now not only judged by its own strengths and failings, but also by the strengths and failings of the people who created it. The social media circus exacerbates the issue, but complaining about it strikes a sour note with me. Social media for creators is, at its most fundamental, a form of advertisement, and we creators engage in it precisely because we want people to know who we are.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, either – as Quentin Tarantino famously said during a hilaaaaaarious interview for Django Unchained, and by extension, summed up every interview with a creator EVER: “This is a commercial for my movie”. But somewhere along the line, persona has become inextricably tied up in content. It’s like a fistful of bubblegum smooshed through your hair – it doesn’t come out, your only solution is to cut it away. And as terrifying as that idea is to me – the knowledge that every time I write a ranty blog post or tweet a dick joke it could cost me a sale or a follower or whatever – I accept it, because that same device allows me to spread news about my art across the entire world. The sword, it is double-edged. But it’s still a sword that can slay some mighty big dragons, and creators always have the option of saying nothing, or being utterly vanilla and saying nothing of worth for fear of offending.
So, while I understand the idealized view that the artist is not the art, and visa versa, I believe there SHOULD be consequences for people’s actions.
Caveat – there is a WORLD of difference between views espoused in an artist’s work and the views they espouse in their personal lives. The idea that, because an artist writes a homophobic or misogynistic or racist character, they themselves are homophobic or misogynistic or racist is EXTRAORDINARILY DANGEROUS. Art is not life. My characters are not me. I am talking PURELY about political/social views espoused by the artist in their own lives here, NOT in their art. If you cannot differentiate between art and life, between my character’s words/thoughts/feelings and my own, you are not dealing with the correct reality.
Now, we live in a society where people are free to think and say what they please. And in a way, the idea that a person can’t even get a JOB because of their personal beliefs is straight up horror story. After all, “I won’t hire you because, despite your ability to do this job and not allow your personal beliefs to impact on your output in any way, you believe gay people are evil sinners” isn’t so far removed from “I won’t hire you because, despite your ability to do this job and not allow your personal beliefs to impact on your output in any way, you are gay” or “have different skin to me” or “<insert bullshit othering here> to me”. The difference of course is some of those stances actively pursue an agenda of hate, and the other could be seen as doing society a favor (which one of these is not like the other, come on, can you tell which one?) But what begins as a completely logical reaction (“I won’t buy this guy’s work, because he’s a hateful, small-minded fool”) very quickly descends into a very grey quagmire of “What ifs?” and “Yes, buts…”, and if you’re not careful, you end up looking like a hateful, small-minded fool too.
Card is a renowned writer. His ability can’t really be questioned. He can do the job DC have hired him to do. He’s a hateful little shit, no doubt, but does that mean he shouldn’t be able to get a gig? There’s always the argument that people can vote with their dollars – that if Card’s presence in the scene is offensive to you, if you wish to let him know you consider his views as “Not Okay”, do as I do and don’t buy his work. Hell, if you really feel like it, don’t buy any more DC books until they deep-six him, and let them know why. Your unwillingness to give DC money will speak to them at a volume far in excess of any outraged tweet/post/piece of interpretive dance you make.
As for the idea of retailers not stocking the work, not even allowing people to make up their own minds about it, well, that’s just singularly insulting. Thank you Mr Comic Book Store Guy, but this grey pulpy mass between my ears actually fucking works for itself sometimes.
But, when all that is said and done, I don’t agree with DC’s decision to hire Card. I think it’s fucking woeful, truth be told. And the reason is kinda simple.
Imagine for one moment, Card had openly expressed views that were ultra-racist. That he had claimed black people were a blight on society. That he was a member of an organization that actively pursued an agenda of hatred towards people of color, and campaigned to have their rights as citizens revoked. Or imagine for a moment, Card had openly expressed views that were ultra-misogynistic – that women were inferior to men, that the best thing for society would be for women to get back in the kitchen and shut their mouths, and actively pursued such a goal, making no bones about it to anyone. Imagine he’d spoken this way about any one of a hundred minorities, be the line drawn on race, creed, whatever. Do you believe for a second that DC would have hired him? Do you honestly believe they’d be saying “Yes, we know he’s openly professed a burning hatred of all Latinos, but his personal views aren’t ours”?
No. Fucking. Way.
But somehow, someway, it ain’t so bad for Card to be bashing on gay folk. Somehow, this brand of hatred and fear isn’t quite so bad as the hatred and fear people of color or women have to deal with. Somehow, hiring a man who openly espouses vitriolic hatred of homosexuals, who will no doubt use the money he makes from DC to further his agenda of bigotry and bullshit, is ok.
Well, no. It’s not. Not in my book, anyway. ALL bigotry is bullshit. All hatred is baggage. And while I 100% support the right for people to openly spout said bullshit, I also support the right for everyone else in the free world to call them on it, and punish them for it. Because this shit is Not Okay.
Superman is a flagship character of the DC line. Defender of Truth Justice and All That Jazz. And I don’t even give a shit about Supes – I’m a dyed in the wool Marvel boy. But goddamn, this strikes me as some grade-A fucked up shit, right here.
Dangerous times, people. At least, it seems that way to me. But, I grant that the issue is complicated. I get that. And I’d be genuinely interested to hear what you folks think.
Happy Valentines Day, btw. 🙂