Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Politics and Literature

Just a quickie today, since it's all I have time for, but I wanted to write something about this.

YALSA gave out an award to Orson Scott Card for his books Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, and a lot of people are upset because they seem to have based the award on the quality and influence of the works themselves instead of vetting Card's political and social views with the PC Police. It turns out that Card believes that homosexual acts are sinful and same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, views that most likely put him squarely in the majority of everyone ever born on earth, but naturally put him outside the pale of enlightened thought on this issue. Though based on his own writing, it seems to me his ideas are pretty mainstream Christian, especially for a Mormon. Love the sinner, hate the sin seems to be his mantra, but he definitely draws a line between tolerance and acceptance that many would prefer to erase, and he definitely does support the criminalizing of homosexual acts.

Since it's de rigeur when discussing such controversial issues, I'll state some of my own positions, because a lot of people prefer to judge writing on the views of the author rather than the arguments in the work. So, for the record: I don't read science fiction. I never have nor ever will read Card. I don't care what authors YALSA awards. I don't care who marries whom in state marriages or what consenting adults do as long as they don't do it in the street and scare the horses. Keep your laws off my body and everything else of mine.

The question comes down to this: should an award honoring an author's work instead be based on the author's politics? That's what YALSA's critics seem to think. Ignore the actual works and instead judge authors by what they do and say outside their fiction. Thus, we can be assured that we don't give awards for great literature and then find out that the authors have any opinions that anyone might dislike. Is that the idea?

The YALSA committee was faulted for not researching Card's political views more thoroughly. If they had, would they have chosen any differently? If so, that doesn't say much for the integrity of the award or the committee. The committee has mildly defended itself, but it's still an open question of why this decision needs any defense. Does anyone think these Card works don't deserve the award based on their content? They've certainly received science fiction awards. Are the works themselves politically problematic? And if they were, would that be a problem? After all, ALA awards committees are usually happy to give awards to politically charged books, which doesn't seem to bother the critics. But for critics of this particular award, it seems that politics is more important than literature, and possibly more important than everything. If politics trumps literature for a literary award, maybe it's time to get rid of the award.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sigh.

PCness strikes yet again.

If you can't please everyone in your organization, then you cannot hand out any awards.

He is too gay.

He is too homophobic.

She does not believe in evolution.

She is not african-american enough.

He waves the flag too much.

And so it goes.

Eventually, all of our literature will have to be vetted by Mintruth so that we all get the same message.

Yes he/she/it is a great writer and is thought provoking but do you know what he/she/it does with chickens behind his barn?

Shocking.

Ender's Game is a classic and has sparked many discussions around the dinner table.

When people go on and on about C.S. Lewis I don't let my atheism stand in the way of his writing. I am a much stronger person than that. Plus, it makes me think and defend my position all the more so.

soren faust said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the implications of this post. All too often books are cited as good or bad according to 1) the author’s personality or beliefs, or 2) the subject of the book instead of being based on whether or not the book does a good job at discussing its subject. It is really no different than me deriding a book about Adolph Hitler, simply because it's about Adolph Hitler. How well a book is written, the validity of the claims, the insight of the author, how it influences the reader's perspective on the matter, the relevancy of the subject, &c are the factors to be taken into account when reviewing or awarding books. It’s seems to me that some librarians will die for the rights of a controversial author to publish and be recognized, unless of course, the controversy is on them.

Searcher said...

These were my thoughts as well when other prominent library bloggers started bashing Card and YALSA. However I'm suspecting that many of these critics were on the opposite side when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal broke. The common argument was:

"Don't judge him for what happened privately in the Oval Office, look at what he's done for the country."

I'm not specifically picking on Clinton, but the "Card Incident" sparked this memory. Call me idealistic, but the White House is still the people's house (whether is's a Clinton or Bush that occupies it). ;)

Anyway, what *IS* wrong with honoring an author for their writing and the good they've done by engaging the minds of young people??? I'm always amazed at hypocrisy, at any level...

kudzuhomecomingqueen said...

I always believed book awards were awarded to books, not politics. Silly me.

