Saturday, February 23, 2013

How do you know he's a witch?


I recently read a blog post by Andrew Hall about the recent controversy surrounding DC Comics' hiring of Orson Scott Card as a writer for a chapter in their new Superman anthology.

Apparently, Card's political history is sufficiently deviant to have drawn the ire of activist group All Out, which has launched an online petition with roughly the following phrasing:

To: DC Comics

By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-American efforts you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate.

Make sure your brand stands for love and drop Orson Scott Card now.
As a writer, I am either a) 100% committed to keeping degenerate writers out of work or b) prepared to take the Fifth Amendment. But before I join the other 15,000 signatories to the petition, I need to know: is Orson Scott Card really a witch?

Intro to Witchology 

Before we turn to the question of what Mr. Card is, we need to determine what a witch is. Let's consider four characteristics of American communists and communist-sympathizers in the 1950s as a window into the behavior of witches in any era.

1) In the 1950s, communists were teaching that America's bourgeois government had violated the social contract and needed fundamental change.
In any age, a witch stands against the basic assumptions of the virtuous group's social vision.

2) Many individual American communists may not have actually believed in violent revolution, but the rhetoric of communism was certainly confrontational. And in many other countries, it had led to significant levels of violence and oppression against capitalists. Probably including people American leaders had personally known and associated with.
In any age, a witch evokes very real memories of persecution and fear.

3) McCarthyists were not known for seeking out nuance in degrees of communist affiliation and participation or to detail an individual's specific ideological vision. Their project was to assemble a small critical mass of evidence/testimony to show communist infection, not to weigh a person's whole life and work.
 In an age, even a drop of Satan's blood is enough to make someone a witch.

4) In McCarthyism, the fight against evil was external rather than internal. The greatest moral act was not searching for the evil in one's self, but rather identifying and opposing the creeping evil in one's society.
In any age, it is seen as an act of virtue to expose and isolate a witch.

The Trial

With these four principles in mind, let's return to the case of Mr. Card.

Rule #1: A witch stands against the basic assumptions of the virtuous group's social vision.

Card is definitely guilty here. He's on record as saying that traditional marriage is fundamental to his understanding of the social contract, which puts him at odds with American values of progress, liberty, and equality.

Rule #2: A witch evokes very real memories of persecution and fear.

In many societies, including our own, gay people have been persecuted both for their feelings and their practices. In many societies, various forms of persecution are still a matter of policy today. So there are very real and terrifying memories to be evoked.

And Card has evoked them. In describing why Card shouldn't write for Superman, Noah Berlatsky drops the f-word (the one that ends with -ascism). Odds are that if a writer is being compared to the Nazis, that writer is a witch.

Rule #3: Even a drop of Satan's blood is enough to make someone a witch.

People who defend Orson Scott Card may point out that his work has important moral concerns or that he's a nice guy who gives to charity. They may try to ask for detailed definitions of  charged terms like "homophobe" and try to show nuance to Card's positions.

But critics aren't interested in those things. The vital points for critics are that Card has been an outspoken advocate of traditional marriage, is affiliated with a traditional marriage political organization, and has made comments that are dismissive of homosexual relationships relative to male-female marriages.

 They don't feel an obligation to figure out exactly where Card stands or what else he represents because his position on an issue like California's Proposition 8 shows clearly that he's tainted by an unashamed opposition to equality, tolerance, love, goodness, and the new American way. We've got at least a drop of Satan's blood here, possibly several pints. No matter what else he's done, the man is still a witch.

Rule #4: It is an act of virtue to expose and isolate a witch.

Thirteen years ago, my favorite magazine ran an article in which Donna Minkowitz reflected on her interview with Orson Scott Card. Though she longed to connect with the author despite their differences, Minkowitz frequently found any common ground they shared undermined by the drops of Satan-blood that make Card a witch under rule number #3.

But the most intriguing aspect of Minkowitz's article to me was her guilt over not blowing up at Card. She recalls ending the interview "with a sweetness that later makes me cringe" and rationalizes that  "it’s hard to speak in a sufficiently hostile way to the man who wrote [Ender's Game], even if he is a pig. (Although, if this ever happens again, I’ll try to find a way.)"

The Minkowitz article makes entirely clear that it would have been more righteous to shout curses at Card than to be nice. Why? Being nice to a witch shows weakness in the face of evil. You have to take a stand against witches by exposing and isolating them, or you become complicit in their witchcraft.

It is possible the 15,000 signatures on the petition to DC are all from die-hard Superman fans who are genuinely concerned about the next book. But I suspect they are from people who want to assert their commitment to a certain kind goodness by naming names and calling for punishment on the bad.

And if so many people are able to feel such virtue in condemning Card and such weakness when they give him a pass, the man is definitely a witch.

The Verdict

Orson Scott Card is a witch. But it's illegal to burn him.

With apologies to the activists at All Out, I'd like to suggest it's also passe to try to get him blacklisted or to call for boycotts on an unwritten book where he'll co-write a single chapter which will likely have nothing to do with the politics around sexual orientation anyway.  

I could give boring alternative recommendations. Engage him in debate. Pointedly ignore him. Support writers who give voice to the things you do care about. But if someone is a witch, none of those armchair alternatives are going to be satisfying.

After all, if it's illegal to kill a witch and tacky to try to get a witch fired by gathering an internet mob, what makes witch-hunting worthwhile? 


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