5 Horrible Lessons Ender's Game Teaches Kids

Categories: Film and TV

If you had told me five years ago that Orson Scott Card's incredible novel Ender's Game was finally going to be made into a big budget Hollywood blockbuster ensuring that children all over the world would bask in its brilliant story I would have gone to my knees in thanks for such news. I was a less cynical man then. Being older, I now dread this film for the horrible things it's going to be instilling in the minds of today's youth.


The Military is the Only Important Job, And It's Not Transparent

ender3.jpg
In the book, children are recruited into the military in order to train them day and night against an alien menace that almost destroyed the Earth the last time they were seen. Only the brightest and best are chosen for service, regardless of their areas of giftedness.

This means that every single child of exceptional intelligence is recruited into the military, which is usually fine with the children since they're indoctrinated from a young age that military service is the only worthwhile contribution someone can really make. Everything revolves around it.

What's weird about that is that once they enter service, they effectively disappear. Letters that the children write are never delivered, and letters sent to them are burned before they reach the recipients. They don't get a single leave of duty until age 16, five years after the average enrollment age. What's more, in the book it's revealed that Earth believes an entire fleet is stationed in the solar system defending the planet when in fact they've been in warp drive to attack the alien bases in some cases for as much as twenty years.

To recap, the military rules completely, takes all the promising kids, and never tells anyone what they're doing with them.


ender4.jpg
Conflict and Murder are The Best Solutions to All Problems

Ender kills two children in the course of the book. Admittedly, both were bullies who were looking to beat him up, but he didn't just fight back. He put them in body bags with cold, precise calculation.

No one so much as slaps him on the wrist, and for the first one the action is actually what prompts his acceptance into the military. See, the brass wants to annihilate the alien menace completely, despite the fact that they fled after the first war and have never been seen since. This explains the psychological tactics the teachers use at the school to encourage all the children to solve every single conflict with battle and hopefully decisive victory.

At almost no stage is negotiation or diplomacy used, and while there are hints in the novel that the lack of this is a bad thing, and Ender knows it, he still continues as a machine bent on winning without offering a single chance of mercy.


Constant Surveillance is Protection, But Fuck You When It's Over

Kids in Ender's Game are outfitted with monitors that oversee every aspect of their lives until they're removed by age 11. The monitors see through their eyes, and measure different areas of aptitude to judge who will be the best soldier.

Only two things happen after monitors are removed. Either kids are selected, or they're not. If they are, they go to training. If they're not, they're usually the target of severe bullying by their equally bitter peers. Despite the fact that authorities clearly know this happens, they give absolutely zero fucks about this.

They even overlook the clearly murderous and psychopathic tendencies of Ender's older brother Peter, and know that he skins animals alive and regularly threatens to murder his siblings. Doesn't matter. After you're past recruitment age you're on your own.


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22 comments
johnsawyer
johnsawyer

While I despise Card's belief that gay people should be put in camps and even possibly exterminated, I have to join others here in pointing out where Jef With One F misinterprets Ender's Game.

The things the book describes aren't things that Card was advocating--they're things he was decrying.  He exaggerated in describing a military society in order to hold our own society up to it, and to show that in many ways our society isn't much different.  The whole goal of Ender's society is to eliminate the enemy with no mercy, which is pretty much the goal the US military tries to instill in its soldiers, and much in our society outside of the military encourages this mindset, as is the case in Ender's society.  They consider the alternative to be too terrible to allow, as do we.  And both Ender's society and ours are equally as wrong about encouraging this mindset.

It's a common technique in fiction to portray worlds and events that the author doesn't like.

Unfortunately, judging by Card's personal beliefs, it's as if he doesn't understand the point of his own stories.

imkingdavid
imkingdavid

I wonder what happened between the young you, who you stated would be really excited for the movie (and as such, I assume you really liked the book), and the current you, who is adamantly opposed to the novel and its upcoming film adaptation. The book has remained the same, so it has been you that has changed. I'd be mildly, perhaps, interested in what caused the blatant reversal of attitude toward the novel. Perhaps, you just learned to hate Card because he has different beliefs and that hatred for Card spilled over into a hatred for Card's works?

