It’s been a rough couple of weeks.
It’s been a rough couple of decades.
My heroes, writers whose work I have loved with a passion, who I have admired and promoted and hoped to emulate some day, have turned out to be . . . Oh, what’s the phrase I’m looking for?
Idols with feet of clay?
Less than perfect?
Ah, no. I’ve got it.
Horrible fucking human beings.
This is not a new thing, of course. I was an English Lit. major in college. I put in my time arguing about whether or not Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was truly racist or merely reflective of the general beliefs of his time—Chinua Achebe’s argument that “Great artists manage to be bigger than their times” absolutely convinced me of Conrad’s racism, by the way—or breaking down the misogyny in Lawrence’s Women in Love or Lady Chatterly’s Lover. (Although the recent discovery of an essay in which Lawrence argued “the revolutionary idea that women are human” casts some new light upon this issue. I bet the arguments in Lit. classes have been tweaked again!)
But it’s easier, having these debates about books whose authors are long dead. My emotional attachment to them as people is limited. The repercussions, particularly financial, of engaging with their work are also limited. My own personal involvement in the author in question’s life is non-existent. The excuse that “they lived so long ago that they simply didn’t know better, as we do today,” while not an all-absolving panacea (see Achebe), always hovers over the books, the plays, the essay, like a benevolent ghost who smooths away the rough edges and leaves us something soft and palatable. It is okay to enjoy these authors and their work still, because we know better these days.
I have been so very, very naive.
I’m also not sure I’m even capable of arguing coherently about the subject right now. There is a difference between pointing out racism or misogyny or what have you in a text and pointing out such things in an author’s personal life. There are crimes that are authorial and crimes that are actual, legal crimes for which one goes to prison. And I’m conflating these things right now, mostly because the number of horrifying things about which I am outraged is growing so rapidly that I’m having a hard time keeping track of them.
Orson Scott Card was one of my first heartbreaks.
I first read Ender’s Game in college, I think. I’d already become a fan of Card’s work while reading the Alvin Maker series, an alternative history of North America in frontier times that echoed, to me, the magical realism I was also discovering in my literature classes. Ender’s Game is a SFF classic and I connected with that text in a way that felt nearly primal in its essentialism. I understood Ender in my soul. (I will ask you to excuse the melodrama by remembering that I was still in my late teens. Nearly everything affected my soul, often also giving rise to some truly terrible poetry.) When Card, in Speaker for the Dead, took Ender away from Earth and on a journey of discovery through space and time, I went with him. He opened my mind. No doubt he did some more work on my soul too.
And then years later, I came across this:
“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”
That’s Orson Scott Card in 1990 in an article called “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality.”
Well, that sucked. I was already a feminist and a gay rights supporter, going to school at an East Coast women’s college where it was clear that one of the benefits of being at Mount Holyoke was a remarkable lack of fear that you’d get the shit beat out of you for holding hands with a girlfriend while walking around outside. Finding out that Card genuinely believed that homosexual behavior (and I particularly enjoy his careful phrasing there, so he can still talk about his homosexual friends who he knows and loves, because it’s not gay people who are bad, just any actions they take that express their, you know, gayness) was a valid reason to send someone to prison was shocking. It rang with cognitive dissonance.
Card, after all, was the man who wrote an entire book (Speaker for the Dead) about the concept of Otherness. One of his characters writes as an essayist under the pen name Demosthenes and describes an elaborate “hierarchy of exclusion” that delineates degrees of strangerhood or Otherness. The overarching theme of Speaker for the Dead is that we must not judge others unless we can take them in our hearts from being Other to being deeply understood. Until we can know them as we knows ourselves and, through that process, understand ourselves more truly than we did before.
And the same guy who wrote that book also said that gay people who do not deny themselves from ever having sexual contact with a same sex person “cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society”?
I was baffled. How could this be the same person? I wondered if maybe that essay merely reflected some old, outdated thinking.
As activism ramped up and states began legalizing marriage equality, via the judicial system or via the ballot box, it became clear that Card’s bigotry was no relic of the past. When the movie version of Ender’s Game was announced, it didn’t take more than a minute for people to start collecting examples that ranged all the way up until last year.
This was bad.
I found myself, along with countless Orson Scott Card fans, trying to figure out what to do. This was not a purely intellectual argument about whether or not an author who lived in a previous century was a bigot or a sexist or just an all around horrible human being. This man was a living, breathing, donating-his-money-to-campaigns-to-deny-basic-rights-to-others human being.