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes. He should be pulled off the shelves & not given a reward for great literature because his personal beliefs and religion does not tolerate gays.

Ah yes librarianism.....you can say whatever you want as long as it is what I want you to say.

This is just more of what we see all the time with librarians trying to push off their beliefs onto the community.

A nonny-like moose said...

Is Bob Dylan considered who he is in music history just because of his corpus? For that matter, why did U2 become the saviors of rock? Was it for a pop single, or was it social activism, or both? The Oscars recognize Hollywood's best. Yet, if you want to contend for a statue, make your presence known as close to the new year as possible. What motivates the titles and awards we lavish on others is never an objective process. Nothing new here.

It's an award. If they marginalized themselves, oh well. If anything, to counter the marginalization you wrote on about the commonality of Card's ideology, it didn't strike you odd that an organization so loaded with "leftists" would even recognize the guy?

Sounds to me like the nay-sayers of Card are the ones who can't see the forest for the trees.

T Scott said...

I tend to agree with you on this one, but the difficult question of the relationship of the art to the artist has a long history. Think of the music of the notorious anti-Semite Wagner being banned in Israel, or the controversy over Ezra Pound being given the Bollingen prize. That other people may come to different conclusions than I do about the right way to handle these issues doesn't mean they haven't thought seriously and deeply about them. It's easy to dismiss those arguments by labeling them PC, but the arguments should be treated more seriously than that, if only to refute them.

Anonymous said...

Putting Mr Card's work, or any one else who does not meet a narrowly defined politically correct definition, on any publicly funded library shelf is a hate crime.

We love everyone.

Except those who don't think the way we want them to think.

Anonymous said...

As long as the award is for Ender's Game who cares what his personal views are. It is a recognized classic of Science Fiction. And most SF fans are not the kind of people who share cards personal/religious views. Now if they were rewarding any of the other books he has written in the series...

Emily Lloyd said...

I think the main trouble folks are having is highlighted by the wording (and purpose) of the award, which "recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world"--it's only that which veers it towards a gray area. Certainly "becoming aware of one's self" in adolescence tends to involve becoming aware of one's sexual orientation--and I suppose the thought is that enthusiastic Card fans (or those new to Card, made aware of him by the award) might seek more information about him, find out his views on homosexuality, and, well, not feel too "helped" in becoming aware of themselves and their roles in relationships, society, and the world.

At base I agree with you, and maybe we're too concerned with teens' fragility and aren't giving them enough credit. Still, idolizing, respecting, and looking up to someone and then learning he thinks your kind should, well, die...yeah, I imagine that would/will be/is tough for a lot of teens. And of course the suicide rate for GLBTQ teens is much higher, etc., etc.

T Scott--I was thinking about mentioning Pound, too. But now it occurs to me that maybe the fact that the award is for teen literature...a teen audience...really does make the circumstances a little different.

So: while I'm not moved to protest the award or think all that much about it, I can see how it might be a little less clear-cut than you've put it, AL (which is rare for me: I'm often accused of only thinking in black and white). Regardless, it's not gonna keep me from recommending Ender's Game to teen readers.

Anonymous said...

What's not clear to me here is the scope of the prize. It's one thing to say that political views shouldn't count. However, that seems misleading if Card has produced actual works that convey his views. So, if he writes an article supporting jailing of gays and one on his science fiction work, should the article that makes us uncomfortable or could penalize him should be excluded? It's not clear to me that the original audience for several of his novels and works that were honored were originally young adults. Yet they were included. So I think people are certainly right in questioning when given an award for contributions to young adult literature for some of his body of work and other works were not. Did they just read the works popular with young adults? Did they browse over all his material?

I should of course include the disclaimer I don't know if any of his non-fiction work does contain these views. But I do remember seeing in the past interviews that stated his position. I would be interested in seeing much more information from both sides of the debate, instead of just assuming it's the PC police.

Anonymous said...

