Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Thought Police

One of my favorite podcasts is the science fiction-focused "The Incomparable," in which Macworld's Jason Snell leads a rotating group of guests in a discussion of movies, books, and comics. I've picked up several good books from recommendations on the podcast - notably Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus - and generally enjoy the banter of the group.

However, in episode No. 166, "I Assume Everyone is Awful," the first third or so of the discussion is cringe-inducing. The topic is whether one should avoid the work of controversial artists because of their personal actions. This was prompted by the current kerfuffle over Ender's Game and author Orson Scott Card's statements opposing gay marriage. (As Card is a Mormon, perhaps that position shouldn't be seen as controversial.) Should supporters of gay marriage decline to see the movie?

To be sure, people are free to decline to see a movie, or to opt not to read a book, for any reason at all. At least one panelist, Scott McNulty, had the sensible view that the less he knows about what artists think and do in their personal lives, the better off he is, as such knowledge rarely adds to, and frequently detracts from, appreciation of the art. However, at least some on the panel made no distinction between an (alleged) child molester (Michael Jackson), a convicted child rapist (Roman Polanski), a guy who doesn't believe gays should marry (Card), and a guy with mental illness (Van Gogh). Card's sin is "espousing beliefs that are exclusionary to others," i.e., being politically incorrect. (Someone even admitted to being upset that Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder was a libertarian? Really? Belief in individualism and limited government is upsetting? Talk about living a sheltered life!) Don't see "Ender's Game" if it makes you feel better, but please, don't suggest that offending people is equivalent to sexual abuse.

In a later display of a silly politically correct position, Jason Snell objects to a line in Ender's Game that girls don't do as well in battle school because of "centuries of evolution." I'm no expert in warfare, and, not having read the book, I don't know what goes on in "battle school," but is it really a stretch to suggest that the gender that's larger, more muscular, and packed with testosterone might have some advantages in an area that sometimes requires strength and/or aggression?

Fortunately, the podcast got better when the discussion started in on authors or book series that people lost interest in because of the quality of the work. "I'm passing on the twelfth book in the Dune series because numbers four through eleven weren't very good" seems like a much better reason than "I don't like Frank Herbert's vote in the '64 election." (In a terrific dig at the original Dune novel, someone said "It really picked up after about page 300.")

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