Boycotting artists

Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite authors. I really enjoy his “Alvin Maker” series and I have quite of few of his books. I met him probably ten years ago at a convention and we had a nice talk.

He’s also a homophobic right-wing idiot who has absolutely hateful views about gays and gay marriage.

A movie of his most famous book (“Ender’s Game”) is being released soon, and there is a movement to boycott the film because of his politics. “Don’t give him any money!” they’re saying.9780812550702

While I agree that his politics are hateful, I’m not sure we should be judging art based on the artist’s politics, and it seems like maybe that’s where this is headed.

Oh, I understand — you don’t want him to get rich off of this, and you don’t want your money going to causes you don’t agree with. Nothing wrong with that — that’s what boycotts are for. In that sense this isn’t any different from boycotting Chik-Fil-A.

But, I dunno, when dealing with creative stuff like books or art or music … should we always ask “Does this person have political views I agree with?” before enjoying their work? There are many artists who were terrible people (Picasso comes to mind) but does that diminish their work? I hope no one is refusing to read my books because they don’t like my politics …

Years ago, many conservatives boycotted the Dixie Chicks because they were mad about their politics, and liberals criticized them for doing so. I hate to think liberals are being hypocrites here. Either boycotting artists for their political views is fine or it isn’t.

And with things like movies, do we look to all the people who will profit from this film? Movies involve thousands of people, not a handful (like a band) or an individual (like an author). Do we need to know what the key grip thinks about gay marriage? Should we ask all the Foley artists to submit to a questionnaire before deciding whether we should see the film?

So while my heart says, “Yeah, I don’t want Card to think I agree with him,” at the same time I also ask “Should I boycott art that has nothing to do with the issue I am boycotting?”

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10 thoughts on “Boycotting artists

  1. A possible distinction is that when conservatives were boycotting the Dixie Chicks, it wasn’t just that the Dixie Chicks were liberal; if you went to one of their concerts, you got a heaping helping of liberal sermon along with it. (At least, you did for a while; I don’t know whether they backed off on that.)

    So the real question is: does the art itself portray or sell an abhorrent political viewpoint? Film students are pretty much the only ones left who watch “Birth of a Nation”, due to the huge numbers of technical advances in both story-telling and movie-making. The story itself is vile.

    In the case of “Ender’s Game”, OSC has already been paid everything he’s going to be paid for it. The size of the box office only matters in one way: if it’s a big enough hit, the studios may pay him more money for another of his works.

    Me, I’m willing to wait until it hits cable.

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  2. It is exactly the same as boycotting Chick Fil a. The key grip and the guy cutting the waffle fries are in exactly the same position. The drive-through manager and movie the director are in the same position. I have never heard of a group of people free of hypocrites. Even working in dog rescue, the orgs and volunteers were full of those on their high horse against those doing the exact same thing.

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  3. I’m not sure I buy this, “think of the key grips” argument. In the first place, do key grips even get points on the box? If they don’t, and they’re just paid wages, then they aren’t going to be hurt at all if Ender’s Game bombs; they’ve already been paid.

    In the second place, though, it smacks of a kind of hostage-taking. Is there some kind of moral obligation to support a bigot, because he’s going to take down a bunch of strangers with him if he goes? I don’t want anyone to be out of a job, but I don’t think “buy my book or I’ll fire your friends” is a moral strategy we should be encouraging.

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    • Besides THAT, I’m not even sure that it applies in, for instance, the case of Chik-Fil-A, since a company in the face of a boycott is probably more likely to change its policy than it is to go out of businesses. The horrible thing about companies is that they’ll do basically anything to survive, but the good thing about companies is that they’ll do basically anything to survive.

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  4. In most film contracts with authors, the authors are paid up front. So, in answer to Braak’s comment above, Card is also not going to be hurt if Ender’s Game bombs any more than the key grip–Card has already been paid, as well. So unless people know for certain that he is getting a cut of the box office (and again, this is not how those contracts usually are), chances are very good a boycott wouldn’t touch Card in the least.

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  5. My feeling on the matter is I won’t give Card any of my money not because he’s a homophobic idiot, but because he gives money to organizations *I* consider to be hate groups. One of the things I have determined is that if I am ever rich and famous, I will not donate to ANY political groups – there are plenty of other worthy causes such as food banks, medical research, animal rescues, etc. That way I hope that even if people disagree with my politics, they will know that the only person with those views they are supporting is me ;).

