Thursday, 14 February 2013

Orson Scott Card and Superman: It's not as simple as you think!

DC Comics are at the centre of yet another controversy that has attracted some mainstream press attention. DC have commissioned Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story for their upcoming digital series, Adventures of Superman. Card is a successful author, most notably for his sci-fi novel, Ender's Game. He's also a vocal critic of homosexuality and a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that campaigns against same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples. He has called gay marriage "the end of democracy in America" and believes that the "dark secret of homosexuality" is that most gay people were drawn into it through abuse and yearn to be straight.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the fact that he's writing Superman has pissed off a lot of fans.

There is currently a petition calling for DC to drop Card from the book that has over 10,000 signatures. There are some who feel that the petition itself is wrong. For example comics writer Mark Millar tweeted "petitioning to have writer Orson Scott Card fired for his social views is as fascistic as politicians condemning a sexual preference" and Rich Johnston, founder of stated "the idea of campaigning to get a writer fired because you disagree with his beliefs, however abhorrent, is problematic".

The comic shop manager and blogger, Christopher Butcher has described such objections to the petition as "gross" and "faux-liberal hand wringing." I've seen similar statements popping up in my Twitter feed. I find this to be a simplistic, dismissive and rather silly attitude to what I'm discovering to be quite a complicated discussion. While I find Card's views abhorrent, the idea of a petition to stop a writer from working just because of his beliefs initially didn't sit right with me at all. I had pretty much made up my mind straight away that I had no intention of buying Card's story, but was this petition too much? Once one writer's been forced off a book for his views it can happen again and again. It's a dangerous precedent to set. And besides there are lots of writers who's views I disagree with. In fact if I only read comics by writers whose views I agreed with then I would have a pretty meagre comic collection.

After I expressed this opinion on Twitter a Twitter-friend, pointed out to me that the people who sign the petition have no real power, it's just a way to express their displeasure. Only DC Comics could actually fire Card. He also described Card as "a person doing things to ruin other people's lives in a serious way" and that motivated me to read up on Card a little more. He is, as I've mentioned, a board member for the National Organisation for Marriages. A quick read of the Activity section of their Wikipedia entry gave me some idea of just how big, influential and potentially harmful an organisation they are. As Andrew Wheeler put it in his Guardian article on this subject, "Card's not just an artist with disagreeable views; he's an active participant on the wrong side of the struggle for civil rights."

