On Ender’s Game and the Russian Olympics: Boycotts and Free Speech

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"

Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

This week there are two quite different things people want to boycott: Ender’s Game and the Russian winter Olympics. The reasons that they want to boycott them however are essentially the same – by supporting them, you are giving money to bigots and homophobes. Vladimir Putin has signed a law banning same-sex affection following on the heals of his terrible treatment of Pussy Riot and Orson Scott Card sits on the board of NOM and is actively involved in similarly distasteful activities including calls for homosexuality to be made illegal.

In terms of a personal boycott I’m much more concerned about the Ender’s Game issue than I am on the winter Olympics. Ender’s Game remains a stunning, thoughtful, exciting, brilliant story that affected me deeply when I first read it, where as the Olympics remains ultimately dull. However the issues at stake are, again, much the same. In boycotting these events you are not just punishing Putin and Card but also everyone else involved. It is also worth remembering that neither Ender’s Game nor the winter Olympics, even when hosted in Russia, are homophobic or misogynist in themselves.

But what if you do boycott? I have heard a number of people propose a free speech argument against these boycotts, especially in Card’s case. The argument goes thusly: these boycotts would punish people for exercising their right to free speech. It is a clever argument; not only is free speech almost universally revered (except in this country where the libel laws remain punitive in the extreme) it puts one in mind of the people who would punish, and indeed have punished, pro-gay writers or political leaders in the same way. The same people who are proposing to boycott Card probably considered 1 million moms boycotting JC Penny a travesty.

However there are a number of things to consider. One is that an important part of free speech and of being a grown up, as Card and Putin undoubtedly are, is having to take the consequences. In this case there are no legal consequences but there are social and even financial consequences. Secondly, these men are both doing more than speaking which perhaps could be, if not forgiven, then allowed for. They are both active in the persecution of LGBT people and women and a large array of other people and activities they personally find distasteful. Should we extend them the courtesy of respect when they do not give it to us? The third thing is that boycotting is another expression of free of speech. If I decide to boycott Ender’s Game I am not prohibiting Mr Card from speaking out. Instead I am using my actions to express my opinion. In a capitalist society one of the few weapons remaining to us is how we spend our money. Indeed it is such a strong weapon that Lions Gate are, even now, frantically trying to distance themselves from Card’s bigotry in anticipation.

In the end, where you choose to spend your money is a political act. Many people are either unaware of this or choose not to care. Every time you spend your money somewhere you effectively endorse that company whether it’s tesco and primark or marks and spencer and harrods. Consider your daily news source for example – you choose to spend your money on one whose views and interests broadly align with your own. Now, just because retail companies are quieter about their politics (and business practices are political as much as their stances of LGBT and women and race etc…) why do we not exercise the same judgement when shopping?

Admittedly it is hard to boycott everything with dubious ethical issues. I imagine you would very quickly end up living in an amish community to escape it all. And I, like so many others, am constantly falling far short of my own professed standards due to economics, laziness, rationalisations, my deep desire to see Ender’s Game… however more than ever I want to try to be better. I don’t want to dictate anyone’s choices but I do want people, including myself, to be aware of the choice they’re making.

In the end will I pay money to see Ender’s Game? I’m still not sure but whichever way I decide my decision will be an informed and considered one which is more than most and, perhaps, as much as you can ask for.

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One thought on “On Ender’s Game and the Russian Olympics: Boycotts and Free Speech

  1. “In the end, where you choose to spend your money is a political act.” This is an important point. As well, free speech is about not prohibiting someone’s self-expression, but a boycott is about not participating in someone’s self-expression – an enormous difference. If you decide not to see Ender’s Game you’ve done nothing to prohibit Card from making his movie.

    I really enjoyed the book (and Speaker for the Dead) and want to see the movie, but I don’t want to support Card. Of course, if the reviews suck that’ll make the choice easy.

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