Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Orson Scott Card Conundrum - Social Ideals and The Purchase of a Superman Comic

All right, here we go.

I don't really want to write this post, but it's about Superman, it's in the news, etc..

Famed Sci-Fi writer Orson Scott Card has some social views that are well known within the comics and sci-fi "communities".  Card has written some highly successful work such as the famed Ender's Game (which I haven't read), and started working in comics a bit with Ultimate Iron Man several years ago now (also - haven't read).

Specifically, Card takes issue with homosexuality and gay marriage.  He sits on the board of an organization that is more or less dedicated to opposing gay marriage in the US, the National Organization for Marriage.

Last week, when the new Adventures of Superman was announced, Card was listed among the writers, and (if you're keeping score), specifically, he was one of the creators associated with the project that made me blink a bit while reviewing the roster of talent.

Full disclosure:  I am fully in support of marriage rights for the LGBT community and believe that this is the civil rights issue of our generation.  Fundamentally, I believe in extending the same legal privileges to all consenting adults in a free society, and am against legal loopholes or half-measures that would place legal or social restrictions on someone based upon race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.  </ lefty boilerplate>

The questions then arise:

  • Some are asking for Card to be fired from writing Superman for his anti-gay stance and dated statements regarding the failure of democracy if gay marriage is legalized.  Do I think he should be fired?
  • If I do want him fired, isn't that a form of censorship for his beliefs?  And isn't that just as UnAmerican?
  • Do I choose, instead, not to purchase the comic, speaking with my wallet?
  • Is a decision to not purchase a Superman comic based upon someone's beliefs that will not appear in the comic a form of censorship?  

Yesterday I saw a Tumblr blog post going around from Michael Hartney, and while I'd sort of grimaced at seeing Card's name associated with the new Superman comic, I don't think I'd realized he was selected to kick off the new series.  Hartney made some provocative statements, but in many places his statements do reflect my feelings on the topic.   I consider Card's opinions his opinions, and his actions in concert with National Organization for Marriage a form of support for social injustice.

On the same day, Top Shelf announced a triptych of graphic novels created with a shared by-line by Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis entitled March.  From the Top Shelf site:

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights (including his key roles in the historic 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March), meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation.

We're also here in the shadow of Rosa Parks' 100th birthday, and I got to thinking.

Card's beliefs are his own.  He can join whatever activist group he likes, and I won't sign a petition asking he be fired.

However, as much as I wanted to read this first comic in the classic Superman style, and the damage I suspect low sales on such a comic will have on DC seeing red-trunks Superman as a viable product, I'm not buying that comic.

It's a strange place to find oneself, as I know my one purchase wouldn't mean much of anything one way or another, and there's so much mixed up with censoring someone when the work in question isn't, in theory, tied to their public statements.  But I also don't buy comics from writers who I probably agree with on social issues simply because I find the author's public persona ridiculous.  But, more to the point, I wouldn't buy a Superman comic - as Michael Hartney suggests - from someone who sat on the board of an organization trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws.

The free market means I'm free to buy or not buy whatever I like for any reason I choose.  And that feels pretty American.

When I consider the very real, often very dangerous things folks like Rosa Parks or John Lewis experienced during the Civil Rights movement, choosing against the purchase of a single comic or two is a pretty small price to pay.  But I also wouldn't shop at a store that didn't allow gay people into it, and I do consider other social issues when I make other purchases.  No, I haven't eaten at Chik-Fil-A in a while.  It's also kind of gross and I don't miss it.

It's not exactly boycotting the local bus system and enduring miles of walking to reach work each day, but that doesn't really diminish how I'll feel about it later.

I suppose freedom of speech and freedom to believe what you like runs both ways, and Orson Scott Card is free to not buy my goods as well.  Fair is fair.

DC doesn't deal well with the non-comics/ mainstream press looking over their shoulder as evidenced by the Action Comics 900 debacle about two years ago, and that had reverberations across DC for a while.  But, I assume the lure of having Card's name on a comic and the general audience for comics these days means that nothing is turning this ship around, and I don't really expect it would.  DC is in the business of selling comics, and if I've noticed anything in comics, its that there's no such thing as bad publicity (unless Frederich Wertham is involved).  And Card's name alone should move some funny books.

In the end, for me, it's a personal decision, guided by principles that I actually think reflect what I consider best about the ideal of Superman.   I have a choice to do something easy or to do what I think is the morally correct thing.  Yes, for obsessive Superman collectors, the easy answer is to buy the comic, not show it to anyone, and then put it away.

There are, of course, those of us who have a certain, fairly lefty view of Superman and want our Superman to want truth, justice and that elusive, indefinable American Way for everyone.  We can't imagine Superman of 2013 agreeing with opinions like Card's, and it's tempting to want to find Card's writing of the character to be a sort of blemish.  But one thing I believe is true is that Superman, as a character, is such an ideal that even when the writing is weak, s/he's a writer thinking of the best kind of person he can think of - a super good guy - and the aspirations of the character really show us more about what we have in common as per ideas of decency and goodness than what we see in the red cape and tights that drives a wedge between us as readers.

So, here's to picking up The Adventures of Superman with the next writer and all the arguing that's likely to brew up in the comment section.
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