The Ender’s Game Boycott

I’m kind of puzzled by this New York Times piece calling the proposed “Ender’s Game” boycott misguided:

Generally, boycotts are used to pressure companies or governments to end objectionable activities; consider the boycott of Chick-fil-A to protest the chain’s financial support of antigay organizations. What Geeks Out has in mind is closer to blacklisting. The group wants to “send a clear and serious message to Card and those that do business with his brand of antigay activism — whatever he’s selling, we’re not buying.” This isn’t about stopping the dissemination of antigay sentiments; it’s about isolating Mr. Card and shaming his business partners, thus cutting into their profits.

If Mr. Card belongs in quarantine, who’s next? His views were fairly mainstream when the Sunstone article appeared and, unfortunately, are not unusual today.

Who’s next? How about any other vocal anti-gay extremist? Fine by me. As recently as 2008, Card called homosexuality a “sex-role dysfunction” and said that committed same-sex relationships are nothing more than homosexual liaisons and friendships.”

He’s not just against gay marriage. He’s blatantly anti-gay. Why should I give money to support this bigot?

I don’t see what’s wrong with refusing to give your money to a person or organization that espouses views you find odious. A boycott is completely voluntary. Nobody is forcing anyone to withhold their money from this movie, just as nobody can make me spend money on it. Individuals get to decide whether or not to support something with their cash. I felt the same way last year when the anti-gay organization One Million Moms encouraged a boycott of J.C. Penney after they hired Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson; I think they’re bigoted homophobes, but hey, I can’t tell then what to do as consumers. If they want to boycott, fine.

I tweeted at the writer of the piece, Juliet Lapidos, and she tweeted back:

I replied that I’m Jewish too and that I have no way of knowing whether I would have bought their books. I’m not sure how she can know either. You can never truly know what choices you would have made in a different time; you would have been raised in a different cultural atmosphere, living in a different world, holding different beliefs, and therefore you’d be a different person. You just can’t know.

Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly had a nuanced piece last week about the boycott, including the following (boldface mine):

But should Card’s extremism lead moviegoers to boycott Ender’s Game, which, after all, has nothing to do with gay rights? As gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk), who opposes a boycott, has noted, the film was made by a gay-friendly filmmaking team working for a company, Lionsgate, that has now publicly rejected his views. I can answer only for myself: I won’t pay to see the movie. I can’t get past the idea that my purchase of a ticket might put even an extra penny in the pocket of a man who thinks I should be treated as less than human; a hit film will increase sales of his books, and I want no part of it. Is that a boycott? It’s a personal choice, and a boycott is really nothing more than a network of people whose convictions lead them to the same personal choice. I understand the case that the art should be separated from the artist, and I have seen plenty of art by reprehensible people. But everybody gets to decide for themselves where they draw the line.

Lapidos says in her Times piece that the boycott could actually backfire by encouraging homophobes to see the movie, replacing one source of cash with another. That would be true if the boycott’s only purpose were to stop the movie. But a boycott can also inform. Will it force Card to change his views on gay people? Doubtful, but it’s already prompted him to respond, and Lionsgate (the film company) has also responded.

And many more people are now aware of Card’s views than before, so people can now make more informed choices. That sounds like a good thing to me.