By the way AL, who cares if his views are supposedly "squarely in the majority of everyone ever born on earth?" Now, there's a logical point. Thanks for a really glib, lazy treatment of this issue. Just paint it with a broad, "pc police" brush, and call it a day.

Anonymous said...

WE tolerate everyone.

WE are loving, caring, and progressive group.

Unless of course you disagree with US and then you are to be banished.

You can write and think what ever you want so long as it is what WE want you to write and think.

Anonymous said...

'...views that most likely put him squarely in the majority of everyone ever born on earth'

I don't know any babies that have an opinion, just people that have received the "wisdom" of their parents.

JJJ Schmidt said...

Oh God this is too easy.....

I thought ALA had a whole arm/division/cult defending banned books.....nopw they think the politics of the author shoudl be considerd when giving an award....

The whole intellectula freedom slant of the organization is just like the adminstrators within the libraries, sure we say we support this but we don't want to actually live by our principles...

It would be nice to see them walk the walk not just talk....

AL said...

"By the way AL, who cares if his views are supposedly "squarely in the majority of everyone ever born on earth?""

Apparently, you do.

"What's not clear to me here is the scope of the prize. It's one thing to say that political views shouldn't count. However, that seems misleading if Card has produced actual works that convey his views."

That's part of the question. According to the website, the award was for the two Ender books, period. I haven't read these, but I ask if the protests are based on anything in these particular books, or only on other things he has written or said in interviews.

AL said...

"I thought ALA had a whole arm/division/cult defending banned books.....nopw they think the politics of the author shoudl be considerd when giving an award...."

In this case, it's other people criticizing the ALA, or at least YALSA, for not being political enough.

TJPaladin said...

Well I just visited the Award site and viewed the Slide Show.

They seem to be very proud that many of their award winners have been "challenged".

Apparently, they base the award on the past, present and lasting effects of the novels , and the authors' body of works, on the development of young adults.

So it is a little more than, "just this one novel".

In fact, they seem to relish in the controversy.

AL is right to point out that many people will come out looking like hypocrites if they don't mind the controversy over "S.E. Hinton" & "Judy Blume"

but seem disturbed over "Card"

The Local Librarian still needs to use sound judgement before adding any of these to the collection.

Make no mistake - an award is an endorsement for the Author and his/her works. - It will (if alive) put money in his pockets.

davimgs said...

"he definitely draws a line between tolerance and acceptance that many would prefer to erase, and he definitely does support the criminalizing of homosexual acts."

So, tolerance = criminalization?

AL said...

Why don't you read his essay and tell me. That way we'll both know.

Anonymous said...

AL, not to be annoying pain, but I don't quite read the website (http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/margaretaedwards/margaretedwards.cfm)
you link to in the same way. From the top of the page:

"While the Margaret A. Edwards Award does honor a specific author for his or her lifetime contribution to young adult literature, it also singles out specific works by that author for special recognition."

To me that says "We picked the author, then we single out certain works by said author for recognition.", Not "This award is for these books, period". ;).

Later it says
"Orson Scott Card is the recipient of the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring his outstanding lifetime contribution to writing for teens for his novels Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. "

So it's not clear to me if they gave him the award just because of those two books or not.

It also mentions his other fictional works, but does not mention his non-fictional works.

Part of the issue is way back when, I remember seeing some of his Ender books, but they weren't considered young adult but rather just sci-fi. But in my particularly quaint and old-fashioned neck of the woods I grew up in there wasn't a young adult section, just children books and books for everyone else ;).

I liked Ender's Game, but haven't read the other. I would be pretty persuaded that most of his non-fiction writing certainly wasn't aimed at teens. But from what I remember Ender's Game didn't have anything on the cover to indicate "young adult" and it wasn't clear that was the intended audience. They were just popular among teens.

It's hard to judge what his intent were for works which no one has seemed to produce yet ;). To me, the most awfully embarrassing issue about all of this is how a group of professional librarians handing out awards with words like "lifetime contribution" in them can forget to mention anything about an author's non-fictional work in the bio.

AL said...

This is something of a tangled web. As for whether it's "young adult" fiction, that strikes me as just a euphemism for older children, and sci-fi always seemed like a teenage boy thing to me.