For me, this changes a lot. I understand the argument that Card has already been paid for the rights to film his book and that the money I spend on a movie ticket doesn’t go to him. That he no doubt sold the film rights to his book ages ago. That supporting the film supports actors and production people, electricians and costumers and the poor kids trying to get a foot in the door by fetching coffee for movie stars, almost all of whom were outspoken in their condemnation of Card’s bigotry.
Because if that movie was a success, they’ll want to make another. If that movie is a success, new generations of readers will go out and buy Card’s book, which absolutely benefits him financially.
And I’m even torn about that. Because the books in that series are powerful and they speak directly in opposition to the very bigotry Card trumpets every chance he gets. I have a ten-year-old son. I want him to read Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, to learn from them as I did. I think reading those books will make him a better person. It’s just that reading those books also supports a terrible human being.
How to draw this line?
I decided that as long as I kept my original copies of the books, so that no further financial gain was experienced by the author as a result of my son reading them, and as long as I committed to conversation with my son about Card’s beliefs and how strongly I disagreed with them–how I voted with my ballots and my wallet and my mouth every time I could to support equality–then I could expose my kid to these books that so changed my own thinking.
Are you exhausted yet? I’m exhausted. I was so, so tired of thinking about these issues. I was so, so glad this was the worst of the worst and that I’d reconciled my own mind and could move on.
Because it never stops. And the awfulness is sometimes less awful, but sometimes it is so, so much worse.
Greg Mortenson wrote Three Cups of Tea and once again, I fell in love. My Goodreads review of this book is still up, a reminder of how very wrong a reader’s judgment can be. I flogged this book to everyone I knew. I raised money for CAI, the nonprofit organization created by Mortenson that was building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan under the conditions that locals both participated in the building and committed to allowing their girls to go to school.
Much of Mortenson story has since been exposed as a fabrication (most exhaustively by Jon Krakauer in his exposé, Three Cups of Deceit) and his charity is under investigation for mismanagement of funds. I was not alone in my feelings of betrayal when this story broke. Three Cups of Tea, and its editions written for children, brought many people to activism. The passion readers developed for this book, readers as elevated as Admiral Mike Mullen and General Stanley McChrystal (and don’t think that didn’t thrill me…the military taking lessons from a nonprofit on how to engage more helpfully with the people whose country they were invading! This book was magic!), was amazing to see. The corresponding disbelief and depression were equally overwhelming. But surely, this is a rarity, this revelation that someone we have admired so much could be so flawed.
Two weeks ago, during the final proofreading edit of one of my manucripts, an error in attribution was caught. I had referenced a statement made by General Eisenhower about Field Marshal Montgomery as my heroine, a World War II history buff, explains the origin of her company’s unusual name. The comment in the margins said, “A quick Google search shows that Roosevelt said this (or some variation of this) about Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. I can’t find any mention of Eisenhower saying this about Montgomery.”
I was confused. An error on my part was not impossible, but it seemed odd that I would mix up speaker and subject and era, all at the same time. Maybe Eisenhower stole the words from Roosevelt when he wanted to insult the Field Marshall? It was easy enough to investigate. Although I had first drafted this ms. more than a decade ago, I knew that I’d been in the middle of a Stephen Ambrose obsession and it was in one of his books where I’d come across the story. To Google I went, determined to figure out the mystery.
I typed Stephen Ambrose into Google . . . and the very first autofill that came up was Stephen Ambrose plagiarism.
You’d think these things would come as less and less of a surprise to me.
I’d missed it entirely when the scandal was first exposed, but Ambrose has since been revealed as both a plagiarist and a fabricator of his interviews, most notoriously with Eisenhower (ah ha . . . this explains my mis-attributed quote), but clearly a repeat offender, going all the way back to his college thesis.
Picture me sitting on the floor (my WWII history bookshelves are on the bottom of one bookcase) in shock. Stephen Ambrose? Stephen fucking Ambrose? The author of D-Day and Band of Brothers and Citizen Soldiers. The Founding Director of the Eisenhower Center for Leadership, where they have raced to collect oral histories of World War II from the men and women of that generation before they die and those stories are lost to us.
