In the runup to today’s release of Ender’s Game, Alyssa Rosenberg linked to her article about whether or not viewers who object to Orson Scott Card’s opposition to gay marriage should boycott the film. Rosenberg suggests a number of approaches, ranging from to simply not seeing the film to employing “moral offsets,” donating the price of a ticket (or more) to organizations that support gay marriage. It’s an eloquent exploration of the politics of consumption, and I don’t mean to dismiss it when I say I lean towards a simpler answer:
No, you should not boycott Ender’s Game.
Partly it’s because, as the New York Times‘s Juliet Lapidos wrote, the proposed boycott is “closer to blacklisting,” an attempt to make a pariah of a a public figure with divergent views. (For the purposes of this piece, I ask you to stipulate, along with a majority of Americans, that gay marriage should be legal, and that those who oppose it are on the wrong side of history. You may disagree, but that’s not really the point at hand.) Rosenberg freely admits she’d like to see Card become “radioactive.”
Let’s stipulate as well that, even if Card, as was recently reported, won’t see a dime of Ender’s Game‘s profits, it doesn’t matter, since he stands to reap substantial reward from his novel’s increased profile. Whether or not a penny of the box-office take ends up in Card’s pocket, every ticket sold benefits him indirectly. Yes, most of the money will go to the movie studio and the director and the actors who had the clout to demand back-end points in their contracts. But morally, it shouldn’t make a difference how little Card makes. Profit is profit.
But here’s the thing: Culture isn’t Chick-fil-A. Boycotts are blunt instruments by nature: You can’t hurt the owners of a national chain without hurting the people who work for it. But at least when do you, the most you’re missing is a (by all accounts delicious) chicken sandwich. Your understanding of the country and its culture isn’t impoverished by not sampling Chick-fil-A’s wares.
The same can’t be said for Ender’s Game, or The Passion of the Christ, or any cultural product made by people you or I or anyone else might consider loathsome. Roman Polanski raped a teenage girl and fled the U.S. rather than do his time; Chris Brown is an unapologetic abuser of women. But the former remains a vital artist, and the latter’s popularity is largely undimmed. For the most part, I choose not to listen to Brown’s music, partly because he’s vile, partly because it’s terrible, but I’ve also seen fathers hoist their teenage daughters on their shoulders at one of his shows, and as someone who attempts to understand where the culture’s at, that’s not something I can just ignore.
I’m not saying you should see Ender’s Game; it’s pretty meh, although Asa Butterfield is a star by anyone’s reckoning. But the cultural dialogue, and even progress itself, isn’t served when we ostracize or tune out those who disagree with us. If it’s not okay for right-wingers to have a cable network that only reports the news they want to hear, then it’s not okay for progressives to cherry-pick their cultural products. We all make decisions about what we do and don’t consume, and it’s impossible to get to everything. By all means, see one of the movies Rosenberg recommends as an alternative; a double bill of Ender’s Game and Dallas Buyers Club might yield fascinating results. But don’t ignore it. If you want to engage — or even do battle — with people who don’t share your views, you have to understand them first.