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When An Author’s Political Beliefs Make You Angry…

August 19, 2013
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The special effects in the Ender’s Game movie may look a lot better than this, but the author just ticked off a lot of people who might not go see the movie now. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I usually get annoyed when the political opinions of celebrities (like actors/actresses or singers) make the news.  However, I don’t mind when authors write about their political beliefs because they’re writers, and writers usually are better at expressing their opinions.  When Stephen King wrote a long essay about gun control (titled Guns), I didn’t get annoyed that he wrote about a political issue; I got annoyed that he charged money for it (not a lot of money, but still…). 

Orson Scott Card (author of Ender’s Game and a bunch of related science fiction books) has written some political stuff that isn’t flattering to President Obama and the people who helped him get elected.  The essays (here and here) were written months ago, but are now getting media attention because Ender’s Game the movie is being released soon.  From the articles and comments sections, it sounds like potential viewers who might have otherwise gone to Ender’s Game the movie won’t because of Card’s political writing. 

Orson Scott Card’s political commentaries are on a blog/website called ornery.com (at least that’s where I read them).  When you read from a site called ornery.com, you know you’re not going to get rational debate.  You can’t get even get rational debate at rationaldebate.com.  I went to rationaldebate.com in search of rational debate, and it was just a bunch of people calling each other racists and fascists/communists. 

There’s nothing new with science fiction being political.  Great science fiction usually isn’t about the science.  Sometimes it’s about how the science affects people.  Sometimes it’s about how people deal with future (usually dystopian) societies.  Card was using his essay to explain how a dystopian society could happen if today’s trends continued (based on current and some possible future government policies), but maybe an essay wasn’t the best way to do this. 

Now a bunch of people will probably boycott Ender’s Game and refuse to read the book.  Orson Scott Card probably doesn’t care.   He’s made his money (and he’s ornery), but everybody else involved with the movie is probably freaking out.  From their point of view, you write the inflammatory political commentary after the movie is released, not before it. 

Card invoked Hitler in his essay, and even though he doesn’t directly compare President Obama to Hitler (the point Card was making is kind of complicated, and I’m not going to try explaining it because it would take too long and that’s not the purpose of my blog), invoking Hitler automatically turns me (and a bunch of other people) off.  I don’t like it when any politician in the United States is compared to Hitler (even though that wasn’t what Card was doing).  I’m not even sure that Hitler was compared to Hitler, which pisses me off because if any politician should have been compared to Hitler, it was Hitler.  I wonder who angry voters compared politicians to before Hitler. 

I don’t care if an author disagrees with me politically.  I don’t even care if the author who disagrees with me is vocal about it.  But I do care if the author expresses his/her opinion in an obnoxious way.  It’s tough for me to define “obnoxious” because my own biases seem to get in the way (even when I’m aware of them).  Maybe I’ll write about what makes political expression “obnoxious” once I’ve had more time to think about it. 

Even though Orson Scott Card doesn’t really compare President Obama to Hitler, I can see why the tone and content of the blog post could still tick people off.  And that might keep people who would otherwise read his books from reading his books (or going to see the Ender’s Game movie). 

So I’m not asking if you agree or disagree with Card (because that’s not what my blog is about), or if you’re offended by what he wrote (unless you’re referring to his novels because a few of them aren’t very good).  Here’s what I’m asking: 

If an author’s political beliefs tick you off, do you stop reading that author’s books?

19 Comments
  1. Very fair article. It would have been very easy for you to insinuate Orson Scott Card was coupling the president with Hitler, but you didn’t. I wish the news media was more like that, because the true problem today is how often one’s words are misconstrued in order to make their points seem more deplorable. No doubt, if this story does hit the media, that will no doubt be the headline – ‘Author of Ender’s Game compares President Obama to Hitler’. This is why I cannot watch the news, and also why I believe at some point humanity must learn to look at what is said in a quest for truth, rather than the current trend of loving to find things/people to get mad at. Great post, well done.

  2. I think that people should separate the artist from the art in most cases. The Ender’s Game series of books is a fantastic story and has won many awards. By choosing to not see the movie you are doing a greater disservice to yourself by missing out on what promises to be a beautiful movie. I doubt that Orson Scott Card will even feel your absence in his wallet. And what about the rest of the people involved in the movie. I will bet many of them do not share the authors views. Unless the author’s beliefs play a major role in the theme of a particular novel, I don’t see a reason to write them off entirely. Just don’t read that book.

  3. As soon as I read the title of the post, I knew what it was going to be about. It’s too bad for the movie that he said all that. I’m still going to like Ender’s Game, because that was a freaking awesome book, but I might not read anything else by him now. It just kind of makes me sad more than angry.

  4. I would stop reading if it affected their writing and it turned into their personal propaganda machine. Other than that, not if I like the story.

  5. Carrying on with this example/author, I didn’t like Speaker for the Dead (the sequel to Ender) as much as Ender’s Game, solely for the reason that Card’s political views were rampaging obnoxiously throughout the whole thing. Aside from that, Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books, and whether or not I agree with Card’s political statements, he’s still written a fantastic book that I’m more than ready to see on the big screen.

  6. An author’s views outside of the book often don’t matter to the readers. A famous example is Ayn Rand – her Atlas Shrugged is a Bible among the Obama-hating crowd, which particularly hates him for his perceived “war on Christianity”. Yet Ran was an outspoken Atheist herself.

  7. Writers are paid to combine words to get a reaction from readers – whether they the writer personally agree with it or not. Many emerging writers get published in literary magazines which tend to have political leanings.
    The fact that Orson wrote something controversial wouldn’t have turned heads if he wasn’t gaining some success as a writer. If you don’t want a writer expressing any controversial opinion in any works whatsoever, you might want to stop reading.
    It shows he is a writer who can write intelligently and meaningfully if he so wishes to. This can’t be said for most mainstream writers (though I love their books).