I have sat on Omaha beach in Normandy, Stephen Ambrose’s book in my hands, and read and cried because his words had the power to make the stories of so many individuals real to me at that moment. History is so often taught to us from on high, movements of governments and cultures and armies. The story of the individual is usually lost, or disregarded. Ambrose’s books, quoting extensively from oral histories, put the individual front and center. You never lose sight of the overall context of the war, but you read about the man who thought it was ridiculous that his supplies for the D-Day invasion included cigarettes, until his fear drove him to start smoking on the boat ride over. You read in their own words about men and women’s pain and suffering and fear until you understand that this big picture event in history, World War II, was composed of so many millions of individual stories, and this understanding changes you.
Ironically, my son is also a WWII history buff and I had just introduced him to Ambrose via a collection of his essays, some of which my kid had devoured with his typical, quote everything aloud to me while reading, passion. So here I was again, not only fixing the problem in my manuscript and dealing with my own disillusionment, but also having to discuss with my son this unhappy revelation about his most recent historian idol. To introduce to him, at such a young age, the idea that you cannot simply trust people, even those we respect or who are in positions of authority that would lead you to believe they were worthy of that trust.
I’m going to stop using Except, no here, because what I have learned is that it doesn’t end. Ever. And I need to stop writing and thinking as if there is ever a finish line in this race.
Last week, I found out about SFF author Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband, Walter Breen. I am going to keep details limited, because they are horrifying and triggering. (The links here lead to posts that are nauseating and if you have any sensitivity to descriptions of assault, rape, child abuse, please prepare yourself before you click.) Suffice it to say that Bradley and Breen both participated in and covered for each other over decades of child abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Details of this abuse have been revealed in court documents, in journals from witnesses at the time, and in statements from Bradley’s daughter, Moira. Many people have been writing about this extensively in the past few weeks, including Deirdre Saoirse Moen on her blog and Natalie Luhrs at Radish Reviews, triggered by an author profile from Tor on the anniversary of her birth that has since been taken down.
I spent hours on Twitter talking to Deirdre and Natalie and others, trying to reconcile once again my understanding of an author with their real-life actions. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books might have been my earliest exposure to feminism. They were certainly my earliest exposure to positively-written queer characters (because I’d read Heinlein first, but even as a teenager I recognized that a man writing female characters who happily screwed each other at the drop of a hat, or the trousers of their male partners who enthusiastically joined in, was just creepy fantasizing). The first story I ever submitted professionally was to one of MZB’s Sword & Sorceress anthologies. I was in high school, and the personalized rejection I received which encouraged me to submit again is still in a file folder in my cabinet. The Mists of Avalon was revelatory to me as both a reader and a writer, showing me that you could take a story known by so many and completely change it’s meaning, merely by adding women as real people to the events so “clearly” understood previously. Bradley’s author notes in the backs of her books described her large, sprawling household as a writer/artist commune, with people (most of them young, coincidentally, and vulnerable) moving in with them for years at a time. I remember reading those notes and wishing I could go there. Wishing I too could live in that house, with that family of authors and songwriters and creative people of all kinds.
This is rather sickening, in retrospect. And although Marion Zimmer Bradley is no long alive, her estate apparently still profits an individual who is also currently defending Bradley’s reputation.
So, I am struggling. I am struggling to understand how to think about these writers. What to do going forward. I do not wish to erase their works from existence, although I completely understand and support those whose reaction is to throw away the books and never read one again. But I also know that these book have changed lives, saved lives (I have lost track of where I read a comment by someone who talked about how MZB’s books helped her at a time in life when she felt suicidal), and I don’t want to take away from future generations the possibility of finding that same mind-opening or comforting experience in these texts. I also believe that there is value in working on problematic texts, in analyzing them and understanding ourselves and our complicity in a culture that allows those who cause harm to continue doing so for years, decades, without the most basic examination of their actions.
Mostly I just don’t know what to do.
Maybe the problem is with me. Maybe I am the one who needs to grow up, to stop idolizing people based on their words, whether fiction or non-fiction. To stop believing so strongly that this thing that I do, this job that I love–telling stories–that has the ability to change a mind, change a heart, change the world, necessarily goes hand in hand with being a decent human being.
Because it doesn’t.
