To the extent that a science fiction author can be famous, Orson Scott Card is famous. I consider myself a moderate fan of science fiction, but if pressed I could name maybe five writers off the top of my noggin. He’s one of them. In the slow-paced world of science fiction fame, that’s the height of the bar.
In recent years, as you have no doubt heard, Orson Scott Card has become famous for unfortunate reasons, less for his merits as a writer and more for his outspoken homophobia. Everyone has an opinion on the gay marriage controversy, and plenty of them sound too much like my granddad’s for my taste, but not everyone joins the board of the National Organization for Marriage. If you haven’t heard of the National Organization for Marriage, it is a national organization against people’s marriages. Orson Scott Card doesn’t just blow hard at the pub about his point of view; this is a guy who’s spending time out of his workday. He is fighting this fight personally to keep lifelong friends of mine second-class citizens.
And now Orson Scott Card has written a superhero comic for a major publisher. This activist so many of us find odious has put words in the mouths of iconic characters from our childhoods. This will not stand.
Or, come to think of it, it will. The book he wrote was called Ultimate Iron Man, and if you believe the people who report such things its first issue sold 150,000 copies. It did well enough to get a second volume, which Card also wrote and which also sold well.
I missed you at the Iron Man protest.
I’ve heard the theory that people are outraged this time because “this is Superman we’re talking about.” Hogwash and balderdash. The only people who still think Superman is special or symbolic are people who don’t read comics and/or write for news sites. People are outraged this time because this is the time of outrage. Whenever I’m struggling to come up with a column topic, I say, “What were people apoplectic with indignation about this week?” After that, it takes about twelve seconds. There’s a new one every few days, and in our public bloodlust we have devalued outrage over stuff like bigotry, homophobia and injustice with an endless trickling piddle of overblown nonsense. We are the Boy Who Cried Petition.
And we don’t debate or agree to disagree anymore. Here in the time of outrage, in the Double Down Era, if you don’t see things our way we shut you the f*** down. If I don’t want to read Avengers Arena, Avengers Arena should be wiped from the face of the earth like it never happened. Sure, people want to drum Card out of comics, but a month ago they wanted to do the same thing to Dan Slott because his Spider-Man was all wrong. Orson Scott Card and his friends don’t agree with the way my friends live, so they try to make the way my friends live illegal. In turn, people who agree with my friends mount a movement to render Card unemployable. Not even a year ago, One Million Moms tried to mount the same kind of movement to force DC and Marvel to abandon gay characters entirely for the Sake of the Children. That was their proposed solution. “My kids have actually never seen a comic book before, but I demand that everyone in the Marvel Universe is straight by this time next week.”
What is the goal? So far, the chief outcome of this newest controversy has been vastly more publicity for a digital Superman anthology than anyone involved could have ever dreamed of. For everyone who writes an open letter to DC editorial (who, by the way, were surely aware of this possibility the day they hired Orson Scott Card) there is someone in line at Chik-Fil-A who will buy the book out of defiant solidarity. I wonder how many new readers it will bring in.
Should we protest the artists for agreeing to work with him? Does that make things better or worse?
All of this has roots in something good. As longtime readers of superhero comics, we see injustice or people causing suffering and we want to take it upon ourselves to set things right. Unfortunately, as longtime readers of superhero comics, I think we also tend to label people bad guys pretty quick, not to mention the “Smash!” Sound Effect Approach to Problem Solving.
If DC spiked Card’s Superman story tomorrow, would that help someone? What would help someone? How do we grapple with this in a way that produces something positive?
I wasn’t always so ambivalent about these perpetually mounting campaigns. For a while, I loved this kind of thing. A few months ago, I noticed an uptick in troll shaming that delighted me. Instead of just ignoring them and not feeding them, online outlets began taking trolls to task. Gawker looked for kids who were tweeting racial slurs on election day, dug up those kids’ real names, and printed them. When they could, they called their school principals. People were getting disciplined for the way they conducted themselves online, and it was viscerally satisfying. It felt like something was being accomplished. Then a Massachusetts woman took a picture of herself pretending to shout and flip off the “Silence and Respect” sign at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a joke in questionable taste, but it was a joke. A joke I might make, if I’m being completely honest. The woman only posted the photo on her private Facebook wall to her friends. It turned out that she was the weekly outrage for one of those friends, however, and it wasn’t long before the photo was everywhere and a campaign was mounted to get her fired from her job. That campaign was successful. In the Facebook group that people organized to get a stranger fired, they are still cheering. A recent commenter asked if they was any way they could get her charged with a crime.
I don’t want to help the National Organization for Marriage, but I don’t want to be that commenter either.
All of this makes me feel helpless, because no matter how pointless and wearying it sometimes seems I couldn’t give you a viable alternative. I don’t see much good coming from any of this. I don’t see anyone’s mind changed. I don’t see Orson Scott Card looking at the tolerant people upset by his ability to get a job and thinking, “Perhaps I’ve been thinking about this issue all wrong.” There has to be a better, more productive way to approach this. I just wish I had any idea what it was.
Jim Mroczkowski has already done plenty of stuff that should have gotten him fired from iFanboy, so save your letter.