Why I Oppose The Petition To Have Orson Scott Card Canned By DC Comics

02.13.2013, 1:10 PM

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So DC comics has hired Orson Scott Card, a famous sci-fi author, to write a couple of issues of Superman.

Orson Scott Card is also an activist who has said that “gay rights is a collective delusion,” and has called for revolution if gay marriage is legalized, has defended laws which make being gay illegal,1 and has sat on the board of directors of the so-called National Organization for Marriage.

So it’s not surprising that DC’s hiring him to write their flagship character has been controversial. A petition asks DC to “drop Orson Scott Card”; the comic strip Gutters sarcastically imagined Card’s take on what really doomed Superman’s home planet Krypton; one Dallas comic book store owner has announced that he will not stock Card’s Superman stories.

Card himself argues that “it should be perfectly legitimate to fire somebody” for being gay. If that’s legitimate, then shouldn’t it also be legitimate for Card to lose a writing gig for his anti-gay views?

On the other hand, Dale Lazarov, a writer of erotic gay comics,2 doesn’t want Card to lose the Superman gig:

I’ve known Orson Scott Card is a raging homophobe since the early 90s. I refuse to buy or read his work. But asking that he be denied work because he is a raging homophobe is taking it too far. Asking for workplace discrimination for any reason is counterproductive for those who want to end discrimination on their own behalf.

I can see nit-picky grounds for disagreeing with Lazarov (there are circumstances in which workplace discrimination is legitimate – discrimination against workers who refuse to do their jobs, for example).

On the whole, however, I agree with Lazarov. I oppose attempts to deprive people of work because of their political opinions. 3 I especially oppose pressuring publishers to drop artists and writers, because of the obvious free speech implications. Demanding that someone be fired is too strong and too mean an approach; this is a weapon that has been used against lgbt folks for too long. A lot of the terror of McCarthyism was in the attack on people’s employability.

Pressuring employers to fire someone, or publishers to drop authors, is a technique that – like direct violence – should be avoided by people on all sides, because it’s simply too cruel to be a part of legitimate political debate. To oppose people being able to work or publish because they disagree with us is both anti-free speech, and anti-worker’s rights. Those aren’t positions I’m willing to take up.

A few pre-rebuttals:

1. Let’s be clear: Although this is a free speech issue, it’s not a First Amendment issue. Card has a First Amendment right to say what he wants, but he doesn’t have a First Amendment right to freedom from consequences for what he says. In fact, readers have a First Amendment right to refuse to buy his work, and to petition DC asking that Card be canned, and publishers have a First Amendment right to choose not to publish Card.

2. Obviously, no one is obliged to buy Card’s comics, or any DC comic. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for readers who oppose Card’s homophobia to choose not to support Card’s work, or to choose not to buy DC comics.4 I also think it’s fine for a store owner to choose not to carry Card’s work.

3. If the Superman script Card turns is anti-gay in any fashion, I think DC would do the right thing by refusing to publish it.

4. I’ve seen some folks claim that if Card were famously anti-Black instead of famously anti-gay, DC would never have hired him to write their flagship character (and Marvel wouldn’t have hired him to write Ultimate Iron Man). Maybe this is true, although I’m not certain – people like Ron Paul and Charles Murray both seem able to find work despite their past racist writings. 5

But in any case, there’s a difference between views becoming socially and professionally limiting because there’s a genuine social consensus that those views are incompatible with decency, versus asking someone’s boss to have them fired because they’ve taken a side in a still-ongoing controversy. I’m not sure that either is good 6, but they are certainly different.

5. Let’s not kid ourselves about which side does this more. A significant number of anti-gay Christian employers routinely fire people for being lgbt, or for having the “wrong” views on lgbt issues, and as far as I can tell no one on the anti-SSM side ever speaks out for the people being fired.

