Special Features – Is it the art or the artist?

After Orson Scott Card’s absence from yesterday’s Ender’s Game Comic-Con panel, Anghus Houvouras asks, is the art or the artist…

There’s been a slew of controversy surrounding the ramp up of press for this years’ big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  Card is the latest notable figure to get tangled up in a maelstrom of bad press for his archaic and somewhat militaristic stand on the idea of gay marriage.  For the record, Mr. Card is very much against it.

This topic came up earlier this year when Card was announced as one of the writers on a DC Comics Superman comic.  Those in support of gay marriage made their opinions painfully clear: They would not support any comic written by Mr. Card and denounced DC for hiring someone who has taken such an antagonistic stance towards the gay community. 

Of course, a comic book is a small economic proposition compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a movie like Ender’s Game.  This is a big film for Lionsgate.  And the prospect of bad press has put them on the offensive.  Card has been absent from promoting the film at this year’s Comic-Con, and Lionsgate announced a charity screening of the movie with the proceeds going to LGBT organizations. 

The frustration towards Card has turned normally sane people into a virtual torch wielding mob.  Comic writer Gail Simone has been a vocal advocate against Card and his hate speech.   When I suggested to Gail that perhaps mud slinging wasn’t really helping the cause, she preceded to call me a ‘creep’ and suggested that I ‘wasn’t worth the time’.  I suppose angry people don’t want to entertain reason.

And I get it.  Card is the kind of guy that pushes the idea of discourse into uncomfortable territory.  When you hear anybody entertain the idea of an armed insurrection because two people of the same sex want to marry, you’re liable to incite a few angry words. 

The film’s biggest star, Harrison Ford, was asked about Card’s hard line anti-gay comments and responded by saying “I think none of Mr. Card’s concerns regarding the issues of gay marriage are part of the thematics of this film.  He has written something that I think is of value to us all concerning moral responsibility. I think his views outside of those that we deal with in this film are not an issue for me to deal with and something I have really no opinion on.”

Basically, Ford employed the old standard “It’s the art, not the artist.”

It’s a discussion that rears it’s head every few years.  When you hear someone discussing Woody Allen and they bring up the idea of marrying his own adopted daughter.  Or Roman Polanski’s well publicized rape charges which caused him to flee America for the ‘exile’ of Europe and able to make films for another four decades after the incident.  Or Jeepers Creepers director Victor Silva who was once incarcerated after being convicted of performing a sex act on a child. 

For some, the content of one’s character will always be a factor.  Others seem to be able to forgive someone’s personal politics or past indiscretions because it in no way impacts the film they’re watching.  Harrison Ford has very much echoed that sentiment.  That Orson Scott Card, no matter his personal beliefs of philosophies, has created a work that warrants consideration.  That the art if fare more important than the artist.

I’ve always been on the fence.  I have trouble seeing anything by Roman Polanski without thinking about the terrible crimes he perpetrated against an underage girl.  And then, rather than face the music, he flees and lives a consequence free existence and work with top talent… like Harrison Ford.  I suppose Ford has dealt with sort of thing before having worked with Polanski on the thriller Frantic.  Ford was one a handful of actors advocating for his release after a 2009 arrest and attempt at extradition.  So his rather blunt dismissal of the Ender’s Game controversy seems true to form.

Usually I have a pretty concrete stance on the matter.   I’m certainly no fan of Orson Scott Card’s ridiculously overboard conservative leanings.  But is that going to stop me, or anyone else from going to see Ender’s Game?  By going to see Ender’s Game, am I in any way endorsing the world view of a right wing, militant mind like Orson Scott Card.

These kind of philosophical conundrums often end with an ellipses as I search for the right answer to finish the thought.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a right answer.  There’s a part of me that wants to believe that character should matter in all things.  That those who promote the oppression of others should receive no reward.  And that the success of Ender’s Game only further enables someone like Orson Scott Card to promote his antiquated and archaic train of thought  Though I was once told that if we only saw movies made by people of strong character we would never see any movies at all. 

This seems like one of those times where being educated on a topic truly does nothing to further your enjoyment.  There are millions of people who will see Ender’s Game blissfully unaware of the moral dilemma some of us will have when lining up for a ticket.  Those who can watch the films of Roman Polanski and never have to think about criminal sex acts perpetrated against a minor.  Unfortunately, such knowledge is a burden. 

I wish I had Harrison Ford’s ability to compartmentalize such dilemma’s.  As I get older, I have a harder time separating the art from the artist.  Trying to swallow the notion that a person can be utterly terrible but their art has something more profound to say.  That the work ends up being more pure than the tainted soul that produced it.  That a malignant personality can create something benign.  That Orson Scott Card may advocate hate, but Ender’s Game is a valuable piece of art that warrants consideration.  I suppose it would be like saying that Hitler was a monster, then complimenting his sentence structure in Mein Kampf.

An extreme example, sure.  I think it kind of sums up my thoughts on the matter: Though the art may be more important, the artist certainly needs to be taken into consideration.  What that means for Ender’s Game is anybody’s guess.

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.


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