Saturday, January 08, 2005

Deal Breaker

Orson Scott Card is a noted science fiction author who has been recently hired to be the writer on a new Marvel comic book, Ultimate Iron Man. The "Ultimate" line is Marvel's re-envisioning and re-conceptualization of some of their core properties (Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, etc.) so that new readers will be encouraged to read these titles since they are unecumbered by the 40 years of historical baggage (continuity as we comic geeks say)that the main titles are saddled with.

However, Card is a noted and published homophobe and some small to-do has been made online about his hiring (for one example, see Prism Comic's "Open Letter to Marvel"). Paul O'Brian, a writer for the comic website 9th Art recently wrote an excellent article about Card and touches on the greater issue of homophobia in media.

First, go read Paul O'Brian's article at the 9th Art website before reading my following response to that article.

I think Paul has written an excellent and thoughtful article and I almost completely agree with him. However, I take exception to one of Paul's points as I reach a more definite conclusion.

Paul states that he thinks that Orson Scott Card's views "hardly place him miles outside mainstream opinion." Paul also opines that "you'd probably find a substantial proportion of the population that agree with him." I think Paul strikes a wrong note here. Although I completely agree that "[homophobia is] so widely held [that homophobes] cannot be confined to the mad and the stupid," I don't think that substantial numbers of Americans subscribe to the extremist viewpoints that Card holds. Card posits the downfall of civilization and the total debauchery of the human race squarely on the shoulders of homosexuals.

Americans have a much more complex and mixed view of homosexuality, however. They may believe some of the erroneous facts and assumptions that Card asserts, but the end result is much more interesting. In more in-depth polling by CBS and the New York Times weeks after the presidential election, only 2% of the population considered gay issues as a concern or factor in their voting. In a poll that has a margin of error of +/- 3%, that means 5% to less than nobody considers gay issues a significant political concern.

Clearly, Americans are divided on gay politicial issues, as well as on homosexuality in general. According to a poll conducted in April 2004 by the LA Times, 60% of Americans support some type of legal recognition for gay unions, although 6 in 10 believe homosexual realtionships are "against God's will." The CBS/NYT poll found about 50% of people in favor of some type of legal recognition for gay relationships. A majority of Americans do not support a Constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex marriage.60% polled people "described themselves as sympathetic to the gay community" and would vote for a gay political candidate. Two-thirds would maintain a friendly relationship with a person they discovered was gay yet 6 in 10 would be upset to find out their child was gay. 6 in 10 felt that gays can be a good role model to children, but about half of the people wouldn't let a gay person baby-sit.

Not surprisingly, and as Paul points out, the younger generation is far more favorably disposed toward gays. the 18-29 crowd was four times more likely to favor same-sex marriage than people 65 and over.So, while clearly, the issue of gay rights and attitudes towards gay personally are a mixed bag, acceptance is on the rise. Particularly with the acceptance of the younger generation towards gays, many of the hotly contested issues we face today will be non-issues. And the misrepresentations and distortions that people such as Card project will no longer be accepted.

Even among these figures, I don't see the Card's ideas strongly represented. Undoubtably, they exist among the American population, but they don't have the stranglehold they once had. And, to fancy my own guess, based on my own interactions on-line and off, and given the 18-29 year old mindset towards gay issues, these ideas are not prominent or widely accepted in the comic reading community.

Which all then still boils down to Paul's question: does any of this matter?

I say a resounding "yes." I'm not sure Paul disagrees, except that we reach somewhat different conclusions. I think Card is well outside the mainstream, although his views are not confined to hicks, the insane, or the mentally deficient. Far too many people (at least half the nation, probably much more) hold on to some type of homophobic ideas and/or stereotypes. But even these prejudices and ignorant beliefs are not the extremist viewpoint of Card. And we shouldn't support ideas that are dangerous or just factually wrong, particularly when they can impact negatively on a segment of the population.

Paul comes precipitously close to, yet still manages to veer away from, the idea that homophobia is so wide-spread that we shouldn't care that one voice has been added to the dissonance. Still, and I say this in light of Paul's astute observations on tolerance, we should not tolerate such a strident and potentially harmful chord. Even if Paul is correct, and Card's homophobia reflects that of society at large, that does not negate the obligation to, as our super-hero comics have taught us, fight the wrong. Many gains in civil rights were made despite popular consensus. Most recently, laws against interracial marriages were struck down by courts (and "activist judges") while a majority of Americans still rejected the idea. I don't think Paul suggests this, but popular approval does not equate with being right.

I do not advocate censorship or even censureship. I would propose a boycott, but as Paul right points out, it's hard to boycott something you have never intended to buy. If you were going to buy this Iron Man series, however, I would ask you to spend your money elsewhere. I also propose writing to Marvel: not a campaign, not showering them with emails or letters, just one simple missive. Tell them that you wish they wouldn't employ people who publish hateful and misleading rhetoric and you won't buy the product of people who promote anti-gay (or, if there's another cause, whatever your cause) sentiment.

In this case, tell them that Card is a deal-breaker.

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