It’s Only McCarthyism If We Do It
July 12th, 2013
That’s what Maggie Gallagher seems to believe:
Gay marriage advocates are trying to build up a boycott of Ender’s Game because of Orson Scott Card’s personal views on marriage. It seems very strange to me that so many artists and people on the left are supporting the idea that to make art in the mainstream you have to have the right political opinions. This used to be considered the heart of McCarthyism: loyalty oaths for filmmakers as the condition for working in the film industry. (These were imposed by the industry, not the government, remember, in response to public pressure).
It was just a little more than a year ago that the National Organization for Marriage, of which Gallagher is board chair, called for a boycott of Starbucks. I’ve grown to believe that organized boycotts are almost always futile in achieving their aims. That said, I do believe that we are all free to spend our money however we choose. I don’t purchase gasoline at Exxon on Mobil, and I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. And if the gross receipts for Ender’s Game opening night are going to be looked at as some kind of an economic referendum for Card, then I can safely say that I won’t be seeing the movie. It’s my money, and I just don’t feel like paying Card a dime of it, and I hope none of my friends or family members will either.
But if they do — if they want to see the movie because they loved the critically-aclaimed book, or because they’re interested in the star power of Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Aramis Knight, Hailee Steinfeld, Jimmy Pinchak, Viola Davis, and Abigail Breslin — then that’s no skin off of my nose either. Evil people are capable of producing great art, and it’s not axiomatic that their personal evil compromises that art, although I also think that it’s rare for that to occur. I’m not familiar with Ender’s Game to know whether it is tainted with Card’s vindictive viewpoints or not, although I am aware that it does infect other books that he wrote later.
But where I draw the line is here: ten years ago, Card wanted my very existence made criminal. Five years ago, if California had decided to legalize my marriage, he wasn’t just going to disagree with the outcome. He vowed “to destroy that government and bring it down.” So we’re not talking about a civil discussion over afternoon tea. Card has portrayed these issues in a stark struggle-to-the-death choice: it’s either us or him. And now he and his allies are crying foul because some of us are taking him at the very standard he established.
But in the final analysis, this isn’t a question of art or politics. It’s a question of commerce, as Gallagher helpfully clarified today:
But here’s what I believe about boycotts:
It’s fair to boycott a corporation as a corporation for something that corporation does as a corporation.
I think it’s unfair, destructive, and wicked to boycott a whole corporation because of the personal beliefs of one member of that corporation.
I think its repellent to boycott or blacklist an artist because of his personal views. It’s the heart of McCarthyism to me.
That said, people are free to buy tickets or not if they feel differently.
McCarthy, it must be remembered, was a powerful U.S. Senator who threatened to bring the power of the Federal Government down on Hollywood if it didn’t purge “communists,” however McCarthy alone chose to identify or define them, from its midsts. That’s very different from citizens urging fellow citizens to refrain from buying something.
But setting aside Gallagher’s historically myopic view of McCarthyism, I think her attempt to draw a distinction around Card as an artist is unrealistic. I don’t see many homophobes going to a Lady Gaga concert, and I do see a lot of anti-gay activists denouncing pretty much whatever she does. When k.d. lang came out, she was met with boycotts of her records by country music stations across North America. Outside of the LGBT political arena, we can all recall the backlash against the Dixie Chicks when Natalie Maines took a distinctly anti-Bush stance at a 2003 concert in London. But despite the backlashes, art was never repressed. Card, Gaga, k.d., the Chicks were then and still are free to make their art with whatever points of view they see fit.
But when they sell it, we enter the land of commerce, and we are all free to decide whether we want to buy what they’re selling. And my money just won’t go from my pocket to Card’s. It’s as simple as that.