Question for Supporters of the Boycott of Ender’s Game

If you think people should boycott the movie Ender’s Game (discussed by co-blogger Dale here) because of Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay marriage remarks, do you also think that people back in the 1940s and 50s were justified in threatening to boycott movies if Hollywood employed Communists as screenwriters? Do you the studios were justified in responding to that boycott by blacklisting known Communists (and all or almost all [historian Ronald Radosh told me 98%] of them were in fact members of the Communist Party, USA)? Do you think there should be a similar blacklist today for writers like Card who express homophobic views?

UPDATE: I see some commenters are distinguishing between a boycott and a blacklist. But the whole point of boycotting an artist’s work on political/ideological grounds is to encourage a blacklist, even though no one is calling is that. You boycott an artist’s work, those employing the artist lose money, so they learn no to hire that artist or those who express similar views again. Thus, an informal blacklist. A commenter points out that this sort of scenario doesn’t involve formal collusion. So would the “blacklist” have been okay if each individual studio had done it without consulting their peers?

To put my own cards on the table, I think boycotts and blacklists are perfectly appropriate (though in a free society it’s best to give each other a little slack for the sake of social peace), and I think the blacklist of the Communists was fine to the extent it was a response to justified public hostility to Communists and Communism (remember, we’re talking about Stalinists when the blacklist started) and not to implicit threats of government action. It was, in my understanding, overwhelmingly the former. [Added: We now know that anti-Communist activists of the day were correct in alleging that CPUSA members were under orders to try to add pro-Soviet or pro-Communism messages to their screenplays, which provides additional grist for a boycott and blacklist.] I think on the other hand that it was wrong for public schools to fire Communist teachers, in the absence of evidence that they were abusing their positions or engaging in unlawful activity. I’ve explained my views on these issues in much more detail in this article

But the broad American left has gotten a huge amount of mileage out of the blacklist over the decades, often suggesting that it was an appalling violation of freedom of speech and conscience to refuse to do business with individuals due to their social and political views. Yet I increasingly see calls for boycotts emanating from left-leaning circles on exactly those grounds. The Card example is an excellent to test the sincerity of the civil libertarian objections to the blacklist, given that (a) it also involves Hollywood; and (b) to my knowledge, the movie has nothing to do with Card’s views on homosexuals and homosexuality, so it’s a case of boycotting the artist, not the art.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here is some of what I wrote about the blacklist in the article linked to above: Congress established the House Un-American Activities Committee (“HUAC”) in 1938 as a select committee to investigate foreign subversion, especially connections between Nazi Germany and American extremist groups. In 1947, discovery of what appeared to be a Soviet spy network in Hollywood led to concerns that the Soviet Union was attempting to infiltrate the entertainment industry and use it to propagandize the American public.

Congress substantially increased HUAC’s funding, and committee members decided to launch a more thorough investigation of Communism in Hollywood. After hearing from friendly witnesses who identified Hollywood Communists, the committee subpoenaed ten screenwriters who were believed to be members of the CPUSA. The committee then posed its famous question: “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party United States?” Each refused to answer, and each was cited for contempt.

The hearings were a public relations disaster for the movie industry, which depended on a favorable public image for its revenues. Faced with the potential for boycotts supported by a wide swath of the American public, the movie studios issued the “Waldorf Statement,” pledging not to employ Communists. For the next decade, no known member of the CPUSA would be employed by any Hollywood studio. This became known as “the blacklist.”

In both academic histories and the popular imagination (spurred by films such as Guilty by Suspicion and The Front), the blacklist has become the paradigmatic example of McCarthyistic repression. But this viewpoint seems more dependent on the (at least) covert sympathy with the ideological goals of Communism by those who have documented the McCarthy era than on any generalizable principle. As Redish proposes, a “helpful device would be to substitute for the term communist the words Nazi, racist, anti-Semite, gay-basher, or any other political or ideological characteristic that the reader deems offensive.” Would the historians who condemn the Hollywood blacklist similarly condemn the boycott of Nazis, racists, anti-Semites, or gay-bashers?….

For that matter, as Redish observes, one rarely hears those who continue to agonize about the blacklist of Communists protest against blacklists of anti-Communists and other politically incorrect individuals, past and present, in industries such as entertainment, journalism, academia, and publishing.

Historically, such blacklists were often established and monitored by the Communists themselves. To stick with the entertainment industry, discussions of the blacklist almost never acknowledge that during the “Red Decade” of the 1930s, Hollywood anti-Communists were blacklisted because of their ideology. Because the studio bosses didn’t support this blacklist, it wasn’t as effective as the 1950s blacklist, but it seriously harmed careers nevertheless. Nor is it often acknowledged that the friendly witnesses who appeared before HUAC also faced an informal boycott (though not quite a blacklist) that damaged many careers, which continued into the late 1990s in the case of Elia Kazan….

We have social norm that in most cases people should ignore each other’s political beliefs, even when they vehemently disagree with each other. Few Americans would prefer living in a society where individuals routinely refuse to patronize or associate with Republicans or Democrats. Nevertheless, members of a free society are entitled to decide that some political views are so beyond the pale that the holders of those views should be treated as moral pariahs. Not everyone will exercise this power responsibly, but the blacklist of Hollywood Communists was hardly an example of petulance.

When the blacklist was started, Joseph Stalin, one of the great mass murderers in human history, controlled the Soviet Union, a totalitarian, repressive, imperialist nation that was involved in a Cold War with the United States. As we have seen, hardcore CPUSA members were as a rule loyal to this dictatorship and not the United States, and screenwriters were obligated to try to use their positions to promote Communism. The studios and the public deserve praise, not blame, for refusing to interact with such individuals. To the (relatively limited) extent abuses occurred, and non-Communist “progressives” or other innocent parties were caught up in the blacklist for venal or other reasons, that is certainly unfortunate, and those responsible for such abuse deserve condemnation.

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