It was at that point that I posted the following status on Facebook:
I've been thinking hard about Orson Scott Card on Superman, I don't know, maybe I'm changing my mind. He's not just someone with dodgy views. As a lot of people have argued, he's not just some nutter spouting bollocks on the internet, (like say, John Byrne) Card uses the fame & income from projects like this to spread his hate. Maybe this petition to stop DC publishing his Superman story isn't as wrong as I first thought. I don't know. What do you think Facebook?
What followed was a very interesting discussion between my Facebook friends. With their permission I've reproduced some of their comments here:
LaMar Forte: I think it's devoid of class and professionalism to use art to spew hate, and inherently against the nature of art in the first place
Robert Leichsenring: I´m still for him writing. his work is mostly free of his views (if not completely ... I haven´t encountered any. neither in the Ender Saga nor in his Ultimate Iron Man).
he´s a good author, and I´m not sure that he´s trying to subdue us to his views.
but a petition is a good way to show DC that such a thing will not stand.
John Phelan: I don't know this guy from Adam and I know little about comics. Surely what matters is whether he's a good comic writer? There are plenty of people who's views I disagree with but it would be a miserable world if we excommunicated all who we disagreed with. 
I have a problem with people using the word 'hate' about views which are just different from theirs. Its possible to be against something without hating it.
If he's working against gay marriage and gay adoption let him, and go on working for both of them yourself. Thats true tolerance. Anyone can tolerate people they agree with, its tolerating people you disagree with that wins you your spurs. Leave bigotry to the bigots.
Borgy BorgoniaUsing Superman as an allegory, if Supes knows Lex uses Lexcorp as the source of his funding for nefarious schemes, does he boycott or go about telling people not to buy Lexcorp products and services? If he uses products from Lexcorp (which from indications in the comics and elsewhere, is apparently unavoidable, given that so many consumer goods come from it), is he indirectly guilty of how the money is used after? Or maybe he chooses not to use their stuff as a personal stance, but we never see him on a soap box telling people not to use them. Sure, he often can't prove the money from those products and services go to vile schemes, but he could still be vocal about it yet chooses not to.
Supes is an icon for truth and justice, fair play and equality. As a media-man, I'm pretty sure he separates what is legitimately produced from that of what activities are funded by those products or services result in. I can't picture him taking a stand to deny anyone doing a job that does not directly causes harm. Perhaps indirectly it leads to the person doing something he would be against, but that is his choice to make.
I've said it before in other threads regarding this sensitive topic. I hate Card's actions and his points of view are deplorable. I'll oppose his actions in the proper channels and forums. But as far as his writing for Superman is concerned, I have no problem with it as long as he doesn't use Superman as a sounding board. Don't like him, don't buy him. But don't deny the person the job for his political or social activities outside the job. Doing that is a form of discrimination. And Superman is above such notions. But again, these are just my POV and opinions of the matter.
Wes ShepherdThis has definitely opened my eyes to just how malicious he actually is. The stuff I've read about what he's said and done is appalling. His anti-gay marriage group was formed in 2009 right around when they announced the Ender's Game movie. I sure don't want to help fund his bullshit. .... Someone made a great point in some article. If we replaced every time Card said "homosexual" with any of these words: "Women", "Blacks", "Jews" etc. DC never would have hired him. 
Borgy Borgonia: If we replace, say, Pound Puppies for DC, and Card's discrimination and activities are against puppies instead, and Superman is replaced with Buster the dog, who represents everything good about dogs and cute puppies, yet Card manages to not misrepresent the character, what changes fundamentally? Nothing, really. He's still doing a job. He's still going to do whatever he wants with what he earns from the job. 
See this is making an ugly precedent that we should discriminate people from their chosen profession because of what they believe in and what they do outside the job itself. Fight against his activities and beliefs, don't buy the stuff that is associated with him, but don't deny him the work itself if he's doing it right.
Wes Shepherd: Yes, I will always discriminate against bigots, i.e. those who discriminate. He wants to keep human rights out of the hands of humans. At the end of the day that's what it boils down to. People can do and say what they want, but they (especially a public persona) HAVE to understand that all actions have consequences. This is one of the consequences of concentrated, deliberate hate.
Borgy Borgonia: That's the problem. If we are against discrimination, then we have to not discriminate in any way, shape or form even against the bad guys. Otherwise, we aren't any better. We can and should fight for what we believe in and what's right, but in the right arenas. I have no problem with choosing not to buy what he puts out. I have a problem with not giving him the right to put that out if he has the ability to do the job and treat the job separately.
Wes Shepherd: Nope, because I'm not denying him basic human rights. He doesn't have a RIGHT to stay employed.
John Phelan: The Supreme Court might think differently
Wes Shepherd: And as far as being better than him, I'm not. I'm not better than anyone, you or Paul or Orson himself. And conversely he is not better than me or anyone else. So how does he get the right to deny people the same rights and privileges he gets to enjoy by virtue of being human? The only possible rationale answer has to be that he thinks homosexuals are inhuman and don't deserve tax breaks and awesome nuptial ceremonies.
You have the right to persue employment, but there is no constitutional right guaranteeing employment. If there is, how does America have a 10+-% unemployment rate? It's not like he needs the money.
Borgy Borgonia: Why not? Has the government denied him that right? Did he break any laws? We oppose his activities and beliefs, but that shouldn't make us drive him out with stakes and pitchforks from a job. We have the right to speak against his being appropriate for being on a Superman title, but that is more of an opinion than fact.
John Phelan: Well think it through; the petition works and the comic company says "Sorry, you're fired. Your political views drew too much heat" I can't see them going for that.
Wes Shepherd: You're confusing the issue. I'm saying he does not have the right to stay employed  what his employer decides to do with him is their right entirely. The petition is used to show the voice of the people that will or won't be buying the company's product. The company should know that. It is ultimately up to DC what they want to do with him. Now, through his actions were he to lose his job, does he have a right to keep it afterwards? People are fired for racial and bigoted slurs every day in this country. Basically DC is saying they don't care about homosexual rights (despite many in their employ being vocal about it)

But there is nothing in this country that grants you the right to a job, just the pursuit of that job. Does that make sense?
John Phelan: DC are not saying that. DC are saying that they have room for people with differing views on gay rights on their payroll. It's a strange thing to see such illiberalism in the defence of liberalism.
Wes Shepherd: If he were in an organization that actively discriminates and tries to get laws passed to stop a black person from marrying a white person I doubt we would be having this conversation. I don't care for labels, I'm not a liberal, I'm a look at the issue and decide for yourself. I hope Card gets what's coming to him whatever that may be, good or bad. But the fact remains that he's a bigot and I don't care for him.
John Phelan: I, personally, would defend the right for someone to believe any crazy shit they like. As I say, tolerating stuff you agree isn't what marks you out as tolerant, it's when you're asked to tolerate something you don't like that you see what people are really made of.
The reason I've reproduced a big portion of this discussion here is that I wanted to show that this isn't an issue that's as cut and dried as some have made it out to be. It's certainly not as simple an issue as I initially thought it to be. Hopefully this discussion has at least illustrated why I think it's foolish to dismiss those who disagree with the petition as "faux-liberals" with "gross" opinions.

I certainly now have more of an understanding of why people are signing this petition, and why people are so angry at DC Comics. But ultimately I can't agree with the principle behind this petition, no matter how irrational and dangerous I find Card's views. If a work colleague of mine was, for example, an influential racist writer, I wouldn't want much to do with him outside of work but would I want him sacked if he had proven that his views didn't affect his work? No. I don't think that I would. I'm not going to buy this comic because I find Card's views so repulsive that I'd find it difficult to enjoy the comic, even if his views weren't reflected in it at all. But I can't bring myself to campaign for his sacking.

But if it just so happens that no bugger buys this comic and the decision to hire Card results in a big flop for DC Comics, let's just say that I won't be too upset about it.


  1. Wes Sheperd drew my attention to this article arguing in favour of the petition and I thought it was worth sharing.

  2. blueandgoldandharvest22 February 2013 at 10:05

    I would like to know what Siegel and Shuster thought about gay marriage



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