  1. In 1990, Card wrote: “Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.” Card has since attempted to walk back this statement.
  2. Link is safe for work, unless your workplace is seriously uptight.
  3. There are a few obvious exceptions to this rule, such as political appointees.
  4. Although DC, to its credit, includes a couple of high-profile gay superheroes in its lineup, including Green Lantern and Batwoman.
  5. Or, in Ron Paul’s case, past ghost-written racist writings.
  6. The social status of racism as a grievous sin, rather than as a common character flaw that most people need to resist, hasn’t eradicated racism, but it has eroded our ability to acknowledge racism and discuss it rationally.

16 Responses to “Why I Oppose The Petition To Have Orson Scott Card Canned By DC Comics”

  1. JHW says:

    We’ll have to disagree on this one. Orson Scott Card is, very publicly, a beyond-the-pale homophobe (for reasons that extend far beyond his opposition to same-sex marriage.) Our society does not accept the use of legal penalties to punish gratuitous public bigotry. But stigma is not the same as legal penalties. His work should be boycotted and he should be denied any position or occupation of honor or prominence.

  2. Diane M says:

    I agree with you. I would say that it would be different if they were hiring someone to supervise people or if his writing ends up being related to this issue.

  3. Mont D. Law says:

    So in the final analysis the rights you want to restrict belong to DC Comics.

    People have the right to express their views in a boycott. They are the customer and their right to consume or not consume any given product is absolute. This is a fact.

    You seem to feel that Card has a right to this job regardless of how much his political and social views upset people.

    So that just leaves poor DC Comics holding the bag. After picking a writer that it’s customers object to. A writer that opposes social and political policies company itself supports. A writer that is likely to damage their brand, cost them money and impact their long term goals for this new Superman franchise.

    That doesn’t make much sense to me.

  4. Kevin says:

    “But asking that he be denied work because he is a raging homophobe is taking it too far. Asking for workplace discrimination for any reason is counterproductive for those who want to end discrimination on their own behalf.”

    I think there needs to some discrimination made between discrimination based on one’s personal and unchangeable characteristics, such as being female, black or (and, in some cases, “and”!) gay, and holding an opinion.

    The former represents substantive discrimination; the latter, something less important.

    Barry, I can’t tell if your position is “I oppose sacking Card because of his anti-gay viewpoints,” or “I oppose someone petitioning DC comics to get Card sacked.”

    If Card supports firing someone for being black, female or gay, I assume he’s more than ok with someone getting fired for something more voluntary, such as holding a homophobic opinion.

  5. La Lubu says:

    I really agree with Mont D. Law; DC Comics is running a business, and to leave them responsible for keeping him on until they lose enough profit and get enough bad press to hurt their business serves who, exactly? They aren’t hiring him to clean the toilets or mow the lawn—something that would keep him out of the public’s notice and that doesn’t involve making his private opinion representative of his employer’s public opinion.

    Speaking of his opinion, can he keep it to himself while on the job? In my state, if he spread his hateful opinions at the workplace, it would constitute a hostile work environment, and would be actionable—something else DC would be on the hook for.

  6. La Lubu and Mont – I don’t object to DC comics firing him if they find or even just suspect that keeping him on board is bad for their business. But I do object to organized efforts to bring that state of affairs about, for the reasons outlined in my post.

    I would be shocked if OSC is ever actually “at the workplace.” Comics freelancing is generally something you do from home, and I don’t think OSC even lives in New York City, which is where DC’s offices are located. But sure, I agree, that would be a valid reason to fire him. Also, if he incorporates his anti-gay views into his Superman scripts, that also would be a good reason to fire him, in my view.

  7. Diane M says:

    It’s a difficult distinction to make. I also don’t like the idea of black listing someone for their politics when the politics has no effect on their work.

    On the other hand, I might not want to buy a book by someone who behaved in an offensive way. So if I don’t sign a petition but I also don’t buy the book, they might lose their job.

  8. La Lubu says:

    Barry, your position seems contradictory to me. You support my right to refuse to buy DC Comics for myself or my daughter….but you don’t support my right participate in public, organized boycotting of DC Comics because they hired Card? So…as long as my opposition is quiet, it’s ok? Because LGBT rights haven’t yet progressed far enough in public opinion as Civil Rights or Women’s Rights? Please, let me remind you that the reason those movements got as far as they did was because of organized boycotting, protesting, lobbying, and political action.

