Full disclosure right up front: I've met Orson Scott Card. Chatted with him once or twice. He's signed on more than one occasion at Mysterious Galaxy. I wouldn't call him a friend or even an acquaintance, but my brief interactions with him have been pleasant enough. As with most people of any political persuasion, Card's not a fire-breathing dragon. He's a writer, a dad, an American. He sells a ton of books.
He is also very conservative and anti-gay. Stridently anti-gay, in fact. I haven't read many of his anti-gay writings, and have no interest in doing so. I find his beliefs (and his actions in support of those beliefs) in that regard extremist and deeply repugnant, and I wouldn't be interested in hanging out with him.
But do I think he should get to write a Superman story if DC Comics wants him to? Of course I do.
A slight digression. Back in my college days, I hung out with some of the people who had radio shows on the campus radio station. I was a radio/TV/film major, so they were my tribe. One of them was an Iranian student who had a show once a week, on which he played instrumental Iranian music.
His show earned the ire of other Iranian students, who claimed that because the music he played was provided by the Iranian government (at that time, under control of the CIA-installed Shah), the show was politically unacceptable. My acquaintance was subjected to death threats, and eventually took to hiring guards to accompany him to his classes. The radio station was regularly evacuated due to bomb threats.
I objected to those tactics. The student was an Iranian citizen, not an American, but he was a guest in our country and I felt the principles of free speech should apply to him as well as to anyone else. His show was music, not talk--and instrumental music at that--but even if he had been explicity defending the Shah, I would have felt the same way. The First Amendment to our Constitution says that government won't make laws abridging freedom of speech, so whether a state university allows any given student to broadcast a show on its airwaves is only debatably covered under that (and DC Comics letting someone write Superman is not remotely covered), but I felt--and feel--that the principle is important enough to extend much further than the Constitution specifies.
I wrote a letter to that effect to the campus newspaper. Deliberately provocative, I said that the tactics of death threats and bomb threats made those protesting the radio show little better than SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, who the protestors opposed. As you might imagine, that letter did not win me a lot of friends among the Iranian students protesting the show, or among the campus leftists who were otherwise my ideological kinfolk. But it did bring me to the attention of the Communications Board, the campus body that governed the radio station and newspaper, among other things. I was asked to run for an open seat on that board, and I won, and I cast the deciding vote to keep the show on the air.
Which, again, earned me a certain amount of grief, and threats of my own. My picture in the campus paper made me a target too. At the end of the semester, his show ended and the controversy blew over. But it saddened me that those on the left didn't see the freedom of speech argument as a defining principle that should be protected.
I have, since then, written a lot of books and comics (and even more blog posts). I like to think that conservatives, as well as liberals, can enjoy my work on its own merits, despite the inclusion of certain liberal principles. My newest novel, Season of the Wolf, has as part of its basis the fact of climate change (which shouldn't be controversial--the science is abundantly clear--and shouldn't be a partisan issue). But various people have commented on that aspect of the book as "political."
This leads into another slight digression. I've written about this before, but bear with me--this stuff is important.
There is a constant (and probably never-ending) debate among readers and writers about whether fiction should "take sides" or "have a message." Personally, I like books with a definite point of view, an argument to make, whether it’s one I agree with or not.
I believe that even writers who like to claim they’re just writing “entertainment” are representing a point of view. For a quick and dirty example, let’s take a basic western plot: Bad guys have rustled some cattle, the marshal is hunting them down. This implies several things: the landowner whose cattle have been taken is entitled to private property rights, cattle have intrinsic value, and it’s in the best interests of society as a whole to uphold those truths.
You can add layers of moral complexity—maybe the rancher stole the land to begin with (from other white landowners, or from Native Americans?). Maybe he originally stole the cattle from somebody else. Maybe the rustlers are trying to feed starving families, while the rancher is so fat and happy he’ll never miss three stolen beeves. Maybe a rustler’s daughter—if she can get enough food to fill her stomach—will go to school, become educated, and go on to invent a cure for polio.
You can make an argument for the “rightness” of any of these various interpretations, but you’ll only do so if you’re willing to consider that the assumptions you started out with might not be correct.
I suspect that when people say they don’t like messages in novels, what they mean is that they like novels in which the message is: “The status quo must be preserved.” When an author writes such a story, that author should understand that the story is still arguing for a particular point of view, and counter-arguments can easily be made. The staus quo of the United States in the 21st Century is a country where a few big extractive corporations can keep us from addressing climate change--committing potential global suicide for the sake of their bottom lines. It's a country where a few firearms and ammunition manufacturers can use a decades-long propaganda campaign to argue that the lives of our children and brothers and sisters in Chicago and Los Angeles and Philadelphia and Newtown and Aurora are a worthwhile tradeoff for the profits they feel they deserve. Arguing in favor of this status quo would be challenging--but if someone wants to make that argument, I'll listen.
It's natural for us to like to surround ourselves with voices that support our own beliefs. But it's also limiting to us as human beings. We should hear arguments that are new and fresh to our ears. We should challenge our own assumptions. This is how growth happens, how learning takes place.
I'm not saying I wasn't happy when Glenn Beck lost his Fox "News" gig. Beck spewed hate and specialized in making Americans fear each other. Fox was a big platform, and I'm glad he doesn't have it anymore. I'd love to see Rush Limbaugh working behind the counter of a convenience store instead of raking in millions preaching intolerance. But I accept their right to do what they do and to get paid for it.
Put it this way--if more people listened to viewpoints that they didn't already hold, Fox "News" wouldn't be able to lie with the alacrity with which they do now, because their audience, having been exposed to reality, wouldn't put up with it. Separating ourselves into this bubble or that one is bad for us as individuals, and bad for society as a whole.
Which brings me back to Card and Superman. I love Superman dearly. I wrote a novel about him. I think he's a brilliant creation--an undocumented alien who landed in America and has so thoroughly embraced the values America stands for that he's almost synonymous with the American flag. I think he has been misused in the past--Grant Morrison's take, for instance, is deeply disturbing to me. Maybe he'll be misused in the future. Maybe Card's take would be just as bad as Grant's.
But Card is a storyteller, and Superman is a fictional character. I don't think Card will put the words "Gays are evil" in Superman's mouth. There will be a point of view in Card's story--there is in every story, like it or not. But Superman is strong enough to survive Grant Morrison and he's strong enough to survive Orson Scott Card. He might even be strong enough to make Card reconsider his own beliefs.
If we're going to resist allowing people to tell stories because of their personal beliefs and the things they say about those beliefs, then not only are we as a country turning our back on one of our most cherished freedoms, but conservatives might prevent me from telling stories because of my liberal beliefs. I don't want that. I want to tell the stories I want to tell, especially if someone's going to pay me for them. I want conservatives to read my work, as well as liberals and everybody in between. I want to read the work of people I disagree with--people who offend me--if they're telling good stories and telling them well. The only criterion here should be whether Card is able to tell a good Superman story.
If people want to boycott Card's Superman story, fine. That's up to them. I have no problem with the marketplace deciding what will succeed. If you don't want to buy it, don't buy it. If you don't want to read it, don't read it. If any given store doesn't want to sell it, that's cool too. But to demand that DC not hire Card, if they've already made him the offer--not because of Card's storytelling skills but because Card's world view is stupid and offensive? He is who he is, and he has to live with that shame. We should not, however, assign fiction writing gigs based on such considerations. That's wrong, and shortsighted, and unAmerican. And for most of us, being a freelancer is damn hard, without adding in such restrictions.
Superman would not approve.