An Open Letter to DC Comics RE: Superman and Orson Scott-Card.

supermanreveal1

(**NOTE:  This letter is in address to DC Comics decision to hire Orson Scott Card to write the Superman comic series.  At the time of this publication, Mr. Card was an outspoken anti-gay activist, and the letter addresses this.  Also, as a point of ethics, when I wrote this I did not realize how small Mr. Card’s purported involvement with the Superman franchise was, and have since discovered he will only be a small guest author for a side series.  However, I stand by my statements still)

Dear DC Comics,

I’m writing to you to discuss your decision to hire Orson Scott Card as a writer in charge of some of your Superman titles.  I have to admit I am a little bit conflicted.  But before I talk about that, I want to be clear about what I intend this letter to do.  I don’t want this letter simply to be another protesting email you receive.  I want this letter to start a conversation, somewhere, within your organization.  I want my conflict to become your conflict, because I think we can fight together, not against one another.  But, in the end, that is up to you.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m gay.  More than that, I am a gay consumer of your media products.  When I was young, I’ll even confess that I often stole your products from Grocery Stores and Comic Stores and Garage Sales; that was because I grew up without a lot of extra money, raised by a single mom, in a pretty religious home.  But your comics were some of the only fantastical things I was permitted to own, and my mom never could keep track of how many I was supposed to have.  I also want you to know that I apologized to the star superhero of every comic I ever stole or read without buying as a child, because I knew they wouldn’t approve of my actions.

I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that I am not just some gay guy who is generically appalled, for political or moral reasons, that a major corporation would hire someone as openly anti-rights as Mr. Card is.  I want you to know that I am a gay man, who from the time I was very smallest, believed that super heroes really do matter.  I believe, like so many other children and adults do, that the make-believe worlds populated by grown men and women in silly outfits with outlandish powers, is actually a deeply important part of our cultural identity.  I believe what you do is important, is what I’m trying to say.

So, you hired Orson Scott Card; to write what is, ostensibly, your flagship character (although I can feel Batman fans bristling).  And of course, I have a reaction.  Orson Scott Card is notoriously anti-gay.  He once sat on the board of directors for NOM, the National Organization for Marriage, he penned this essay (which seems to be about courts taking away democratic process, but spends an awful lot of time after that “proving” why gay’s aren’t normal and why gay relationships don’t qualify as marriages).  In a response to criticisms of that essay, he has been quoted, regarding gays and the idea of their legal right to marry, as saying:

“Inclusion” is an empty word when used as a general virtue. Its value depends entirely on what is and is not included. Every inclusion of one group is an exclusion of another. I think even Mr. Herman would agree with me that there are certain groups that should be perpetually excluded from civilized society. Where we differ is only on our list of those groups, not on the principle.”

Of course, what he means in this statement is that, in his worldview, gays should be perpetually excluded from civilized society.

I want to be fair to Mr. Card here though.  I know that he personally does not “agree” with what I would define as my “humanity”, and that in his world view I am not deserving of the legitimate rights afforded people who contribute to meaningfully to society.  But his protestations to the legalization of gay marriage seem to stem more, in his reasoning, from the perspective that courts and single individuals should not mandate major changes to our American society, no matter how “good” those changes seem.  And further, that if gay marriage is to be included in our society it should find its way there through the legal action of Congress and voters.  As a result of that view, I can see why you might have chosen him to write Superman, who often has to deal with the ethical ramifications of individual liberty, democratic process, and the fair use of immense power.

Further, as a writer myself, I can even see how Mr. Card would be uniquely qualified to tell some really killer Superman stories.  He has the commercial success, and wealth of experience that might really reinvigorate the stories being told about one of the most iconic and beloved heroes of America and even the world. His own personal experiences and viewpoints would undoubtedly really inform and nuance his tales.  I think this is part of why you must have hired him, and why you have stood by your decision, carefully stating that the personal views of your employees are not the views of DC Comics.  I appreciate that statement.  I also appreciate the courage it has taken for you to include homosexual portrayals of your characters in your comics, which you have done to one degree or another since the late 1980s.