 

Anyway, in response to your article, first of all, Ender was 6. Not 11. As were all of the other children at the time when they were recruited (not enrolled) for the program. Please get your facts correct prior to publishing if you want anyone to take you seriously. Even (perhaps especially) small details can be the difference between a well-written, well-thought out article and a piece of rubbish, like this one. Also, please don't argue against encouraging people to be smug online when you are doing so yourself.

 

Second, Ender's two killings were unintentional and were arguably due to the fact that Ender either 1) did not fully recognize or understand his true skill as a fighter and therefore did not compensate to provide for an outcome other than death of his attacker, and (on a higher level) 2) "they" (the teachers, authorities, etc.) did not step in in either scenario, despite having watched each entire situation (as made clear by the context and dialogue in the rest of the novel, as well as in Ender's Shadow). If either death was anyone's fault, it was most likely Colonel Graff's fault (in fact, he does get court martialed following the second one), not Ender's. If a teacher or authority figure had stepped in in either case, the outcome of the incident would have been much less drastic. One might argue that Ender should have shown self control, but seriously do you expect a snake not to snap back when cornered?

 

Adults often say "You should come get a teacher or parent when you're being bullied" (that is actually said in the novel) but as we read in the novel, that simply was not an option. They simply disregard the fact that at no point during the bullying process does the bully allow the bullied to request the aid of a teacher (and often there are threats to prevent future tattletaling). Please tell me, at what point in either circumstances could Ender have extracted himself from the confrontation (especially when he was naked in the shower and the exit was blocked, but also to a great extent when he was surrounded by older kids out of eye-sight of any teachers [but apparently in view of the IF]) without being beat up, or killed, in the process of trying? He did honestly feel that his life was in danger. So instead, he did all he knew to do, which was to defend himself. The fact that his defense ended up killing the attacker in both cases is arguably irrelevant.

 

The fact that Ender would not have someone there to hold his hand was one of the main points brought up in the novel multiple times. Graff purposely on a continuous basis allowed him to be tested by himself in the most extreme of situations without providing even an appearance of assistance. He did not want Ender to expect help in a situation when it would not be available. Perhaps that is a bit drastic, but in the case of a potential alien invasion that would result in the potential annihilation of the entire human race, Graff considered it worth the negative effects.

 

Third, I don't see how an ad hominem attack at Card bears any weight here. Your argument that he is intolerant of homosexuality (by the term "homophobe") actually displays your intolerance of anyone who disagrees with you on that count. I do not see anything gay about Ender's Game. Yes, there is implied and even specifically-referenced, public nudity. However, in a society in which the majority of the population is male, and especially where the majority of that population are not yet even close to undergoing puberty, there is not the same social stigma held toward nudity. And the ones who are getting close to puberty have been in that society long enough to not care.

 

After all, if everyone has the same clothes, the climate/temperature is a constant, and the vast majority of the population (except a single girl, and around her it was expected that the boys be dressed) is male and therefore has the same physical features, clothes lose their purpose. We wear clothes for their fashion (mostly just to hint at our economic status, in this case), the warmth they provide, the covering of the parts of our bodies society has deemed inappropriate for public viewing, and the signifying of our societal status (our rank, job, etc.).

 

Without those outside influences in the boys' society, clothes had much less purpose. In the novel, the only real need for clothes was to signify their army and perhaps rank as well. And yet, the boys actually did wear clothes the majority of the time. The only times it states they were undressed were during showers (of course) and in the barracks, mostly when sleeping or just after waking up.

 

As such, I see nothing "gay" about the book. There is no gay behavior described (the single kiss between Alai and Ender was not romantic, but rather a cultural custom for Alai, and Ender recognized it as such). There is no other even arguably romantic behavior in the novel. I have read the novel 5 or 6 times and cannot remember a single romantic or homosexual scene.

