On Reading Things by Unpleasant People

On October 25th, a film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Ender‘s Game will be hitting the UK. Now, I won’t be seeing it, even if it gets the best reviews, even though the novel it is based on is a brilliant piece of sci-fi; one that is incredibly important to the genre. Why? Because Orson Scott Card is not a very nice man. He is on the board of the National Organisation for Marriage, a homophobic and hateful organisation. I can’t let him have any of my money, as doing so will fund a movement I find morally disgusting. It’s a shame, as Ender’s Game is a great story, and isn’t the only great story the man has written.

I am certainly not the first to touch on this, and refer you to what The Nostalgia Chick had to say on the matter, because she is very good at saying things.  Also, Alyssa Rosenberg has written a rather excellent piece on the varied responses available to those who want to see the movie, and support other people involved in the project, but are uncomfortable about giving Card money.

I certainly won’t judge anyone who doesn’t join this boycott. As soon as you start playing the game of trying to track where you money ends up, you’ll find the oddest connections out there, and never be able to track it all. For instance, Warbutons have previously funded The Conservative Party, and as such buying their bread may well lead to more money for the Tories. While I doubt many would argue that the Tories are as bad as the National Organisation for Marriage, those who would never vote for them may want to avoid the bread. While boycotts are perfectly justifiable, it is exhausting and ultimately impossible to find out exactly where all the money you spend will end up.

There is one line that must be kept clear when considering all of this. If buying the product won’t directly lead to cash funding ‘Bad Things’, then I don’t see the problem. H.P. Lovecraft was scared of everything, being for most of his life homophobic, xenophobic, racist, misogynist and many other unpleasant things. This can make reading some of his work particularly unpleasant. One shouldn’t ignore the unpleasant parts of this man but, as he is long dead, he won’t be funding any ‘Bad Things’. Furthermore, I suspect that if Lovecraft wasn’t so deathly afraid of everything and everyone different from him, then he wouldn’t have been able to writer such spooky stuff.

This isn’t to say people who cannot read Lovecraft because of his views, which were so central to his writing, are wrong. This is very much a personal thing, and if someone finds them too much then that’s completely okay, although sometimes you will be missing out on some otherwise great stuff. It is also okay if you just don’t care about the views of a dead artist, and just take pleasure in their art. If you cannot do that, then you cannot listen to The Beatles, or any of John Lennon’s solo work, as he was a neglectful father, a drunk, and a wife-beater. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t carry a tune, or that it is tragic that he was shot down so young.

As ever, when it comes to Unpleasant People and Bad Things, it is all a little subjective. Does an artist’s views tarnish their work, even if they aren’t always directly present in that work? Is it only when reading their stuff will lead to a little more money for a cause you disagree with when you have to boycott? That’s something you’ve got to figure out for yourself. All I ask is that you consider the question.


5 thoughts on “On Reading Things by Unpleasant People

  1. It’s a good point to consider when reading/watching/playing anything. It’s the first and foremost reason (of many) that you shouldn’t by anything Apple produces. Even with the death of Jobs, Apple is still going from strength to strength in it’s crusade to destroy innovation and strip the rights of the individual. They are the antithesis of everything that technology should be about. Technology has the ability to empower ordinary people like never before – the internet has the capability to revolutionise the flow of information and take huge amounts of power out the hands of media barons and governments. To some extent it already has, and we are already a more free humanity because of it – but there’s a lot further to go now such exiting things as 3D printers and the maker movement have arrived (finally we can put production back in the hands of the people) – and Apple are working every second of every day to destroy that – to take us backwards – to envelop and suffocate the information revolution and snatch away this historically brief chance for real democracy and freedom.

    So yeah – I was just going to say I like the blog – and then I thought about how it’s kind of relevant to Apple and ended up writing quite an anti-Apple tirade, there. Trust me, that’s the ultra-abbreviate version. I could write a seriously long essay on why you should never buy anything Apple make.

    1. Thank you for saying the nice things! As for Apple and restricting what technology is capable of accomplishing, for me the buck stops with governments. Companies are going to do what is legal for them to do, and it is for governments to ensure the law is good and fair. They need to resist the pressures of these big businesses, which is something they aren’t often very good at, and be put under pressure by voters to do so. The failure of the SOPA laws comes to mind.

      That said, when a company does bullshit, then boycotting them is one of the best ways to let them know your displeasure.

      1. I don’t think that it should be up to government to tell companies what moral standards they should operate by. Obviously when it comes to companies’ actively hurting other people, using discriminatory hiring practices, exploiting workers, actively suppressing competition, generally acting illegally – then that’s government’s job to uphold the law – but I don’t think it should be government’s job to collect our moral standars (that are outside the law) and force them upon corporations – simply because our morals are not something we collectively agree on. For instance – I don’t buy Lynx products due to their disgustingly misogynistic advertising – but disgustingly misogynistic advertising isn’t illegal and shouldn’t be – it’s up to us individually to decide what kind of view of women we want to project into society. Right now, it seems most people are misogynistic, so it’s perfectly fair that they get to carry on buying Lynx products. I wouldn’t want to be able to impose my minority view on the majority, and neither would I want the majority imposing their view upon me. If, as a society, we come someday to see misogynistic attitudes as outdated and wrong, then we can respond by responding negatively rather than positively to misogynistic advertising, and then companies will stop using it.

        So I do agree with you when it comes to actual legal issues such as competition supression and corporations’ exploiting workers etc – the law is there to stop people hurting other people – but I don’t think government and the law should exist to give us moral guidance, to tell us what is and isn’t accepteable as an opinion or political view, to tell us what society we should or shouldn’t want, or tell us what kind of attitudes are and aren’t accepteable. I also think it’s much more effective to have this kind of thing done directly by people, as that they shows the corporation that they need to change their outlook because people don’t like it – rather than having it handed to them by governemnts, which tends to produce resentment and may not accurately reflect the public’s attitude anyway.

  2. Fucks sake Warburton’s. I was just saying yesterday that when we smash capitalism Warburton’s Seeded Batch will be the only kind of bread available and the world will be much better for it. My worldview is now in tatters. I hope you’re happy.

    1. Surely, when the revolution comes, we’ll eat bread made of the sweat and toil of our brave and noble workers?
      Hmm, now that I’ve written that out, ‘Sweat and Toil Bread’ doesn’t sound too appetising.

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