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  6. Why is the passage of time an accepted justification of bigotry?

    How many people boycotted the movie Starship Troopers? How many will boycott any future media adaptations of Robert Heinlein’s books? Sexism was among several unsavory traits Heinlein espoused in his writing. I think it’s safe to say he was also a homophobe. The retort to that, I imagine, is “But he was a product of his time!”

    Yeah, and the same applies to Orson Scott Card. His beliefs are still not uncommon and mostly accepted. Or do you believe that Card’s views are uniquely vile? That all America has abandoned that hateful attitude and Card is just a rare reversion? An anomaly? Really? We all just woke up and sloughed off sexism, racism and homophobia. (By the way, when did that happen?) It would explain why his books have fared so badly and why no one would ever consider spending millions of dollars into making a mov- oh, wait.

    20, 30, 50 years down the road should society will look at Card’s work and say “But he was a product of his time!”

    Yup, the passage of time (white) washes away all sins.

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    • No one is excusing his position.

      I just am not sure it’s a good idea to have a litmus test for art. “I will like art unless I personally disagree with the artist” doesn’t seem right to me. Art should be judged on its own and not on the views of the person who created it.

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      • No, no, I can see that. My point is that vox populai will demonize one writer for his views and forgive, sometimes begrudgingly, another due to his era and/or talent.

        Your point, I believe, is keeping separate art and artist – which some might view as granting freedom to societal criticism to a select group because they’ve achieved a level of popularity and/or critical acclaim. Should this apply to all artists? Writers, musicians, singers, poets, architects, fashion designers, etc? And at what what point are you good enough to have diplomatic immunity?

        “Dear Sir,
        Last month, you were just an anti-Semitic sexist, but as you’ve won a Hugo award, please accept our invitation to next month’s convention as our guest of honor.”

        I think this philosophy of talent = exception dances on the precipice of a slippery slope.

        So, bottom line: either ignore the artist, pretend not to know, or accept his/her flaws.

        Still, one wonders how much those views intrude upon their creations.

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  7. “…a small online group called Geeks OUT announced plans to boycott Summit’s upcoming $110 million Ender’s Game movie because of Card’s anti-gay-marriage views. “Hopefully, it will send a message that people who are actively vocal against the LGBT community don’t really have a place within the greater geek culture,” says Geeks OUT board member Patrick Yacco.”

    —-from ” ‘Ender’s Game’ author responds to critics: The gay marriage issue is ‘moot’ ” on EW.com

    As I stated elsewhere on this topic, if the art itself is offensive to you, then I think you definitely should consider a “boycott”, if you will. But there are far too many artists who I enjoy and whose views I am guaranteed to disagree with – perhaps with far more vitriol than I disagree with Card’s views – to start to shape my artistic tastes with broader politics in mind.

    More importantly, I think the above message is misguided. I support anyone’s right to free speech and views- especially views that I disagree with (and I say that with support for Mr. Yacco’s right to make his statement, just as I reserve my right to this critique). Besides the basic principle of free speech, if I can’t allow discourse that makes me uncomfortable, or even sickens me, then my own views become tantamount to nothing. They become words in a vacuum. Unchallenged and without weight.

    In addition, to claim for the “greater” geek culture is to presume to speak for a far larger body of people and opinion than I’m sure Mr. Yacco has a right to do. I know of a great number of social conservatives in “geek culture” who have views ranging from similar to Card’s to those far more lenient, but no less disapproving, of homosexuality. And I’m sure there are those who would express ideas far worse than Card’s. You don’t win people over or change their idea via exclusion, suppression, or oppression. When they are part of a community, you do it through education. You do it through discourse.

    That said, I will say that I can find myself supporting boycotting of businesses (with Chick-fil-A being the example used above) who directly use their profits to further causes and action that I disagree with. It is one thing for an executive to take his personal money and spend it as he chooses. It’s another for a company, like Chick-fil-A, to actively sponsor political activity. That, for me, is a direct use of the money reaped from my patronage. It could be called a gray area of distinction, but I’ll call it and call it gladly. I look it as an influence in how their revenue is utilized. I may never be able to change the homophobia expressed by Chick-fil-A’s management, but I think its possible to influence their choice to ally that company’s name and resources with anti-gay causes.

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