As for the award being for lifetime contribution or for single books, the quote about "lifetime contribution to young adult lit" seems to me like it would settle the question. I don't think that essay of his on homosexuality or the Salon interview would be included in his "young adult literature," though.

shade said...

Wow. Where to begin...

I'm queer and I've long been a fan of Card's books. Ender's Game in particular is a great read and deserves all the credit it gets. That said, I'd never heard his opinion on homosexuality before. I didn't even know he was a Mormon. It doesn't change my opinion of his body of work. He deserves the prize, if they chose to award it to him.

I think he can believe anything he wants to believe. And so can his church. I just don't want his beliefs to impinge on my life. He has gay friends; I have Christian friends. He doesn't want to go clubbing with me; I don't want to go to church with him. Seems simple enough.

And, although I did read the essay, I didn't see the part where "...he definitely does support the criminalizing of homosexual acts..." Maybe it was in the Salon interview. Like I said, if he doesn't want homos in his church it's fine by me, but if/when he reaches out to restrict my life, well, I must protest.

And while this - "...views that most likely put him squarely in the majority of everyone ever born on earth..." - may very well be true, I must say it does sting a little to see it put like that.

I feel there's a lot more I could say on this subject, but it's nothing that hasn't probably already been said before.

His work stands on its own merit and his personal opinions are his own and ne'er the twain shall meet over literary awards.

shade said...

@soren

Way to go for hitting Godwin's Law on the second post!

shade said...

Not to be boring but now I see this:

“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but 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.”

Of course I flatly disagree with this, but I'm not sure what "[flagrant] violation of society's regulation of sexual behavior" is. Or what the "clear message" would be exactly.

Anyone?

And, now that I think of it, what good is a law that isn't "indiscriminately" applied to everyone? Isn't that the point of having a law?

AL said...

I think the stuff about him supporting criminalization of some homosexual activities was in the Salon interview. Re the line about most people on earth, I should point out I wasn't defending Card so much as acknowledging that his opinions are extremely common.

Anonymous said...

Card also supports the fight against Islamicists and Islamofascism. That too puts him beyond the pale in most Leftist's eyes.

Brent said...

Cool, I think AL is or will vote for Ron Paul. Ha!

Emily Lloyd said...

Jan weighs in at Shelf Check: comic strip --and has a crush on Petra Arkanian.

DearReader said...

I think Card was a fine choice for the award, and I recommend Ender's Game to quite a few friends and library patrons.
That said, I find it strange that the controversy is focused on Card's views of homosexuality, when his issues about gender in Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow are more subtle but equally objectionable. Seriously: read Ender's Game sometime (let alone the latest books in the Shadow series) from a feminist POV, and it's depressing. Objections to Card on those grounds might well have been valid, given that the award is for (among other things) the author addressing questions of the "role and importance [of adolescents] in relationships, society, and in the world."
By the way, I was interrupted in typing this by a patron who wanted sci-fi for her son. Guess what I gave her?

Anonymous said...

I think it might be useful for teens to learn that what people say and what they think are two different matters. The sooner they learn this, the better. I don't remember being traumatized by Byron's lifestyle after I learned about him in high school.I just thought that compared to his life, it was a shame his poetry was not more interesting.

Greg Facincani said...

No no no.

We can't award anyone who doesn't promote the gay lifestyle.

Where is a confused teen to turn?

We don't want them to think that normal, heterosexual relationships are good. We want them to be exposed ONLY to confused teens who are gay and find completion and satisfaction in that. Heterosexuals are evil.

soren faust said...

Shade,

Pardon me. I was completely unaware that I was breaking a law, especially a law coming from such an authority as Mr. Godwin.

My god, will you ever forgive me? I will do my best never to mention Hitler again. (Opps! there I go again.)

Soren

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

"I don't know any babies that have an opinion, just people that have received the "wisdom" of their parents."

Maybe the babies do have an opinion, but just don't have a voice to state it yet. :)

Anonymous said...