And as a writer, I can also reasonably look at the stories which are told about Superman, and I can see where Mr. Card’s viewpoints on homosexuality will probably never be something Superman is forced to face.  Believe it or not, even though my rights and my struggles are very important to me, and to those who care for me, I can see where they are not of overwhelming importance when faced with say, global poverty, or human trafficking  or North Korean nuclear armaments or, you know, super-villains   These are the sorts of challenges I expect Superman to face.  As a writer, I think having him become suddenly a champion for gay rights would feel contrived.  It could be done, if you wanted to.  I’d be thrilled if you did!  But I don’t think Superman’s story arc will necessarily put him on the path to the equal rights discussion.  So it stands to reason that Mr. Card’s views about people like me will likely never come out of Superman’s mouth.

Here is my conflict though.

You can’t have it both ways.  I am a writer, so I understand what it means to hire a writer.  You aren’t hiring someone to sweep the floors in the Batcave, or scrub bugs off the windshield of the Invisible Jet for Wonder Woman.  You are hiring, in essence, an architect, who will shape and form the interior and exterior landscape of a cultural icon.  One of his hiring criteria HAS to have been his personal views.  They shape him as a writer.  His writing is an expression of those world views.  Look at the wealth of scholarship about his popular Ender series alone.  You can’t tell me his success, which is generated by his unique persona, was not a factor in hiring him.

I repeat, you can’t have it both ways.  You cannot hire a man, based on his worldviews, and task him with infusing those views into the world’s most iconic superhero, and then tell me that his personal views are not the views of your company.  Worse than that, I don’t think that you can separate Superman from those views, in a world where an internet search for Orson Scott Card will one day soon display his latest Superman comic followed by his article on how legitimizing homosexuality destroys America.

And, I think it is Mr. Card’s choice to engage in the “front-lines” of the battle to “defend marriage” that really changes the game.  If he privately held these views, it would be one thing.  But he very publicly leverages his status to express his ideas.  Which I support his right to do, by the way.  But it troubles me deeply when those ideas will become, by simple association, impossible to separate from one of my beloved childhood heroes.

So, your decision to retain him I think presents me with only three possible explanations for your actions:

1:    You believe that Mr. Card can selectively instill only certain of his viewpoints into his storytelling, and that you trust him to do so in a way which does not violate your company’s own viewpoints, AND that you believe his prior highly public expression of viewpoints which are not in line with your company policies will not be attributed by association to your company or your intellectual property in any way.

2:    You do not believe that the people likely to be offended by the inevitable association of Mr. Card’s viewpoints with your company and intellectual property represent a  large enough or important enough demographic to be considered in your decision to retain Mr. Card, and that the social costs of his views on marriage and homosexuality are acceptable risks when compared to his story telling ability

3:    You tacitly agree with Mr. Card’s views, and find them to be in line both with your corporate culture and the fictional personas you make your fortune selling.  While you understand that endorsing these views publicly would be highly damaging, you are implicitly comfortable with Mr. Card’s previous public actions and his deeply held convictions about marriage and homosexuality.

The first explanation seems silly, as I believe you must now be aware that there is no separating Mr. Card’s talent from his politics in the public sphere.  The second explanation seems most likely, in that as I stated earlier, I am aware that losing my one purchase of your comics is not going to meaningfully cripple your company, and I agree that Mr. Card is enormously talented.  The third explanation is, of course, the one I fear the most, because it means that the company controlling one of my childhood heroes is OK with the fact that Superman will now, by implicit association, not view me as a valuable part of the society or a worthy recipient of the ideals he defends.

I think that, in the end, that possibility is what stirs my emotions the most.  You have done a good job, DC Comics.  You have made Superman really matter to me.