 

To my next point (in defense of your attack on Card himself), I am not gay. I do not endorse homosexual activity. I do not support the thought of changing marriage to include same-sex unions. I am not, however, intolerant or afraid of gays (and therefore am not an intolerant homophobe). You see, tolerance does not require, or even imply, acceptance or agreement.

 

As defined by a Google search, "tolerant" means: "Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference." It's in the definition that tolerance does not include agreement. And yet, any time someone disagrees with same-sex marriage, they are hailed as homophobic (last I checked, "phobic" and "phobia" meant "fear of", not "intolerance of"). I would instead label those who call other people homophobes as being "ahomophobic", which I would define as "the fear of anyone who does not agree with homosexuality".

 

And if you think about it, not supporting the change of marriage to support same-sex union is not interference, as was mentioned in the definition. By all means, people are allowed to be gay. Go for it. Just don't ask me to support it. I would argue that it is actually more of an interference for gays to want the government to alter a pre-existing and pre-defined instituion (i.e. marriage). To keep it the same would be the opposite of interference. To change it would be interference.

 

Anyway, I disagree completely with your analysis of Card's great work of art, though I suppose I can tolerate this article's existence on the web. You do have the right to freedom of speech.

gionidauns
gionidauns

I would be more receptive of your argument if you hadn't made a completely wrong statement about the book more than once - the enrolment age of the children. "Kids in Ender's Game are outfitted with monitors that oversee every aspect of their lives until they're removed by age 11." No. Actually, the book opens with 6-year-old Ender having his monitor removed, and he is - wait for it - six years old when he goes into space. I'm not saying this changes anything about your supposed five lessons, and maybe it actually makes some of it worse because it's happening to much younger kids. But I think it makes a difference especially with the Stilson/Bonzo incidents - the kid is six. He's super smart, but he does stupid, careless things like any other six year old, because he believes that ending a bullying situation is absolutely important. He believes they will kill him if he doesn't strike first. Maybe he's wrong. If so, maybe it's because he's six. Not eleven. I know it's technically a small thing, but it's actually a huge age gap when we're talking about children. 26 and 31, not so much, but when it's 6 and 11 that's a difference. And it doesn't negate other remarks you have made, but when somebody can't remember and so fabricates a fact that is *specifically mentioned in the first chapter of a book*, I have to wonder how much of an expert that person can really be and how much I should listen to his views.

annony
annony

You had me taking you seriously until you started bashing the author ... that has no place in a book review.  Ender's game does not glorify his world, like Animal farm or 1980, the book fortells and warns readers about how things can go wrong  & how things are GOING wrong.

Cfreeman5343
Cfreeman5343

This really is a terrible review that screams personal bias.

Dbhelmz
Dbhelmz

Hey Jef w/1 f, are you one of those people who would line people up against the wall and shoot them for not being as tolerant as yourself? It is a freakin work of fiction - lighten up dude. Or maybe we should have a book burning party for ALL the titles of which you do not approve.

Onamissao
Onamissao

Enders Game Portrays a bleak future where children belong first to the government and secondly to their parents and perfectly illustrates how an overzealous government can so casually treat life.  Nowhere is that a positive message but it is not meant to be what hooks you is how humanity plays out in adverse circumstances.  The presumption should not be that the author is presenting things that should be revered but merely telling a story and letting you draw you own conclusions.  You may have read the book but I am guessing your ability to comprehend what you have read is severely lacking and is clouded by your own personal prejudice. This review is an ill conceived hack-job.

