DC provoked outrage, a few days ago, by hiring Orson Scott Card, sci-fi writer and noted homophobe, to write Superman.
The comic in question isn’t one of DC’s current titles. In fact, it’s a new, digital-only series, titled Adventures of Superman, which is set to debut in April, in time for the debut of Man of Steel in theaters. The new series is a follow-up to the digital-only series Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, which tells out-of-continuity Batman stories and is sold through the DC Comics app. Card is set to write the new series’s first story.
The pairing of the homophobic Card and Superman, who usually stands for tolerance and justice, struck many as particularly offensive.
So let’s review Card’s record on this issue, shall we?
Card, a Mormon, endorsed anti-sodomy laws to a sympathetic audience in 1990. He called for them “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.” In other words, Card believed that the law should be used to punish private sexual behavior and that gays are neither “acceptable” nor “equal.” Card has since recanted these views, yet his excuses don’t explain his language, which condemns homosexuals on very strong terms.
In 2004, Card wrote an essay entitled “Homosexual ‘Marriage’ and Civilization.” In a spectacular twist of logic that recalls anti-civil rights arguments from the 1960s, he claims that gay marriage violates everyone else’s rights. He says gay marriage upsets “the fundamental meaning that marriage has always had, everywhere, until this generation” — by which he presumably means polygamy in which wives are held as property, interracial marriage is forbidden, and love never enters the picture. (There’s a special irony in the Mormon church pretending marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman, isn’t there?) Card also claims that anti-homosexual marriage laws don’t discriminate against gays because gays can still pretend to be straight and marry someone of the opposite gender. He presents a false dichotomy, in which a family is only a mother, a father, and children, and the only alternative is “immaturity and barbarism” — never mind that straight parents have always died, separated, and beaten their children. He does, however, very kindly acknowledge that gays “may feel themselves” to actually be in love with one another.
In 2009, Card joined the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which was formed in 2007 to pass California’s Proposition 8, which was aimed at stripping gays in the state of marriage rights. The organization, funded disproportionately by the Mormon church (a.k.a. the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), is largely seen as a Mormon front group. Its campaign in favor of Proposition 8 twisted facts, sewed distrust in California voters, and ultimately succeeded when the proposition passed in 2008. Card joined the board after this event, implying endorsement of the tactics the organization had used. The organization has continued to oppose gay marriage rights in several other states.
In 2011, Card published the novella Hamlet’s Father, which fleshes out the backstory of Shakespeare’s character by — yes — making him both gay and a pedophile. Publisher’s Weekly said that the book’s “focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia, a focus most fans of possibly bisexual Shakespeare are unlikely to appreciate.”
And while the outcry against Card’s hiring at DC has centered on his homophobia, Card has also attacked what he sees as scientific “orthodoxy” (a term that usually applies to religion and cannot apply to a functioning scientific community, which strives towards greater truth through rewarding those who offer better explanations of evidence), as it pertains both to climate change (which, along with its man-made origin, has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt) and to intelligent design (a pseudo-science made up by creationists, who painfully try in vain to make evidence fit their inherited “truth”).
Some have pointed out how odd it is that DC would hire Card, given DC’s increasing attempts at including LGBT characters. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, gay characters appeared in several titles such as Flash and The Sandman. In 2006, the company debuted a new Batwoman, who happened to be a lesbian. In 2012, it revealed that its new version of Green Lantern Alan Scott was gay. And while this new Superman comic, to which Card is contributing, is timed for synergy with The Man of Steel, it’s worth noting that the previous Superman film, 2006′s Superman Returns, was so gay-friendly that it sparked a backlash in some circles.
It may be worth pointing out that Card has written comics before, most prominently with Marvel’s very successful Ultimate Iron Man (2005-2006) and Ultimate Iron Man II (2007-2008). These were published after Card’s views on homosexuality were well-known, although not as well-known as they have become in recent years. Perhaps the outcry now, compared to the relative silence then, suggests the change in American attitudes on gay rights, including marriage equality, that has been observed in polls.
In response to Card’s hiring, a petition has been started on AllOut.org calling for Card to be fired and his story dropped. It reads in part (bold in original):
We need to let DC Comics know they can’t support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens. They know they’re accountable to their fans, so if enough of us speak out now, they’ll hear us loud and clear.