I’m not sure where I go from here. There are many people writing much more intelligently than I on all of these subjects. I am aware that I have made no coherent argument in this post. That this is simply an outpouring of my own personal grief, which is trivial in light of the damage that is has been and is being done to real people, whose suffering is both vastly worse than mine and also ongoing. I take some comfort from knowing that my participation in the Summer Rain anthology supports RAINN, a group whose work does so much good for survivors of abuse and assault. But how do I counteract the damage done by my support of all of these writers, over so many years? How do I stay on top of information as it comes to light so that my enthusiastic support for some book in the future doesn’t promote the fame and fortune of yet another person causing harm?
I don’t have enough answers. Any answers, really. And I would greatly appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.
ETA: Natalie Luhrs has corrected my mistaken impression that the MZB profile was issued by her publisher. It was posted by Tor, who regularly profiles important writers.
Ugh, Amy Jo, this always sucks, and it sucks harder that we have to say “always.” It’s so hard to separate art from the artist. Only that particular person could create that specific work, and so they’re inextricably linked. Having worked in theatre on and off for a couple decades, I can attest that some of the most amazing performances I’ve witnessed were created by people I wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with offstage. As idiotic or reprehensible as their personal-life choices are, though, I still have to admit they have a talent, and that their work resonated with me. And then I take a shower. :)
I’ve been thinking about these things in general lately because RWA national is coming up. I’m new enough to romance that this’ll be my first RWA conference. And I gotta say, I’m kind of bracing myself against discovering that any of the writers whose work I love are raging a-holes. I HOPE NOT!!! And I hope no one comes away thinking that of me (yikes). But it’s happened at other conferences, so…girding my loins.
Wishing you at least a decade before another literary wolf falls out of their sheepskin.
Thanks, Mia. I think what’s so challenging is that I became used to the idea that my heroes might be unpleasant or downright mean (I met Dustin Hoffman once on what was clearly a long & horrible day for him, and my anger it his rudeness to someone I worked for and admired poisoned my enjoyment of his films for years), so that this was not as shocking to me after a time. But then I discovered that they’re not just mean, they’re actively campaigning politically to hurt people that I know. Or worse, they themselves are actually abusing people, abusing children. And I get caught in this further disruption to my idea of authors expressing in their writing things they believe in their hearts. It’s so far beyond the place where I thought I’d have to reconcile myself that I get lost.
As a sidebar, I think you will go to RWA and be thrilled to discover that nearly everyone you meet will be lovely and friendly and supportive in real life. :) That was my experience! It’s one of those things that helps balance out this kind of news.
I think this is one of the reasons “the author is dead” is such a popular theoretical perspective. Bringing the real lives of the real authors into our understanding of a work is mostly problematic. I’ve gone out of my way to NOT learn about artists I really like for fear of these kinds of conflicts and disappointments.
I sort of want to believe that the art can and should stand alone.
And yet, I refuse to watch Woody Allen movies, for many of the reasons you’ve listed above. I don’t want to support or condone his actions with my dollars and attention.
What a mess.
Exactly, Cherri. I completely understand the urge to separate the art from the artist, especially when the art itself has contributed to the general good, as I still believe both MZB’s and OSC’s books are capable of doing. There’s always the tiny voice in my head that says, “I wish I didn’t know this.” But, for me, I’ve come to believe that that voice in my head is the voice of privilege, because as the reader, I have the ability to put that book down and stop engaging with it whenever I like. The people who are being harmed don’t get to do the same. I think that’s where my line is drawn. Author died hundreds of years ago? I want us to acknowledge their flaws and their wrongdoings and teach that along with their work, because I do think it changes my interpretation of a novel to know these things. But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying that book. Author still alive and well and dining off the proceeds of their work and/or continuing to harm others? It doesn’t make their books worthless, but the need to contextualize their work with information about their actions is much stronger. And my need not to support them by putting money in their very real pockets is even bigger. And yes, it’s very much the same with Woody Allen. The mess only gets worse when I look up from literature to other fields.
Watching Tom & Viv at an early age (high school–had a teacher who spent an entire month teaching us The Wasteland & also pointed us to the movie) lowered my expectations about the personal lives of great people. It was depressing at the time, but a useful inoculation for the future.
Discovering that an idol has lived a life I really admire, or want to emulate, is SUCH a refreshing surprise. And pretty rare.
Even, like–I just listened to an audio biography of Shackleton & wow, he accomplished some astonishing things, heroic in so many ways, but he was an awful husband. Or Winston Churchill–Hitler would probably have won without him but he was quite racist.