A writer who is proud of her word choices uses the term Fat to describe OSC. Is OSC really fat? And if so, is he genetically disposed to be fat and has he been fighting his inner self for years only to reach acceptance of a lifestyle most find objectionable? Or as the word implies, is he a self-indulgent (fat-headed maybe) slob? Whether OSC is Fat or not, the writer's use of "Fat" as a pejorative reveals a mean streak. Of course "mean" is in, "fat" is out....

Anonymous said...

My son, a teen, eschews most "teen" literature.

He sees through the thinly veiled attempts to sway his mind.

Does he read?

Tons.

Did he like Ender's Game?

Long before he was a teen and before it was "noticed" by the Illuminati of the Library World.

Books on most teen lists are for emotional girls and boys who identify with them. Cloying political attempts to recruit more for the minority.

Sad, but true.

Library Elf said...

That’s a tough question to answer. It’s just like asking fans of Michael Jackson to stop purchasing his music base on the allegations of child molestation or fans of OJ Simpson, not to go to one of his book signing. It’s definitely a moral issue, one that an organization should think about before making these decisions. And like you said, the organization should not that the decision that they make will say a lot about their integrity.

The.Effing.Librarian said...

I have conflicted feelings because I refuse to watch movies made by Victor Salva... but it's weird that the same OSC discussed here, wrote this positive review for Fag Hag: "I soon realized that I was in the hands of a masterful storyteller who was trying to do with gay society what I have tried to do with Mormon society..." That doesn't sound hateful or dangerous. He doesn't seem to be confusing his personal beliefs with his criticism; neither should we. Let him keep his award.

Fabulist said...

I say Card can keep the award, but I for one can't stand his writing and am surprised he got the thing in the first place. I hated Ender's Game and frankly he stole a lot of his other plot lines from the Book of Mormon (the companion to the Bible that LDS people read) – didn’t even bother to change the names in some cases. I don't think he is an original author worthy of high praise, but I'm one of few. Should my opinion be honored over someone else’s because I think he’s a good person, but his writings sucks. . . No, not at all.

A great librarian died this week here in Utah. A librarian who stood up against the government so that a book that some found offensive would remain on the shelf. She lost her job over it and had to sue to get it back. As an LDS librarian I know that I must allow things I personally don’t like because that’s the right thing to do. I would love for every library to have a copy of the Book of Mormon and a non-fiction book titled Jesus the Christ, but if I don’t tolerate someone else’s opinions than how can I expect others to understand/accept/tolerate mine.

I believe that gay/alternative lifestyles are in opposition to God’s eternal plan; however, one choice in this life does not make you evil. I have many gay friends and I love them, they are wonderful people. If I treat people with disdain for a single lifestyle choice than I condemn myself in the same act. No one is perfect. So criticize Card if you want, but realize that when you decry him for/despite his politics and not his writing ability you do the same for every author, including the ones you like.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
webbygrl said...

What'cha wanna bet those critics are 2.0pians?

SafeLibraries.org said...

Thanks for linking to K.G. Schneider's blog. I read that and commented there as follows:

[Free Range Librarian said,] "Card’s Wikipedia page isn’t a biography, it’s an encomium by true believers who maintain fierce control over Card’s myth."

Funny! Judith Krug's wiki page was just like that, until I got involved, that is. She may be the 40 year leader of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, but intellectual freedom didn't comply on her wiki page until I forced the ALA to follow Wikipedia policy on wikipedia.org. Krug's wiki page even said almost the exact same thing as Krug's page on ala.org.

But before that, in further evidence that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I observed, "Krug’s Wikipedia page wasn’t a biography, it was an encomium by true believers who maintained fierce control over Krug’s myth."

Anonymous said...

Re Kenya - wonder what ALA would say if someone had made a resolution to support the "Minneapolis 12" against a harrassing workplace and disrespectful management? So much for THOSE human rights.

Petter said...

"views that most likely put him squarely in the majority of everyone ever born on earth... That's a good way of putting it - always a useful perspective to bear in mind when we can't fathom that others don't share our modern views.