gay superhero banner

Benjamin-riley_new-e1359604418483A few weeks ago, American publishing company DC Comics announced they were hiring science fiction author and well-known homophobe Orson Scott Card to write a Superman comic.

It hasn’t gone down very well. In the US, a number of comic book stores are protesting the move, refusing to stock any issues of Card’s comics. The boycott is pretty well-justified, as Card has frequently and publicly espoused his views on the ‘dangers’ of letting the gays marry, and in a classic homophobic move, equated homosexuality to paedophilia. His opinions go beyond the occasional interview quote — he sits on the board of National Organisation for Marriage (NOM), a chief opponent of marriage equality in the US.

Even considering Card’s bigotry, it’s hard to find explicit homophobia in his works, although many argue they are filled with conservative themes. But comics have traditionally been conservative, in their explorations of good, evil and punching things.

That’s the thing, homophobia in pop culture is usually implicit more than anything. The big battles for cultural equality are being fought around representation (or a lack thereof) and negative stereotypes in media. It’s highly unlikely anything explicitly homophobic will make it into Superman.

Even if that’s the case, it raises another question: if we care about public figures spreading bigoted views, can we ethically engage with pop culture made by shit people?

I’ve thought about this a bit recently. One of my housemates listens to a lot of reggae and, out of curiosity, I decided to read up about the genre’s history and its Jamaican origins. I was surprised to find out Jamaica has, by some accounts, the worst record of homophobic violence and institutionalised homophobia in the world, rooted in the nation’s ultra-conservative Christianity.

Unsurprisingly, much of that has filtered into Jamaican music. For years, some very mainstream Jamaican musicians have used very explicit homophobic lyrics in their songs. My housemate loves Jamaican music and assures me he doesn’t listen to those particular tracks, but hearing reggae played in the house still makes me uncomfortable.

There are so many things that contribute to our interpretation of culture, and what we know or don’t know about a given book, song, film or even comic will inform our reaction to it.

I respect and support the boycott of Card’s comics, but I can also see why others might disagree, and they have. As with any choice we make about consumption, the most important thing is to choose with eyes open.

Buy Card’s Superman comic or don’t, but know that if you do, you’re supporting a guy who’s clearly a complete douchebag.

Follow Ben Riley on Twitter: @bencriley

© Star Observer 2014 | Pick up the next Star Observer monthly magazine September 26 or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.