Something Rotten

Orson Scott Card finally explains what Hamlet‘s real problem was all along, but we’re still no closer to finding out why Card is such an asshole.

Over the last week or so, I’ve seen several people linking to this review of Hamlet’s Father on the Rain Taxi website. The situation is this: virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card took it upon himself to “translate” Hamlet, rewriting both the events of the play (in modern prose form) and finally giving us the long-missing backstory which explains the events. As the publisher’s blurb says: “Once you’ve read Orson Scott Card’s revelatory version of the Hamlet story, Shakespeare’s play will be much more fun to watch — because now you’ll know what’s really going on.”

Apparently, what’s really going on is that Hamlet’s father was a total homo. As I understand it from the review, Claudius comes out blameless in this version; the real bad guys were Gay Absentee Dad Hamlet and all the prince’s friends that he molested.

Whenever I read another example of Card’s pathological homophobia, I’m reminded of my first (and as far as I’m aware, only) exposure to Card’s writing: it’s a short story called “Fat Farm” that appeared in OMNI magazine in 1980. I must’ve been around 11 or 12 when I read it, and I’ll never forget it, partly because I’d never before seen such a dark and nasty piece of work.

The story is this: a morbidly obese man returns to the clinic he visits every few years, checking in as a fat man and leaving in perfect physical shape to begin the cycle once again. But this isn’t any normal clinic; this is a clinic in the future in a sci-fi anthology magazine! Instead of giving you a workout, the clinic actually transfers your consciousness into a younger, fresher, slimmer body.

What our protagonist doesn’t realized, however, is that his consciousness isn’t just transferred, but copied. His “old” body still lives, but without any of the legal rights to his identity that he had when checking in. He’s sent to a work farm, where he’s subjected to manual labor and abuse from a brutal overseer who absolutely despises him for some unknown reason. After years of working at a potato farm, he finally earns the lean, muscular (and tanned!) body he’d always wanted, buried under layers of flab. When another, disgustingly fat version of himself is brought in to work, he can feel nothing but hatred and disgust for what that version had done to himself in so short a time. And he finally learns why the overseer always hated him so much: the overseer was the original version!

The moral of the story is obvious: even with future technology, fat people will still be lazy and awful. As an impressionable pre-teen who was still wearing pants sized “Husky,” that stuck with me for a long time.

The other reason it stuck with me so much is that it was the first time I’d read anything that gay. Card spends paragraphs describing the main character seeing his younger self — he’s brought in naked, they caress, they embrace — in great detail. The protagonist works the farm naked, and Card describes lots of tight hard muscles and sun-browned flesh. And it’s not just gay, it’s 80s gay, equal parts self-loathing and cartoonish debauchery:

Somewhere, the man who would be J was dancing, was playing polo, was seducing and perverting and being delighted by every woman and boy and, God knows, sheep that he could find; somewhere the man who would be J dined.

[…]

The helicopter turned then, so that Barth could see nothing but sky from his window. He never saw the whip fall. But he imagined the whip falling, imagined and relished it, longed to feel the heaviness of the blow flowing from his own arm. Hit him again! he cried out inside himself. Hit him for me! And inside himself he made the whip fall a dozen times more.

Not just boys, but sheep! Whip harder!

For those who aren’t familiar with OMNI magazine: it was a science fiction anthology published by Bob Guccione of Penthouse fame. It had some amazing paintings for the stories, which were a combination of “hard” science fiction and sex. Keep in mind this was before the internet, when we pre-teens were still resorting to fiddling the dial on the cable box to try and get a fleeting, blurry glimpse of a tit. The stories in OMNI were usually dark, nihilistic, and with an unhealthy descriptions of sex-to-psychological horror ratio, but in those days we took what we could get.

So Card’s story was my first exposure to dudes making out with each other. (Which I suppose would now make him King Hamlet to my Horatio). And, unfortunately, it fit in with how I wanted to think of homosexuality: synonymous with irresponsibility, hedonism, excess. I wanted to reinforce that I wasn’t like those people; I was better than that. And once that was straightened up, I went back to reading about the dudes making out with each other.

It’s become a trend to suggest that the most vocal anti-gay types are all latent homosexuals themselves. Of course there’s plenty of evidence for that, provided by pastors and Republican representatives, with their work-out regimens and luggage handlers and unconventional notions of restroom etiquette. But I think that’s way too simple, if only because there can’t possibly be enough gay people to account for all of the anti-gay sentiment. The species would go extinct if there were. Fear and mistrust of people who are different, that’s much more universal.

That said, though, Card has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about gay men.

When I was searching for a copy of the story online, I turned up this article by Card saying that all the so-called “research” about the health risks of obesity are invalid. It’s a complete reversal from the guy who wrote “Fat Farm” 25 years earlier, a diatribe about how fat people are repulsive and also they have heart disease and are impotent. What’s galling is his hypocrisy in decrying prejudice against people who are overweight and the tendency to treat obesity as a moral failing. That conclusion is valid, of course, but he deserves no praise for it: Card didn’t grow a conscience over 25 years; he grew fat.

Card continues to speak and write of homosexuality as a moral failing. Maybe it really is a sign of latent homosexuality; all I can see is arrogance. He’s not so much a caricature of the self-loathing homophobe as a caricature of the modern self-described conservative. He understands science better than any politically correct “studies,” and he uses his own perverted version of “science” to support what his common sense and upbringing tell him are true. Things are so much simpler when you can reduce complex biological and sociological systems to trite conclusions and claim they’re based on evolutionary adaptation.

Ultimately, I feel the same way about the cause of Card’s homophobia as I do about the cause of homosexuality itself: it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you’re a force for good or evil in the world. Technically, I’m supposed to feel some measure of sympathy for self-loathing homosexuals, since I used to be one, but then I remember how I never actively campaigned to treat gay people as morally and legally inferior. And I’ve got even less sympathy for anybody who claims to know what life is like for me without even knowing me. But then, I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to rewrite Shakespeare, either.

What I don’t understand is why this clown keeps getting work.

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