I never liked MZB, so she’s not hard to give up. We all draw our lines in the sand somewhere–one way I mark mine has to do with profit. With T.S. Eliot, who cares? He’s dead. With Orson Scott Card? He’s still doing harm.
Yes. Profiting from harm that is ongoing as we speak? That’s a line in the sand for me. I completely agree. It’s just depressing how late this information always seems to come, after I’ve spent so many years talking up, and spending money on, an author’s books. Our instincts as a culture are to avoid discussing these things, which I understand. It’s terribly hard to admit that people you know and love (in real life or via their books) are doing so much harm. But it’s important that we do so and I’m hopeful that in the future, we will only get better at acknowledging this.
First, thanks to Amy Jo for this thoughtful post.
A number of people have asked about who profits from sales of new MZB and MZB’s share of new Sword & Sorceress anthologies. It’s not the kids. The money apparently goes to MZB’s partner, Lisa Waters, and to the opera.
As far as Lisa goes, if you read her deposition, I suspect you’d be unlikely to wish to support her.
Your blog is where I first learned most of this, Deirdre, so thank you too.
I have read parts of her deposition and, indeed, I will not be purchasing any MZB books in the future. It seems unlikely that any acknowledgement of the damage done is coming from that quarter. Unless I’ve missed something, of course.
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I think my background in music makes it easier, in some ways, to divorce the product from the creator, but this is something I’ve been contemplating myself quite a lot recently. Some really deeply disturbed human beings–and some really outright terrible ones–have produced some incredible, moving music. There’s obviously no correlation between good person-good art and bad person-bad art. Which leads me to question 1) Does it honestly matter who creates a product if it’s a beautiful work of art? Are there books it’s okay to read, but only if I borrow them from a library so there’s no transaction of funds? 2) If so, is it even possible to know who an artist is, given the distortion of public image, misrepresentation of social media, etc.? My least favorite things about the internet are that everything is decontextualized and that nothing is ever forgotten (forgiven). 3) Where is the line between being a messed up person like we all are (but whose flaws are all exposed) vs. being a person so terrible I can’t support them even when their work is great? Where someone is so misogynistic I can’t buy their books, despite catching myself in daily little acts of socialized misogyny like calling all of my child’s bath toys “Mr. Animal”? 4) When a terrible person’s great art changes society (or at least a portion of it) for the better, is it really preferable to tell people to avoid it for the sake of punishing one? How do we work that balance?
Thank you for the excellent comment, Julia. You’re right. There is no correlation between good person-good art and I think that idea is the one I’m having such a hard time letting go of. I want this to make sense, but am resigning myself to the fact that it just does not. Your questions are good ones too. For myself, the line in the sand seems to be drawn at the point where my financial support of an author/artist allows them to continue hurting people. If they are dead and long gone, I still want to know & discuss the problematic stuff, but I don’t worry that my actions contribute to harm, especially if I am not trying to ignore the problematic issues. If they are alive, I am much more careful with what I do. I don’t want what feels, somewhat dramatically, like blood money going from my wallet to theirs.
OTOH, I don’t think avoiding the work is the only answer. For some people, it is, and I completely understand everyone who is throwing their MZB novels in the garbage after reading those court documents. But I also know that her books, or Card’s books, exposed many readers to ideas of feminism and understanding the other, among others, that were mind-expanding and those books could continue to do so for future generations. There is value in that. It’s just hard for me to reconcile that value with my desire to avoid benefiting those who are still causing harm. Sucks all around, pretty much.
As for knowing the artist, I do think that’s a nebulous idea and the 24/7 internet culture has made it a million times more complicated. In the case of MZB, however, it’s also made it very simple for me to read the court documents that show, in her own words, exactly how deep was her complicity in both the cover-up and the perpetuation of abuse. And that’s before we get into the most recent revelations from her daughter, some of which are also referenced in witnesses’ documents. As awful as it is, I can only be grateful that this information is more easily disseminated at this point.
Thanks very much for the thought-provoking comment.
I don’t think music and literature are really comparable in this scenario. For example, one of my favorite books is Card’s Pastwatch, which used to be my “read this when I can’t stand thinking about the horrible state of the world” book. Finding out about Card’s homophobia makes me question my feelings about the book and my interpretation of it. Music is still beautiful either way, but literature changes.
