Deeper Thoughts: Death of the Author vs. Ender’s Game

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This is a blog I wrote originally on mustbethursday.wordpress.com, and I am reposting here as I think it’s still relevant. I plan on doing more about Death of the Author subjects in the future.

Ender’s Game is one of my favorite science fiction books. I read it when I was young and only had muddled memories of it, so a few years back I read it again. I still find it an extremely well told story and I liked the other books too. What always stood out to me was that Ender was different. He was smart and precocious but he certainly didn’t adhere to a societal expectation on him. In fact it was his ‘otherness’ that defined him in a positive way. Him being different and special caused him strife in his life, to be an outcast, but he overcame that and turned out to be exactly what everyone needed. You can see why that would appeal to most teenagers, but I think it appeals to adults too or anyone who used to be a little offbeat compared to the rest of the world. Of course there is also a great deal more to Ender than that trope, as he became what everyone needed which was a massive war criminal murderer, so his journey from there was one of redemption. Another trope we all love.

Since Ender’s a misunderstood outsider, you can understand my confusion considering that the man who wrote that is also the man who wrote this. He’s a member of the Latter-Day Saints church and strongly opposes homosexuality to the point where he is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage aka NOM aka anti-gay marriage and writes essays about how it is destructive to society. One of my favorite online personalities Nostalgia Chick did this amazing video I highly recommend where she discusses the same issue I’m thinking about now. French critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay named Death of the Author, where he argued that the writer’s personal history, background, beliefs, politics, should not inform anything in the material itself. He encouraged people to look at a piece of artwork and take from it what works for you, because what the author intends may be different from what your interpretation of it is. And because of that, it colors your view and you won’t be able to enjoy it the same way.

Fair point. Joss Whedon is one of my favorite people, and in the Commentary! The Musical track “Heartbroken” he discussed how in a lot of ways the over saturation of information in media these days is ruining the actual message. He mentioned that by all the DVD commentaries and constant reflection by film makers, people don’t necessarily take in a piece of art with only their own opinion, they’re too immersed in the critics or the interviews. It feels like I could write a whole different essay about the Death of the Author, so I’m going to try and focus on it only what it means with Ender’s Game. In this case, it’s easy to separate the author from his work because the author thinks something that his book’s message contradicts. And that’s not just my interpretation, that’s generally agreed critical interpretation. Ender was considered a weirdo and an outcast, he was bullied and beaten and pushed around by people who thought he was a freak for being different, and it’s a lesson not to judge a book by its cover. So basically: WHAT?

Death of the Author works here because there is such a huge disconnect, I’m not sure how I can understand why the same man wrote both of these things. The next step though is my part in it. I didn’t feel comfortable going to the movie Ender’s Game, despite having loved the book. I know the loss of my ticket meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. I know he’s made a load of money off his work regardless. I know my voice means next to nothing. But it’s still my voice, and my voice says I’m not going to support him or his endeavors. Sort of how I refuse to see Roman Polanski movies, because the man is a freaking child rapist and should have been in jail a long time ago. That’s a post for another day, probably.

I guess I’d say I have mixed feelings. I know that I don’t want to support Orson Scott Card. Maybe I don’t make a difference, kind of like how people argue one vote in politics doesn’t matter either, but a whole hell of a lot of votes do add up. I think it still matters what you decide to do when something troubles you. It matters to me I symbolically don’t support him, and maybe if enough people do it will matter on a higher level too. Ender’s Game the movie did turn out to be a huge flop, but that’s hard to say if it’s because the movie was bad, or because of all the protesting. The truth is maybe I don’t matter, but he does matter. What he says, what he does with his influence and power, what he spends his many millions on, that all adds up. He makes a difference and I can’t help but have a bitter aftertaste in my mouth about that. In my case, Death of the Author doesn’t apply. I can’t remove my dislike of him from my feelings about the book. C’est la vie.

Well those are my thoughts. I don’t judge anyone who feels differently or can read his work without a bitter aftertaste, because I get it. They’re good books. It’s a good story. Some things aren’t important to everyone and it’s easy to separate the creator from the created. Everyone picks their own battles. His battle against equality for everyone is what inspired my battle against him. But the question remains: when does Death of the Author apply for you? Is this a concept everyone should keep in mind when consuming media?

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