    I find it hard to believe that DC didn’t know of this guy’s reputation beforehand. That just strains credibility. This sends the message that they are either copasetic with his hate, or they just don’t care and figured that LGBT people could easily be thrown under the bus in comparison to the fan base Card has. Either way, it presents a really negative portrait of the company.

  9. Diane M says:

    LaLubu – I think a lot of people love Card’s writing without knowing about the things he says about homosexuality.

  10. Barry, your position seems contradictory to me. You support my right to refuse to buy DC Comics for myself or my daughter….but you don’t support my right participate in public, organized boycotting of DC Comics because they hired Card?

    I support your “right” to do both of those things. I can disagree with a choice you make, while also agreeing that you have the right to make it.

    So…as long as my opposition is quiet, it’s ok?

    Not at all. I’m all in favor of your opposition being loud. I’m just not in agreement with people telling DC to fire Card. (Regardless of volume level.)

    But there are many possible ways to object to OSC’s views, and to argue that he’s a terrible choice to write Superman, other than a petition asking DC to drop him from a job he’s already been hired for.

  11. Rob says:

    I agree with La Lubu, JHW, and Kevin. Card has the right to say whatever he wants to say, but so do the opponents of bigotry. DC Comics has the right to publish what they want, but the opponents of bigotry have the right to refuse to buy their publications and to urge others to buy their publications.

    I rather suspect this whole kefuffle is a publicity ploy by DC Comics. They hope to get a lot of passions stirred up. They know that, as in the Chik-fil-A and the recent bakery incident, lots of bigots will come out and purchase products to show their support for bigotry or, as they will phrase it, “free speech.”

    The Nazis who published all the anti-Jewish propaganda in the 1920s and 1930s were just exercising their freedom of speech. They have no complicity in what happened after the Nazis took power, do they?

  12. La Lubu says:

    Welp, I guess you’re opposed to me signing that petition then! I think LGBT people need my public, visible voice against bigotry more than an abstract principle needs my silence. Card has said some really vile things publically—he’s literally used his bigotry to leverage his image in his competitive field. That’s no doubt why DC hired him; to bring a built-in audience of fellow bigots who will now see DC purchases as striking a blow against “political correctness”.

    Again, we’re not talking about the private opinion of someone employed in a position that is not intimately connected with the public image of the company. The DC honchos who sat in that room deciding whether or not this was a good idea crunched the numbers and picked “controversy sells not matter who it hurts”. In that light, hurting their bottom line sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

  13. Diane M says:

    I doubt that DC comics would have done this in order to generate controversy. Their readership is younger people and nerds. I don’t think they’ll get a lot of people buying the comic to show they oppose same sex marriage.

    I think they really didn’t think of it. Card is well-known and respected as a science fiction writer and they probably were hoping that would help them get readers.

    Barry Deutsch, what are the ways you think people should protest Card’s views?

  14. David Hart says:

    Barry:

    I have a simpler reason. I don’t want to make Card a martyr. HOWEVER, I fully support airing his views so that people can judge what a schmuck he is for themselves.

  15. Phil says:

    But in any case, there’s a difference between views becoming socially and professionally limiting because there’s a genuine social consensus that those views are incompatible with decency, versus asking someone’s boss to have them fired because they’ve taken a side in a still-ongoing controversy.

    Barry, I find this particular point unpersuasive. I think most of us use our own judgment to determine what is “incompatible with decency,” and I think the consequences of using social consensus as an indicator are worse than the consequences of a billion individual decisions.

    That’s not to say that I disagree with you overall. As I understand it, you are arguing that it is problematic to directly request that a person’s employer fire that person for his/her political views.

    You do not seem to be saying that it is problematic to:
    1. Personally choose not to buy products from that person or company.
    2. Express, publicly, that the choice to hire that person is offensive.
    3. Communicate directly to that person that you find their political views offensive.

    I’m not quite clear on how you would view an organized boycott (as opposed to a million people voluntarily choosing not to buy the product.)

    Am I understanding you correctly?

    I don’t think I disagree with you, but I also think that, given the nature of the company in question, the distinction between expressing that you find a person’s hiring offensive and asking that the person be fired is very, very subtle.