I haven’t tried to read any MZB since learning all this. I *have* reread some Card (just Ender’s Game and Speaker, I think) and those books *still* spoke to me. It just adds to my confusion. I don’t know if it’s that my earliest reads are still overwriting my experience now so that I don’t pick up on things that should/might bother me, or if he really did write books that are greater than he is.
I do think you’re right with music not holding the same taint, at leas for me. Although maybe that’s just because I don’t pay as much attention to music and so I don’t really know of any of these kinds of stories that would lead me to question whether or not I could still enjoy some musician’s art? I’m not sure. But for some music, classical or other instrumental kinds, I do think it’s easier to see it as separate from the creator. The finished work doesn’t carry any explicit message from the composer. It’s one of the beauties of music, how open to interpretation it is. Of course, plenty of my favorite pop/rock/rap songs have enough words to make them extremely problematic to me, even though I love them. :)
Writing novels and directing movies are both intensely personal. You’re inviting someone else to live in your brain for a while, to share your “vision”, to see the world as you do. To find out that the person whose vision you willingly shared is such a reprehensible excuse for a human being feels like a betrayal.
I have avoided Woody Allen for years, because one of my personal hang-ups is very old white men marrying women young enough to be their daughters…or their granddaughters. That alone is enough for me to refuse to support them in any way, shape or form. And don’t bother to argue, telling me that “she loves him”, or “if it’s okay with her, it’s none of your business.” Of course you’re right. But it IS my business whom I choose to spend my meager entertainment funds on, and those creepy old men don’t deserve any of my hard-earned money.
The one that really hit me in the stomach was Arnold. One of my first dates with my husband was to see “Conan” at the drive-in, and the fact that I enjoyed it helped convince my husband I was “a keeper.” We loved the first “Terminator” movie so much we named our first son after the hero. To discover that Arnold is such a cheating pig makes me never want to go see any of his movies again.
I refused to go see “Enders Game” with husband who got irritated with my politics interfering with his movie-going. I told him to go without me. Instead, when he rented it, I watched it and found it dull. Would I have enjoyed it more if Card wasn’t such a douchebag? Who knows? I never read the books, but one of my sons read many of the books in that series, and he thinks my attitude is “dumb”.
But then my kids make fun of me for my “NO Wallmart” stance. I say vote your conscience with your money.
Thank you for your comment! I agree that I do generally vote my conscience with my money. The gray area there, for me, is that I have also decided that I am okay with doing so as I come across information. I am aware that there are certainly many more reasons for me not to buy one brand over another, or artists/musicians/filmmakers/writers I would choose not to support, but my life is short and full of my kid and my family and friends and none of those people get enough of my time as it is. So, after thinking about it, I’ve decided that if I hear about something that disturbs me–OSC or MZB’s actions, Barilla pasta’s public crapping on gay people as deserving to be called good families–then I choose to let that influence how I spend my money. But I don’t spend my hours researching brands and people, to find out everything that there is to know about them. I am mostly okay with this decision, but it’s a choice I’ve made *not* to be aware of everything I could, and I know that that’s a privilege. It’s one that I worry about too, because I’m sure that it will happen again…my enthusiasm lending support to someone awful about whom I haven’t yet heard the worst. It’s a crappy line to walk, for all of us.
I forgot to say, I think it is vital to bring up these issues. When I discussed boycotting Card with friends on Facebook — who very much wanted to see “Ender’s Game” — it turned out they had no idea how actively malicious he has been, how much of his time and money has gone into infringing on the rights of gay people.. They just thought, “oh well, he’s said some homophobic things…” It was a real eye-opener for them, and I think that’s important.
I completely agree. I find myself forgetting about things like this sometimes, and then I am reminded again and wonder how it could have slipped my mind. The world is such a busy place and I think that our minds sometimes conspire to “forget” the bad things we know about someone who produces work that we adore. I don’t find that I forget crap about artists/writers whose work I think is terrible to begin with. But the ones I have loved and believe to be great? If people don’t talk about the bad things in their past/present, then what I remember more strongly than anything is how much enjoyment I experienced while reading them. So, yes, you’re absolutely right. Bringing these issues up is vital. And not once, but over and over again, so the context is never lost. Thank you!
