Boycotting Ender’s Game

Today Ender’s Game hits cinemas in the United States, and there’s controversy around it. A number of folks have asked if I would be seeing it and/or reviewing it for, in light of the boycott against it.

In case you didn’t know, the author of the original work is a far-right-wing extremist who amongst other things, has used his notoriety to spread lies about and fight against gay rights, as well as being a vitriolic board member of the hate-group-with-a-baked-cookie-name National Organization for Marriage. (arensb on Epsilon Clue has a well-sourced article that traces many other examples, should you want to check on details.)

Is it possible to separate an author from his or her work? Can you enjoy the Ring Cycle or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as a Jewish person? Can a misogynist enjoy The Avengers? Should you see Minority Report if you believe depression is, well, real? Can you watch Rosemary’s Baby if you’re firmly against statutory rape? I’m being oblique with the references, but each is a genuinely tricky question. There are lots of angles to fret over. Is the author still alive? Was the distasteful part a privately held opinion or public efforts? Is the content of their work distasteful, or just their real-world actions? In the case of Ender’s Game, should you "punish" the cast and crew who worked on the film but are outspoken in their support of gay rights and condemnation of Card? There’s even some evidence that Card won’t be getting any money from the film at all, but is profiting from the increased book sales that the movie has engendered. So what then? What good does the boycott do? It’s a rich topic, and worth discussing with friends and family at the next lull in conversation.

Ultimately I’ve decided not to see the film in cinemas. One’s efforts of avoidance should correspond to the toxin in question, and Card has proven himself to be deeply toxic. Plus I don’t want to encourage a sequel or franchise, where he might make money or his books sell more as a result.

I may watch it on a plane, or borrow it from a local library once it’s there. I want the movie industry to know that it needs to think about the people with whom it does business, either as an author or a producer, and money is the thing that will get their attention. Even though there are plenty of talented people who worked on the film, I just can’t stand the idea of putting money into Orson’s wallet, directly through salary/residuals, or indirectly through book sales, that he’s going to use against me, my family, and my friends.

I’m still making my mind up about whether to review the interfaces and interaction design. It’s something that I can uniquely offer to the cast and crew for their efforts. But I’ve got months before the movie is released to DVD & Blu-Ray to decide that.

Every thoughtful sci-fi fan should wrestle with this question. Some people I greatly respect have looked at the same questions and come to the opposite conclusion. They will see the film. If you’ve decided you are going to go, please consider buying a "hater offset" (my term: it’s like carbon offsets, but you know, for Card) and make a donation for the cost of your ticket to a pro-queer charity, like SkipEndersGame or EqualityInitiative. If they strike it big as a result of the "buyer boycott," it will send an equally big message to the film makers.

Carrousel [sic]


The hedonistic and carefree lifestyle in Dome City comes with a price. When a citizen’s lifeclock begins to blink, it means he or she is now too old, and due to attend a public ritual called Carrousel and die in a public spectacle. As this is a major event in the lives of citizens, most of the public attends these events.


Lastdays are outfitted in special clothes and masks. After filing wearing these costumes and encircling a huge lifeclock, lastdays expose their palms to show the blinking lifeclock to confirm their status.


Then they look up to a crystal at the ceiling that begins to spin. The lastdays become weightless, and they struggle to reach the top, for the opportunity to reach renewal.

When they fail—and they always fail—they explode in a fiery shower of sparks. The audience greets each explosion with a roar of excitement and applause.


A public ritual is at the edge of the definition of interface that I provided in Make It So:

All parts of a thing that enable its use.

But in this case, the culture of Dome City pays for its lavish lifestyle admidst fixed resources with these public executions, and something must turn what by rights should be met with horror and revulsion into something palatable, even enjoyable. It is in this sense that citizens use Carrousel.

Nearly everything we see in the ritual helps to hide its raw, morbid truth. The false promise of renewal hides the finality of the act. The masks won by participants hide the individual identity from the audience, easing the sense of personal loss. The identical costumes dehumanize participants, underscoring their role in the culture. The ritual actions give participants something to do during a time that is psychologically stressful. The public-ness of it reinforces its cultural importance and imprints onto the audience that one day, they do will participate.