If there is anything that I want you to hear, what I really hope you get from this is, that you are not just some company dealing in napkins, or automobiles, or fast food.  You produce Superman!  You produce Batman, and Wonder Woman, and Aquaman.  You don’t just deal in colored bits of paper bound together and put on shelves on a weekly basis.  What you are selling is ideas.  Ideas about what it means to be human.  And ideas of what it means to be better than human.  You tread in some of the most foundational experiences of the American childhood experience.

You teach us what it means to be heroes.

As a young person, I too was shaped by these ideas.  I was inspired enough by your heroes that I stole to read them, and then apologized profusely to fictional people because the idea of heroism you taught me so lived in my mind.  And I grew up feeling a lot like Superman must have as a child.  As a gay kid I was different.  I wasn’t like other kids.  I often felt like I was from another planet.  I didn’t fit in.

The second time I've used this picture to display bullying

The second time I’ve used this picture to display bullying

But because of stories like Superman, I imagined that I was meant for something important, rather than that I was broken.  This new idea of different being special, and not less than, was introduced to me at critical junctures in my development.  Sure, Superman might never have explicitly mentioned kids like me.  But in my imagination, he did accept me.  In my imagination, if Superman met me, he would celebrate what made me unique, not punish it.  If he saw me being bullied at school because I was girly, or nerdy, or weird, he’d fly down and tell the bullies how important it was to accept those who are different.  Then he’d probably fight a giant robot piloted by Lex Luthor.  (What do you want?  I was 10.)

My point is, that by hiring Mr. Card, that fantasy becomes only a fantasy.  It becomes explicitly different than who Superman is.  And let me tell you why.   As an adult reader, who has four years of training at the University of Texas in Rhetoric, specifically how to dissect arguments, I am now capable of separating Mr. Card’s personal views from the characters he writes.  But as a 10  year old, feeling vulnerable about who I was, I certainly didn’t possess this level of reasoning.  And I was lucky.  I couldn’t use google then.  I was never likely to have come across Mr. Card’s views about kids like me.

However, there isn’t a 10 year old in America today, gay or straight, who won’t google Superman and risk coming across Mr. Card’s controversy.  And I wonder if they’ll be able to separate Superman from NOM?  Will they understand that Superman and the person who controls everything he says and does don’t think alike?  Can they comprehend that a man who they can read online saying kids who are gay are tragically broken doesn’t mean Superman thinks that too?  Will your assurances that Mr. Card’s views are not those of DC Comics make the difference for those kids?  For kids like I was?

It makes me scared, DC.  It makes me scared that you don’t understand how important this is.  I know that it might not matter to your bottom line if you lost readership from every gay and gay friendly geek on the planet.  And I’m never going to convince you that it will.

Instead, what I am left with are the words from the most recent trailer for the new Superman movie, the defining iteration of Superman which Mr. Card’s comics will live alongside.  I paraphrase them here:  “You just have to decide what kind of man Clark will grow up to be.  Whoever that man is, he’s going to change the world”

What I want you to remember, DC Comics, is that your superheroes changed my world.  And they continue to change the world for countless kids.  Make sure that they stay heroes.

Your comics make us all believe we can be heroes.  Don't let that group exclude any kid in this photo who turns out gay.

Your comics make us all believe we can be heroes. Don’t let that group exclude any kid in this photo who turns out gay. (Or the adults who already are)

I have to believe that anyone who goes to work for a comic book company, in fact the world’s largest comic book company, would understand heroes; might even want, like me, to be heroes themselves.  You have the chance to change the world again, for so many young people who you may never even meet.  Be heroic.  Tell me, no, tell the world that Superman is everyone’s hero again.  Tell the world that Superman stands for me, and anyone else who feels scared and alone because they are different.  Don’t let Mr. Card control that legacy.  It is too precious and the world too connected for Superman to be stained by such sly hatred.

Be heroes.

Your Fan,

David

Me circa 1987, in PJs I apparently would NOT take off.
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One thought on “An Open Letter to DC Comics RE: Superman and Orson Scott-Card.

  1. Pingback: Dirty Little [Writing] Secrets: Lesson One: Providing Useful Critique (Content vs Craft) | Writer, Wizard, Sensei, Boy

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