Thank you for your very honest and informative (with helpful links) expression of your personal struggle with this – it’s something a lot of us are facing, with various authors, as the internet continues to make such things more public and easily discoverable. It helps sometimes just to hear how someone else is working through it, some insight that maybe we ourselves have missed. Don’t think that your contribution isn’t valuable in it’s own way, especially as honest and forthright as it is.
I can’t speak for the survivors here – my own history is more of cult-like churches and spiritual oppression, emotional and verbal abuse in family and churches and homeschooling circles, resulting in my having a very loose and open-ended kind of universalist spirituality these days. I’ve left church and most of Christianity behind altogether as a result.
But as a survivor of some kind, I can say that those like you who are now discovering things and trying to come to grips with it, your very honesty and showing us your struggle, that you care and you want to do right by us, even if you don’t know how, is a comfort in itself sometimes. That perfect strangers believe, even at some psychological cost to themselves, and care, and want to help or at least not to further enable the harm, seems a small comfort, but it can be incredibly warming, encouraging and affirming at times.
Don’t discount the voice of an ally; especially one as honest and truly stricken as you’ve been here, one who isn’t just trying to score points by decrying loudly, but a true ally that cares about the harm done and it working to make it right as far as you can. How would we know them if they did not add their voices to the cry? Knowing that we do have them is sometimes all we have.
Thank you so much for your comment, Kagi. I am so sorry for what you have gone through, and I appreciate your taking the time to share it. And thank you for your kind words. I am aware of how many ways there are for me to mess up, to cause further harm if I am not careful in my own words as I try to negotiate news like this from my oh so very safe position as a reader/observer. If my belief in and support for another survivor provided you with any comfort, if only that of a stranger, then I am glad. Thank you.
Wow, Amy! I love what you’ve done here, because you’ve laid out how baffling these disappointments are to our very souls (teenage or otherwise.)
(And Heinlein creeped me out, too. Never did figure that one out.)
Yeah, I loved Heinlein. Loved his books, even the juvenile ones. But even then, the creepiness of his male fantasy arrangement of the women who oh so enthusiastically do everything in bed a guy who’d been raised on bad pornos might wish…yeah, that part was a combination of yuck & eye-rolling.
Thanks for that insightful post AJ. Heroes with feet of clay indeed. I sometimes feel this way when couples I’ve known for a long time who seemed so solid end in divorce because of one cheating on the other. Equally so to hear someone I’ve admired speak in racial or homophobic terms. It’s disheartening to think that honesty and equality are not the norm.
Exactly. I feel the same way about couples who end unhappily, because I so admire good relationships and know the hard work that they require. When I’ve seen people I admire behave cruelly to each other, it’s always disheartening. But I still have great examples in my life! So I continue to keep a toehold on my optimism. :)
Thanks for this thoughtful, caring, well-considered post. It’s a pleasure to read an honest account of your process in thinking/feeling through these issues.
> I *have* reread some Card (just Ender’s Game
> and Speaker, I think) and those books *still* spoke
> to me. It just adds to my confusion.
So Card, for me, is comparatively easy.
…although that “easy” is in the context of having first struggled through similar issues in a slew of other variations on the same theme; the first and most important being what to do with the fact that I still love my father, even though he raped me when I was a kid.
With my father, the answer- which took me decades to really accept wholeheartedly, is that people are not all one thing- the same complex of character traits that made my father kind and loving and capable of producing and appreciating beauty in some contexts, made him a rapist in others. For me at least, attempting to divorce my father’s evil deeds from his good ones was counterproductive- they all came from one person, from one set of incredibly complex circumstances in limited human form. (you can probably see where I’m going with that as it relates to authors too).
I really love both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead (although there are parts of both of them that make me very uncomfortable, especially after reading John Kessel’s essay, Creating the Innocent Killer). I loved them as a young adult, and now the reason that Card’s case, for me, is a comparatively easy one, is because of how blatantly and thoroughly on a more mature rereading, they turn out to both be about child abuse.
I’m sure they are about other things too, or they wouldn’t resonate with so many people, but to me, the elements of them that are about the horrible mix of love and hate, power and powerlessness, the pain, guilt, fear and empathy of the cycle of intimate violence are all so overpowering that it’s hard to really even notice much else. And, with the recognition that of course I could be wrong; to me, they appear to be written from the inside. And that makes it easy for me, not to excuse Card’s behavior, but to work on the assumption that his reprehensible behavior and his beautiful stories make sense together and are something that I can love part of while still finding the other part horrible and tragic.
