To See or Not To See? A Survey of the Growing Outrage Over 'Ender's Game'

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in ‘Ender’s Game’/Image © Summit Entertainment
Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in ‘Ender’s Game’/Image © Summit Entertainment

Orson Scott Card's beloved 1985 novel Ender's Game may have entranced multiple generations of sci-fi readers, but recently the author's become better known for his politics. He currently sits on the board of directors for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the most outspoken groups opposing equal rights for homosexuals; he has gone so far as to pathologize gayness and threaten revolution against the government if same-sex marriage is legalized.

Already these views have taken their toll on his career. When DC Comics hired Card this winter to write a new "Superman" storyline, the backlash was so intense that the plans fell through, perhaps permanently. This could bode ill for the long-awaited "Ender's Game" adaptation, and executives at Summit Entertainment know it. They've already declared their intent to keep Card "out of the limelight."

Geeks OUT is one of the groups trying to keep that from happening. This week they launched a campaign called Skip Ender's Game, urging their fellow geeks to take responsibility for their box-office dollars and make sure that none of them end up in Card's (or NOM's) pockets. Supporters are encouraged instead to attend "Skip Ender's Game" events hosted in numerous cities across North America.

Meanwhile, Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress explored the issue with a bit more scope in a handy article called "An Ethical Guide to Consuming Content Created by Awful People Like Orson Scott Card." It's not hard to extend her observations to any number of other authors, filmmakers, or public figures with whom we might find ourselves at ideological odds.

By Rosenberg's standards, Geeks OUT's policy (in which pirating the film for personal viewing is not explicitly discouraged) isn't quite strict enough. The strongest stance, she argues, would be to avoid seeing it entirely, in hopes of making a greater impact upon those with whom you end up discussing the film.

From a distance, I see two potential holes in Geeks OUT's approach. Firstly, simply withholding your dollars from this particular film removes them from the entire box-office marketplace altogether. Even if your efforts rally significant numbers, the slack can easily be glossed over as low moviegoing turnout in general. Instead of being invisible, send a direct message by convincing your supporters to go see different movies instead -- you'll have effectively and measurably voted with your dollars.

Second, I don't know yet what exact form these "Skip Ender's Game" events will take (few details are available so far), but to have any clout they'll need to be visible, and not just on Instagram. That means you don't hold them in the comfort of a bar, a gallery space, or someone's loft -- you hold them on the sidewalk, in front of actual movie theaters. That's right, actual picketing, in whatever form they think is most likely to make an impression on Joe and Jane America as they wander past trying to decide what to watch on a Friday night. Some geeks might not find that to be as much fun as socializing over cocktails, but if the intent is to send "a clear and serious message," then hanging out somewhere quite removed from the scene could seem like a show of weakness.

There are still all kinds of reasons why someone still might feel compelled to check out the movie, even with conflicted feelings. For those whose minds aren't made up, or simply have to see for themselves, Rosenberg offers an array of ways to offset the small amount of cash allocated to Card per ticket (which, fingers crossed, maybe he'll end up spending on something innocuous like free-trade coffee), donating to marriage equality organizations, for example, or lending your support to progressive media.

No matter what your take on the issue might be, Rosenberg invites us all to commit to a discussion. Open up about the conflict you feel (or don't feel), and talk with others about whatever decision you commit to. Listen to others and try not to judge them when (not if, but when) they draw slightly different conclusions than your own. Resist the temptation to let pressure from others dictate what you think is right. Remember, that's the sort of moral absolutism that you're probably all fighting against in the first place.

The faster and further we hurtle into the future, the more we'll find ourselves ethically challenged by the views of authors and filmmakers -- whether living or long gone -- whose works we can't help but admire. That means continually measuring our desire to be entertained or inspired against our desire to live respectable, responsible lives. Will I personally be seeing "Ender's Game"? To be honest, I haven't decided yet -- the movie is still six months off. But I salute Geeks OUT and Alyssa Rosenberg for getting the discussion started so early, and I look forward following its twists and turns in the coming months. Valentine and Peter Wiggin would be so proud!