Dale Lazarov, a prominent gay comic writer (which whom I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding online), disagrees with the petition, saying, “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.”
Rich Johnston, of Bleeding Cool, weighed in somewhat less diplomatically, rejecting the effort as “wrong” and likening it to historic persecutions — a view he soon restated as “campaigning to get a writer fired because you disagreed with his beliefs, however abhorrent, problematic.” Of course, put that way, it is problematic. Johnston also added that he’d been educated about the First Amendment through this process and admitted some ignorance about it.
I should point out that I’ve shared a panel at a convention with Rich. I’ve spoken with him several times, and he’s been very gracious to Sequart, including being interviewed in several of our films. He’s a character, and that’s part of how he’s made his reputation. But everything I’ve seen of him personally, as well as the copious amounts I’ve read of him over the years, shows a commitment to social justice. It seems to me that he’s a man who supports free speech and initially saw people going after a writer for his private views. And it’s the true supporter of free speech who supports speech he hates, as he seems to have been doing in his first post on this matter – which was injudicious in his phrasing. He’s sometimes injudicious due to the fact that he writes so prolifically, but he’s even taken things down when too many people misinterpreted. I see no malice in his heart here.
Personally, I’m repulsed by Card’s views. I find them ignorant. I also find them dangerous, contributing to a climate in which it’s okay to treat gays as “less than.” I know something firsthand the harassment and the violence visited upon homosexuals, most of which doesn’t go reported. I don’t happen to be gay, but in high school I suffered a beating in a dark parking lot (while going to buy comics at a drug store) based on the perception I was gay simply because I was different, artsy, or intellectual. I reported the crime only because I couldn’t hide it from my parents. The shame and confusion I felt, as I cried and wondered what was so “wrong” or “different” about me, caused me to hide my attackers’ motives.
In defense of Rich’s initial position, there are times when private boycotts, or censorship by private businesses, amounts to an injustice. This is especially the case when someone has no practical alternative, or competitor willing to hire them. Despite government hearings, most of the real horrors of McCarthyism occurred on the private level, as businesses refused to hire people based on their political views — or even their suspected views, sometimes based on nothing more than having attended a meeting in their youth or even refusing to name names to an obvious witch hunt. We shouldn’t forget that Catholic boycotts once intimidated whole industries. Similarly, the Comics Code and the various American motion picture codes (including the current MPAA) effectively prevented (or still prevent) works of art from wide distribution.
Such efforts, although private, do amount to unjust violations of free speech, because they leave no other options open. What right to free speech exists, if you have no practical means by which to exercise it?
That isn’t the case with Orson Scott Card, however. And when that’s not the case, private boycotts and petitions are in fact an expression of free speech, not a violation of it. People have every right to sign an online petition and communicate their feelings to a publisher — which is all we’re talking about here. His career doesn’t need this one story to appear through the DC Comics app. Card can still publish whatever he wants, as Hamlet’s Father indicates. Of course he has a right to say it. But everyone else has a right to say this particular publisher shouldn’t hire him, especially not for Superman.
I’m also swayed by comparisons between gay rights and the wider civil rights movement. Years ago, it was the closeness of the arguments against gay marriage and against interracial marriage, sometimes nearly word for word, that made me realize there was no argument there. In endorsing gay marriage in 2012, the NAACP (of which I am a proud member) drew the same historical connections. I don’t imagine anyone would object to this current petition, were Card against interracial marriage and deeply insulting towards African-Americans.
Ultimately, Orson Scott Card isn’t the real issue. If his script is already completed (and possibly even if it’s not), he will still be paid for it. If anything, I’d feel bad for the artists, if any have already begun work. Should DC Comics capitulate, neither Card nor DC Comics will be seriously hurt.
The real message this sends is that comics readers are sensitive about gay rights, and the recipient is the entire comics industry. Both Marvel and DC are part of larger, multimedia operations, which usually aren’t desirous of having their new movies drowned out by controversy over one online story. And if they recognize that readers will take action over gay issues, they’re more likely to be more sensitive to those issues in the future.
Only the immediate goal is to have Card’s story canned. The deeper goal is to send a message, one that inflicts little damage but communicates nonetheless. And the real message is simply that comics readers care, about this issue at least.
As we continue to debate representations in comics of all sorts — whether of sexuality, race, gender, ethnicity, or disability — that’s not such a bad message to send.