D.C. Comics, Orson Scott Card, and Cognitive Dissonance

Morning, everyone. The big dust-up in the world of geeks this week comes courtesy of D.C. Comics decision to hire world-renown but controversial sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card to pen upcoming issues of Superman. And since everyone is sharing their opinions on the topic, I figured I’d get in on the action.

I’ve actually struggled with my feelings about OSC for a number of years. For those of you who may not know. Mr. Card is a best-selling and multiple-award winning author of such famous sci-fi works as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. His work has also included writing for screenplays, video games, and other lines of comic books such as Iron Man for Marvel. Ender’s Game is soon to be released as a major movie staring Harrison Ford, among others. I consider Mr. Card to be right up there with the second wave of great sci-fi writers like Larry Niven and William Gibson. Several of his novels sit on my bookshelf as I type this.

So it’s under this umbrella of professional accomplishments that I have to confront his repulsive personal views. An active and outspoken member of the Mormon Church, Mr. Card has very publicly denounced homosexuality as aberrant behavior, and has aided in the fight against things such as same-sex marriage rights, the repeal of DADT, and other measures that would bring equality and dignity to so many of our fellow citizens. That his public statements are in line with the tenants of his religion holds very little water with me.

The predictable response to Mr. Card’s personal views, a response D.C. really should have seen coming, has been calls to boycott the Superman titles in question, and even D.C. comics in general. Many people within the pantheon of comic geekdom feel particularly betrayed by D.C.’s decision, and rightfully so. The clan of geeks has always contained a large slice of social misfits and outcasts. People who didn’t fit into the mainstream. Instead, they built their own community based on inclusiveness and non-conformity, (unless you’re an attractive cosplay chick, but that’s another post). So it should be no surprise that there is a significant overlap between the community of LGTB persons and their supporters, and geek culture. Asking a proud homophobe and enemy of equality to write for the most important comic book character in American history must have come as a real slap in the face, and D.C.’s tone deafness led them right into this trap

However, all that said, while I certainly can’t blame anyone for being upset, or choosing to participate in a boycott, in this instance, I can’t recommend it, or participate myself. Here’s why. If you haven’t read Speaker for the Dead, you absolutely must do so right this second. Leave your job, abandon your children, interrupt the lunchtime copy-room tryst with the new girl from accounting, and go buy this book. While it is a sequel to Ender’s Game, it takes place far in the future and does enough catch-up and character-building early on that it stands alone very well. All you’re really missing is how much of a bad-ass young Ender was.

What you’ll find inside the pages of “Speaker” is the most elegant, moving, and iron-clad argument for tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness ever captured in sci-fi, or perhaps any genre. The journey the human characters take in learning about, and eventually accepting the incredibly alien “piggies” is at times challenging, heart-wrenching, and ultimately empowering. I won’t ruin the ending, but the final scene of the book caused me to weep with relief. If you boycott Mr. Card’s work, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to read a work that turns the entire argument for diversity on its ear and shakes out all the loose change. It is simply beautiful.

The experience of reading “Speaker”, then running head-first into Mr. Card’s bigoted intolerance was… jarring, to say the least. It took me a while to work through it, and it’s been percolating around in the back of my head for several years. This latest incident has given me a reason to talk about it publicly. How, I wondered, could a mind that had written something that profound, simultaneously expound the sorts of regressive, backwards beliefs that he had just penned perhaps the greatest refutation of in contemporary literature?

I really couldn’t understand it for the longest time, and in some ways I still can’t. But what I’ve come to better understand is that Mr. Card, like so many millions of people in our culture, suffers from compartmentalized thinking. His plea for religious tolerance in “Speaker” was written with the benefit of his clan, the Mormons, in mind. He has never taken the next logical step to apply those same arguments to other groups. To do so would risk cognitive dissonance, which would be an unpleasant experience indeed for someone with a mind as sharp as his. It would require a level of self-reflection and bravery that he has, alas, not yet acquired. It is for this reason that I pity him more than I loathe his opinions.

However, I also believe that even if he does not yet possess the mental tools necessary to see over the walls he has built, there are many millions of others who are not so afflicted. I think that with the core message at the heart of his seminal work, Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card could inadvertently do more to further the very causes of tolerance and acceptance that he has publicly opposed. It would be a fitting fate if his accidental message of inclusiveness and diversity spread far and wide, and ended up helping liberate those his personal beliefs had sought to condemn.

Seriously, go read the book, then share it with your friends.

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