  8. miri2indark permalink

    That depends on the way it’s put, I guess. I remember Grisham’s “Pelican Brief” really annoyed me because of the crude way he wrote the politics of the story, the villains being just ridiculous caricatures. A good writer (or just not narrow minded) could, in a story, write of his political beliefs in a form that, even though you disagree with him, would still let you understand them, make you think about, or even question, your own. Basically the difference between a discussion and a shouting match.

  9. I think it’s just plain silly to boycott someone because of their opinions. Sure, part of free speech is that the people who listen to you also have the right to disagree with you, but he’s not going to stop writing books and essays and articles because people don’t like his opinions (in fact, he might step it up to elicit more reaction – what’s that quote about bad publicity again?).

    As a previous commenter stated, we should separate the art from the artist. If he creates good quality and enjoyable work you’re actually just spiting yourself by refusing to read/watch his work. Now if his fiction itself was being used to propagate his views rather than tell a good story I would stop reading it, simply because it wouldn’t be good fiction, not because I disagree with his views.

  10. In Card’s case, absolutely. I’ll avoid anything he’s involved in. This is the scenario as far as I’m concerned: I’m not going to sit and research every author, artist, musician, and so on whose work I support to make sure their beliefs, politics, are not offensive to me.

    But if they are, and you make that known to me by using your celebrity to push whatever agenda you’re supporting in a public forum / statement, then I’m not going to feel bad for ignoring you as a consumer from that point on. It’s not like someone outed him against his will, he willingly shared his feelings on the subjects, so he made a choice, just like I make mine.

    I certainly support Card’s right to spout whatever opinion he wants. It’s a free country and we have that right as a crucial part of our ideology. That doesn’t mean I have to help him pay his rent, electric bill, and possibly donate his profits from my purchase / support of his work to support and further a cause that I strongly disagree with. I won’t go picket his house, or point out how ‘wrong’ I think his beliefs are in my own statement to counter his own, I just won’t buy / read / watch material he is involved with creating — much to the detriment, I’m sure, of his partners in any given venture, but they, too made their choice.

  11. I think what will stop me from seeing the movie is him making money off of it, since he is known for funding hate groups. I will not directly or indirectly fund hate groups, if I have any choice in the matter. Here, I do.

  12. That would depend on how much I enjoyed this author’s books before I knew about the views that ticked me off or how much these views affect the books themselves. In this particular case, though, I do not plan to read any of his books in the future because LGBT rights are a very important issue to me and, as Michael Allan Leonard said, I wish to avoid my money going to a cause that I see as something that hurts others. This is the same reason why I have not eaten at Chik-fil-a since I found out that they donate their money to hate groups. For me it’s not really about the person’s opinion, per se, I merely do not want to be involved in someone using his or her opinion to hurt others.

  13. In general, no, I won’t stop reading their books (or seeing movies based on them). I think, like you, I don’t much care unless they are obnoxious about it. As a too how obnoxious they can get? Hard to describe, but as an example, Tom Cruise was pretty obnoxious about his religious views and I found that to be a serious disincentive to shelling out ten bucks (or whatever a movie ticket costs in the US these days) to take in one of his movies. I mean, I’d’ve been sitting thing alternating between paying attention to the movie and thinking, “What a putz this guy is.”

  14. Reblogged this on Cary's Blog and commented:
    “If an author’s political beliefs tick you off, do you stop reading that author’s books?”

  15. It honestly depends on exactly what is said and manner in which they say it (I guess you might consider this a measure of obnoxiousness). Disagree with me, sure. I’ll even preorder your next book if I like your writing enough. Show a blatant disregard for a portion of the human race, I will likely write you off; major fan status aside.

  16. Usually I try to keep things separate.. if I like a book, or an author’s writing, then that’s one thing.. and their personal life (which I try to avoid ever learning about) is another. The only time I get miffed is when they start putting their personal life INTO the books I’m reading.. then I’ll probably stop reading because I just wanted a good story, not a rant.

  17. I don’t automatically let a celebrity’s political/religious beliefs determine if I do or do not buy their product. Matt Damon is a rather progressive liberal, as am I, but, I think I’ve only every watched one Matt Damon movie. There were several celebrities who came out in support of Mitt Romney during the last election, but, it didn’t make me not want to not watch their movies, or listen to their music.

    That being said, there are celebrities I would never support not because their beliefs are different than mine, but because their beliefs are just too extreme, and, in some cases (Ted Nugent, for example), are just plain ol’ batshit crazy.

    Differences are important — they keep life interesting. Reasoned debate is vital, but, reasonable debate seems to be harder and harder to come by (on both sides).

    So, yes, an author/actor/musician’s beliefs can influence my decision to buy their product, but, as I said, it’s not automatic … the beliefs have to be particularly extreme. Card’s anti-Obama stuff is a bit out there — I’m not sure it’s a reasonably argued piece, but, I stopped liking Card when he posted some rather anti-gay rants a couple of years ago. They weren’t just “I don’t like gays”, they were a bit more virulent. So, after that, I’d not support anything he did.

  18. I do not stop reading, even though I often feel like a hypocrite because of it. I don’t know why I feel like that. It’s not like I’m not trying to make friends with them, I’m trying to find out if they are talented in the way that I perceive talent. I try to avoid any and all personal information about artists. I don’t have faith enough in myself to be able to read a book or watch a movie if I know the author is an ass. But then again, defining someone as an ass is very subjective.
    Yeah, this issue befuddles me, so I should stop writing.

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