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I do what I can to avoid politics on this blog. Oh, not completely. Anyone could find my posts about SOPA and PIPA and see where I stood on those issues. But if I’m going off on an opinion, it’s more likely one about corn shuckers in the grocery store than anything that the Republicans or the Democrats have done. This is entirely a personal decision, one made for myself that I don’t think all writers could/should/would follow me up on. I do plenty of political opinioning in real life, it gets me riled up at times, and it’s nice to have my blog as a place for calmer discussion.
There’s also that one sticking point when it comes to political opinions. Lots of people have them, and not everyone agrees with them.
This past week has seen two very prominent writers delivery two very impassioned editorials. The first was Stephen King when he called on the government to “Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!” and the other comes from Orson Scott Card asking “What Right Is Really At Stake?” with regard to North Carolina Amendment 1. Neither man has ever shied away from the political spotlight in the past, and these editorials are both well in line with their previous opinions on these subjects. King does not hide his liberalism, nor does Card hide his conservatism. I’m going to just state, because I think most people who know me know where I stand on these things, that I agree with Mr. King and disagree with Mr. Card. This entire post is going to be so much easier to write if I don’t pussyfoot around that.
Even though neither man has made a secret of his politics in the past, both surprised some readers and fans with there editorials. If you peruse the comments for both articles, each include several examples of “you’ve lost me as a reader.” Those six words scare the shit out of me. Certainly King and Card, both stalwarts of genre fiction, can sustain a few losses in the readership department without any major changes in their royalty checks, but I’m still trying to win people over as readers, and the thought of losing them before I even have them? That’s what keeps me away from getting too political in my posts.
But what are we as readers to do when we learn that our literary heroes don’t share our personal opinions?
It’s a tough question, and one that I’ve been churning over in my head this past day. I’m going to be honest, I’ve only read one Orson Scott Card novel. I recently found a hardback of Wyrms at a thrift store and thought I should give it a try. It was neither in the top ten or bottom ten of books I’ve read, and ultimately stands out in my memory for the rather, ahem, interesting climax the story reaches deep within the bowels of the post-industrial planet. I’ve not read the Ender series. I haven’t actively avoided it, it’s just one of those things that has never made it onto my pile. In that way it’s like The Godfather, which I’ve never seen for no reason other than I’ve never seen it.
This editorial hasn’t made me any more likely to read Ender. Perhaps it’s made me less, that’s hard to say. He hasn’t lost me as a reader, per se, but he’s made it that much harder to win me as a reader. I don’t know where I would stand if I were an existing fan of his work. I’m certain that a percentage of the readers he has “lost” with this opinion weren’t his readers to begin with, but some of them were. And it’s left them in a very difficult position, seeing a world that they potentially grew up with colored by the opinions of the author, even if those opinions may not translate to the page.
Does that mean that Card shouldn’t have said what he did? Absolutely not. Orson Scott Card is entitled to have and speak his opinions, just as Stephen King is. I doubt anyone reading this blog is going to question that fact. I’ve never understood the notion that celebrities aren’t supposed to use their celebrity to promote political opinions. Especially because what people tend to be saying is that they shouldn’t use their celebrity to promotion political opinions I disagree with. However that freedom of speech goes every which way, and I’m just as much in my right to be less interested in picking up his books, and someone else is well within their rights to put them down entirely. To stop reading the Ender series because they believe that firmly in marital rights. To stop reading the Dark Tower because they believe that firmly in tax reduction. There are also liberals out there who will go right on reading Card and conservatives who have no problem picking up King. It is neither a failure of character to walk away from these writers because of what they said, nor a failure of conviction to stay with them in spite of what they said.
This is a hard post for me to write, because I do feel like it exposes a part of me I’m not entirely comfortable with. It’s the part of me that doesn’t talk about politics because I know I’m the kind of person who might put an author down if I learned his politics varied too greatly from my own. It also forces me to look straight in the face of the part of me who disagrees categorically and completely with just about every word of Orson Scott Card’s editorial, and yet sees a certain bravery in it. Perhaps more so considering the general trend towards liberalism within genre writers. Or is that only my personal perception based on who I follow on Twitter and G+? A man who makes his living on selling himself to others through his fiction and who believes thoroughly enough in his convictions to use his significant megaphone even when he knows they’ll make him unpopular to many. It doesn’t change my opinion on his position, change my likelihood of reading him, but it is an odd moment of clarity. Which is uncomfortable and makes me twitchy, but there it is nonetheless.
Writers aren’t heroes. They’re people. They will, at times, disagree with us or even disappoint us in their opinions. Perhaps to a point that those words of theirs we read before are forever changed in our minds. This is the risk that always comes when people put themselves out there, and one of those odd bits of collateral about deciding to write. One of those things we might not all think of when we’re putting word to paper. I still stand largely where I did before on expressing my own political opinions, you’ll see them few and far between. But there is an argument for letting the chips fall where they may. No writer should ever be forced to be what they aren’t to attract or keep readers. As long as they remember they are not entitled to readers, either.