As for whether to support Card financially by purchasing his work- well, I’d prefer not to. I can have empathy for him and still think he’s using his money for evil ends that I don’t want to be involved with. But if I knew a teen in difficult circumstances who I thought would benefit from reading Speaker for the Dead and I couldn’t find a pirated copy to give them, I might buy one. I’m not sure.
You are far more qualified than I am to speak to the difficulty of seeing the many sides of these issues and I am grateful for your comment. I think your idea about Card’s books being written from the inside of a cycle of abuse is a fascinating one. Thank you so much for commenting.
Thanks for this heartfelt and gut-wrenching post, Amy Jo. It’s striking a lot of chords with me, particularly because I just returned from attending the Children’s Literature Association’s annual conference, where I gave a talk about ENDER’S GAME and how I feel so many people misread Card’s intentions, overlooking his endorsement of first-strike warfare, and, in SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, his misogyny and his sheer arrogance in believing that he/Ender could speak the truth for another human/entire species. For me, Card’s homophobia isn’t that remarkable given other hints of his intolerance in his books.
The Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads is just about to start on a group reading of MISTS OF AVALON, a book I haven’t reread since it first came out. I wonder if similar hints can be found of MZB’s beliefs/pathologies? Or if she was writing a fantasy of what she hoped she could be, rather than a work reflecting her own problematic life.
Shoot. I just commented below, instead of replying to your comment directly, Jackie. :) Sorry!
Jackie, do you have the text of your talk posted anywhere? I would love to read it. It sounds absolutely fascinating. I wonder how it would affect my readings of those books. I can definitely see the arrogance point re: the Speaker role, but I also see value in concept too, and remember it as being a role that Ender didn’t see as reserved for himself, but one that was taken up by others too, in many places. Might be time for another reread though, as my thoughts inevitably evolve w/new information. :)
I haven’t reread any MZB since learning these terrible details. I am sure that I will, eventually, if only to see whether or not I can pick up, as you say, hints of her beliefs/pathologies. I do think that authors often write wish fulfillment stories, but it’s hard to imagine that that could have been her intention. If only because, in her court testimony, she seems so committed to the idea that she personally had done nothing wrong, and only barely acknowledged that her husband might have. It should be fascinating to see what the Book Club thinks.
I loved Ender’s Game and Speaker as a kid, too. Being a lesbian, finding out about Card’s bigotry, and more, his willingness to use his influence to encode that bigotry into law was heartbreaking. That he thinks I am deviant and dangerous would hurt, but I believe in freedom of thought. That he is actively trying to keep my 15 year relationship from EVER being a legally recognized marriage? That’s my line. Remarkably like yours, ain’t it?
Luckily for me I followed a link a while back to this blog that has been hosting a deconstruction of both books – just now wrapping up Speaker – I highly recommend it for those who still feel torn between love for those books and the desire to stand for equal rights for LGBTQ folks. http://somethingshortandsnappy.blogspot.com/
The MZB revelations have been yanking so many of my emotional chains- I am a survivor of childhood abuse that has been characterised by therapists as extreme – the Card stuff seems so…piddly, in comparison. I have never been a huge fan of MZB’s writing, though I did find some of her ideas interesting. But, my partner was a HUGE Darkover fan, and so we have that entire series. Or rather, had, since my partner destroyed her collection in her outrage upon finding out. That gesture of outrage, pain and support from her helped.
As for what you should do? I will echo the sentiment expressed by Kagi above – the work of being an ally matters, being open about the struggle to reconcile what you know now with what you loved and drew strength from in the past matters, being willing to believe a harmed person and at least consider prioritizing their wounds over your entertainment or matters. And especially, doing it publicly, so that fewer people can ignore the issues, so that the conversation either must be had or must be OVERTLY silenced instead of easily and quietly ignored. It MATTERS.
I cannot, obviously, speak for all survivors, but I can speak for myself. I don’t support banning or blacklisting, and I wouldn’t even have asked my partner to get rid of her books, and so I certainly would not ask such of anyone else. I had planned to ask her to box them up so I would not have to see them, as a measure of emotional self-defense. Personally, I like the line you have drawn – the mileage of others may or may not vary.
My 7 cents (adjusted for inflation)
Went back to Something Short and Snappy and realized that a link to the beginning of the Ender deconstruction would be more helpful. So, linky. There be snark ahead.