Boycotts, Creators and Me
I’m getting pinged by folks who want to know what my position is regarding the boycott of Ender’s Game movie by people repelled by author Orson Scott Card’s social and political stances and actions regarding gays and lesbians and in particular his stance on same-sex marriage. With the notation that I am not in the least a disinterested party here (one, I’ve met Card and had a very pleasant time in his company; two, I have a book being adapted to film, for which I strongly suspect the performance of Ender’s Game at the box office will be relevant to any eventual green light), here’s my position:
If your conscience tells you to boycott or avoid the film because of Card’s positions on the rights of gays and lesbians, then, you know, do it. Card is entitled to speak his mind on gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage. You are equally entitled, on the basis of that speech and his political efforts, to decide not to support him or a film based on his work. That’s entirely fair.
On a related topic, in the future, if Old Man’s War is made into a film, if your conscience tells you to boycott or avoid the film because of my (largely opposing to Card’s) positions on the rights of gays and lesbians, then do that. I am entitled to speak my mind on gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage. You are equally entitled, on the basis of that speech and my political efforts, to decide not to support me or a films based on my work. That is also entirely fair.
(Mind you, I don’t suspect on this particular topic, any boycotts of Card or me would overlap.)
In a larger sense, look: Art originates from people. People have opinions and thoughts and actions, many of which are largely unrelated to their art. In learning about those largely unrelated opinions, thoughts and actions, you may find some of them, some the people they are coming out of, offensive, obnoxious, insulting or even dangerous. They may eventually keep you from being able to enjoy the art these people produce.
When and if that happens, that’s fine. If it doesn’t happen — if you can totally divorce the art from the human who created it — that’s fine, too. Everyone has their own dividing line for this, contingent on factors that are unique to them, and unique to the creator in question. Mind you, I personally think it’s good to give some serious reflection as to why some particular creator has crossed that line for you, on the grounds that it’s always good to know why you think or do anything. But at the end of the day, when you get to the point where you think, I’m done with this jerk, then that’s it, you’re done.
Personally speaking, I have a pretty high tolerance for artists and creators being obnoxious/offensive/flawed/assholes/otherwise seriously imperfect. This is partly because I believe art is a highly composed, refined, edited and intentional end result of a process that takes place in a mind which can be almost anything. The only thing creators fundamentally have in common is the ability to create, and to shape their creations to speak to others.
This is why, for example, bigots and cretins through the ages could create works of art that exhibit gorgeous empathy for the other, despite their personal issues: They have time to perfect their creations, and have an understanding of what an audience will respond to emotionally. You could argue that art is the better self of every creator, but I don’t know if that’s accurate. Art isn’t what the creator could be, any more than a 100 mile an hour fastball is what an athlete could be. Art is what we can do. That fact shapes the life of the creator, to be sure, just like that fastball shapes the life of that athlete. But there’s a whole lot of other influences that shape the creator’s life, too. Not all of those get into the art, because they’re not directly relevant to what the art is. They do show up in the person who makes the art.
So, yeah, I can put up with a lot when it comes to creators. It’s not usually the art’s fault the brain it came out of is directly connected to an asshole.
However, I am also aware this is a luxury I can afford, for my own reasons. Other people can put up with less, for reasons of their own. I may think these are valid reasons, or not, but these people don’t need my approval to think what they want and act on what they think, and anyway I could be wrong, so there.
There are lots of creators I don’t support because I just don’t like their work. This should not be a surprise. There are a (very) few creators I choose not to support for personal reasons that are unrelated to the quality of their output. No, I won’t tell you who they are. The reasons are personal and therefore not relevant to anyone else. I don’t tend to think of these choices as anything formal as a boycott. I just don’t do business with these people anymore. I don’t generally do it for any larger goal, like social change or to hurt the creator economically. I do it because my own personal sense of morality tells me not to have anything to do with them. Other people in other circumstances feel the need to be more public about their actions, and have a goal beyond their own personal disengagement. Again: It’s their right to do it, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t.
I should note that questions of boycotts are not an entirely theoretical exercise for me. I am on at least one boycott list that I know of, albeit one that I think has been spectacularly ineffective; every once in a while I’ll see my name pop up on a list of authors that someone thinks should be boycotted or otherwise economically punished for opining in public in a manner unrelated to science fiction books. Recently these people are dudes who think I am a traitor to straight white males everywhere.
My opinion about these boycotts, proposed or otherwise, tends to be, one, fuck you, I’m going to say what I want, and two, if the end result of speaking my mind is that someone decides to boycott me, then fine, they should boycott me and tell whoever they like to boycott me, too. I think a lot of other creators in a similar position are perfectly fine with the “fuck you, I’ll say what I want” part, but get confused or truculent about the “if that means you’re going to boycott me, that’s fine” part, and this is where the problem lies.
But if you want the first, you should be a grown-up and accept that the second part is also part of the package deal. As I’ve noted before, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. Suggesting or demanding that you should have freedom from consequence from what you say, or (related to this) that tolerance of your freedom to speak equates to bland murmuring politeness from those who oppose your speech, indicates that ultimately you don’t understand how freedom of speech works.
So, to recap: Boycotts a perfectly valid exercise of political speech, participate in one if you think it’s necessary. I don’t tend to boycott creators but don’t mind if you do, even if that creator happens to be me. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence and everyone should remember that, especially folks who’ve spent a while pissing off a bunch of folks.
I think that covers it.