    However, if we consider, on an interpersonal level, what it might mean to request that a person be fired, I think I can see where you’re coming from. If, for example, I have a neighbor who is homophobic, and said, over the fence to me, “I think that homosexual people are disgusting,” or some similarly offensive thing… Well, that person might be reprehensible.

    But if I drove to that person’s construction job and met with the foreman to say that I personally think my neighbor should be fired… Well, even though I may have a right to express myself to my neighbor’s boss, I’m still being an a******.

    A person who communicates ugly thoughts may be a bad person, but it is unreasonable to try to take away the livelihood of every person who communicates ugly thoughts. And I would not want someone who thinks (wrongly, of course) that my own communication is ugly or wrongheaded to make efforts to take away my own livelihood.

  16. La Lubu:

    That’s no doubt why DC hired him; to bring a built-in audience of fellow bigots who will now see DC purchases as striking a blow against “political correctness”.

    My guess is that their goal is to be releasing stories by Card at the same time that the “Enders Game” movie will be in theaters, so they can gain some crossover audience from the movie. (That seems to be what most of the comics industry press believes, anyhow).

    * * *

    Diane:

    Barry Deutsch, what are the ways you think people should protest Card’s views?

    Phil:

    I’m not quite clear on how you would view an organized boycott (as opposed to a million people voluntarily choosing not to buy the product.)

    Diane and Phil:

    An organized boycott has goals. If the goal is “we’re going to keep up this boycott until Orson Scott Card is fired,” then I think that won’t work well, since he’s only contracted to write two issues of Superman, and after those two issues come out the boycott would be moot. And it’s also a goal I disagree with, for the reasons outlined in my post.

    If this event galvanizes fans into organizing a boycott, I’d hope for positive goals, rather than a “fire this guy” goal.

    One thing DC should try to do is improve how diverse their characters are. DC has been doing better than usual lately in some areas: They now publish multiple books with female lead characters, and a couple of books with lgb lead characters. For the mainstream comics industry, that’s really unusual.

    As far as I know, there are only a couple of non-white characters who have their own books. There are (afaik) no lead trans characters published by either DC or Marvel. DC had one major character who was disabled, but they recently “cured” her, aaargh. They also made their one fat woman character thin. Aaargh again.

    So better diversity of characters is one thing boycotters could ask for.

    But what I’d most like to see is fans organizing to pressure DC to recruit more diverse creators and editors. As far as I know, Gail Simone and Amanda Conner are the only female creators who have worked in “lead” creative positions for DC in the past year, which is pretty terrible when you realize that DC has published (I’d guesstimate) 70 titles in the last year, meaning that they’ve had nearly 140 lead creators.

    (When I say “lead creator,” I mean the writer or the penciler of a book.)

    (By the way, DC seems to feel that having two female creators is a couple too many! They fired Gail Simone off “Batgirl” a couple of months ago, despite good sales, and only reinstated her because of fan backlash. Amanda Conner, one of the best superhero artists working today, drew a mini-series but as far as I know has not been attached to any regular series.)

    I’m not sure if DC currently employs ANY people of color or openly lbgt people as lead creators.

    If DC wants to recruit novelists to write comics, there are plenty of good novelists who aren’t straight white men they could be talking to. For example, how cool would it be if N. K. Jemisin took over Wonder Woman when the current writer finishes his run?

    * * *

    Phil:

    I think most of us use our own judgment to determine what is “incompatible with decency,” and I think the consequences of using social consensus as an indicator are worse than the consequences of a billion individual decisions.

    Really? I think very few people really use their own judgement. Most of us rationalize our beliefs to make sure they’re compatible with the beliefs of the people in our social group. (This is why it’s so dangerous to have a political system in which politicians spend their days talking with political insiders, lobbyists, and rich people.)

    I think that social consensus can be both beneficial or dangerous, depending on context. I’m not trying to claim that social consensus is always good. But I do think it’s a major part of how “morality” is actually determined within a society.

    Thanks for the rest of your comment; I think you’ve correctly summarized my view.