The Tolerance Card

Last fall during a trivia night the subject of the biography round was John Denver. Some of the clues explained how he was a drunken womanizer who put himself and others in dangerous situations, someone who had his pilot’s medical license revoked due to drunk driving charges and who cut his marriage bed in half with a chainsaw. For real. I was entirely amused, not being familiar with the man or his music. I had only recently fallen for “Take Me Home, Country Roads” when learning to play it for summer camp, and discovered that Poems, Prayers & Promises is a lovely little album by an obviously talented singer-songwriter.

Laura did not appreciate me sharing the trivia. She grew up listening to plenty of John Denver with her family, and had only innocent memories of the songs themselves. She knew nothing of Denver’s weird history, and after finding it out she said just a few days later something akin to, “You’ve ruined John Denver for me.” Sorry, babe. I would take it back if I could.

I never know quite where to fall on the artist vs. art conversation. I like to think I am mostly indifferent to an artist’s personal life, but perhaps that is an easy statement because I can’t think of any musicians in particular that I really love who are insane, or worse, hateful. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, and I suppose I would experience a confused betrayal if I found out that a sweet guy like John K. Samson was some sort of anti-immigration nut (maybe he wants to keep loud Americans out of Winnipeg). For artists that are further removed from my emotional investment, I find weird stories about them amusing, but rarely disturbing. I may be moderately interested in the music of Kanye West in spite of (or because of?) his unhinged ego, but people like him and Denver are artists I approach at a distance. Engaging briefly with their work is the most of myself I’m willing to put into their lives.

As is it with anything that has an emotional impact, it always comes down to experience, and moreover the timing of that experience. Laura listened to John Denver in a different context, during a dramatically different time in her life, than I did. That music, and the man behind it, has certain colors and textures for her. I only really felt “Take Me Home, Country Roads” when I was in my late 20s, and similarly I read the science fiction novel Ender’s Game for the first time just a few years ago. I enjoyed it immensely. It was as if I could look back at the little brown bookshelf in my childhood bedroom and see it nestled nicely into a slot there, and I kind of wish it had been. I was more into fantasy than sci-fi through some of my formative fiction years, and now it felt like I was playing catch-up. But the book is so rich with ideas that I would recommend it to any adult reader–a better-late-than-never type of scenario. And at the time I read it, I had no particular knowledge of the author. His was just the name of a sci-fi great like Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov, prolific and enduring.

So now the big to-do is the fact that the author of Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, is a tiresome bigot. The big movie version is coming out this fall, with no less than Harrison Ford playing the titular character’s militaristic mentor. This, combined with the momentum the gay marriage movement is making nationwide, stirs up contradictory feelings in many liberal moviegoers and sci-fi fans who love the story but are turned off by the storyteller. Card has been on his anti-gay soapbox for years, and now that he is in the spotlight he is pleading for others to show “tolerance” for his views. Some advocate groups are calling for boycotts in hopes it will detract from any potential support or endorsement that Card may have. Others say that won’t help because the author was paid up front for the book’s rights; the huge moviemaking team is a bunch of people who are not themselves Orson Scott Card; and at least one major LGBT group was exposed to an early screening and found nothing objectionable about it.

All this according to Entertainment Weekly, which just published two pieces about this stir in one issue. I particularly like Mark Harris’ personal take. While understanding that the boycott might be unorganized and ineffective, Harris just cannot bring himself to be okay with paying to see the movie. I’m not sure that I would bother seeing it in theaters anyway, so I’m not worried about that particular dilemma. But I do like the book, and as pointed out in the second article, it would be a slowdown in book sales, not movie tickets, that has the potential to hit Card where it counts. So should we recommend that adults, kids, and teens shun not the movie, but instead the book? And therefore, the story itself?

There is a nifty solution here, due to the fact that Ender’s Game is a huge bestseller: used copies are abundant. Being uncomfortable with anything that limits the availability of all books, I can still feel confident in encouraging others to not buy brand new copies of this novel. But they should still read it. I’m sure your library has a copy, although with the movie about to surface those are probably all on hold. So check your local (non-Amazon) used bookstore and they are bound to have some yellowed versions. That’s where I found mine. This version in particular has innumerable copies floating around–its cover is as iconic as it is ubiquitous:


I don’t have the energy for boycotts, and I don’t have a stake in seeing the movie version of Ender’s Game. But I do like passing on a good book recommendation, especially when it’s a book that can connect readers of all ages. So I will not hesitate to loan out my copy of Ender’s Game to whomever may be interested. Laura, I know you have not read the book yet…want to crack into it? On the other hand, I may have already ruined Orson Scott Card for you. Sorry, babe.

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