Mr Pfinnigan
Mr Pfinnigan

You hate on it so much yet you're clearly extremely knowledgeable about the book. Obviously it had you hooked and deep down you simply cannot deny the fact that Ender's Game might be the #1 science fiction novel as of yet (Dune is my #1)

Facefuck
Facefuck

 worst article ever   kill yourself. all of those things you listed as "bad" were either completely irrelevant to children nowadays or their actually good attributes. I hope my kid is just like Ender

Ashton_whithers
Ashton_whithers

I'm going to have to disagree on most of these points. 1.The military is the only important career and it's not transparent. Well.... Honestly, in times of defensive warfare, this is pretty much true in real life, so I don't know what the problem is.  If Nazis invade France, soldiers are suddenly very important, and the goal of France should be to get the best and brightest out there being really good soldiers, because the most immediate need is to get rid of Nazis ASAP.  After that, the military serves no purpose, and we can go back to being artists and philosophers and farmers and whatnot, but when there's a war (a defensive one, at least, which, in the book, is what humanity was fighting, since the Formics struck first, twice), then soldier trumps history professor as a profession.  Also, I don't think even this book paints things the way you say, as evidenced by the fact that (according to one of your later quips) blogger is shown as the position with the most upward mobility.... Write a blog, become king of earth, win a war for the fate of humanity, get exiled from earth.... I want to be a blogger.  But, on "not transparent" I won't argue.  I will just point out that this lack of transparency is kept morally ambiguous in the book, as it should be, because sometimes, and especially with the military, having watchdogs does more harm than good. 2. Conflict and Murder are the best solutions to all problems. Again, you misread.  What about the problem at the beginning of Battle School with Bernard, which was solved by befriending the enemy second-in-command?  What about the idea of solving problems by teamwork and trust, as shown in Dragon Army, and the jeesh in Command School.  What about solving problems by self sacrifice and resilience, as when Ender continues his training despite fatigue, exhaustion, and depression from loneliness?  Conflict is inherent in all problems, or else they wouldn't be problems, so that part of your point is meaningless, and murder is never even once intended as a solution.  In fact, even the use of physical force in an altercation is only portrayed as acceptable in self defense situations, and we as readers blame the other characters for forcing Ender into that position, a psychological reaction that clearly demonstrates that the book's message is not that violence is the answer to all problems, but rather that violence is the answer to enemies bent on violent action, which, as it happens, is true.  Gandhi's tactics only worked because the British didn't favor genociding the Indians.  How much help was passive resistance against Hitler?  None.  Some foes only understand force. 3. Constant Surveilance is protection, but fuck you when it's over. On this point, I agree with you.  Readers or viewers could get the idea that being watched is good, because the good guys can stop the bad guys from being bad.  I don't think that's the intent of the book, but the difference here is subtle enough that for many readers, the intent of the book will be lost.  The monitor's purpose in the book was as an evaluation system, and the protection was only incidental.  As for Peter, he was rejected from the monitor program because he was psychologically unfit for power.  What would you have had the IF do to him?  Imprison him for making threats at age 10?  That isn't the government saying "You go home and have fun being a psycho" it's them saying "Geez, this kid is SCARY.  We don't want him in charge of planet melting lasers.  Let's keep him on Earth."  Not exactly a "Fuck you."  But, I can see how the distinction can be missed. 4. Being a dick on the internet can make you king of the world in real life. Actually, in the future, maybe yes, as long as you are a dick who is so blisteringly, unequivocally smarter than every other dick out there that nobody can even doubt that you are right.  Yes, this is every first year undergrad's wet dream, but remember that these are characters, and in their story, they really and truly ARE that smart.  And, given that reality, their success is not surprising.  The internet is the new political forum, the new place where demagoguery can take effect.  At the moment, nobody takes it seriously, and there is too much white noise for anyone to gain real political traction.  But once certain cites gain a reputation for holding people to a higher standard and having real, smart discussion, then people can start to gain real influence by being the center of attention on those sites.  When that happens, this pipe dream fantasy of blogging your way to prominence won't be such a fantasy anymore.  Enough to gain world power?  Probably not.  But enough to win an election?  Possibly.  Plus, would it really be a bad thing to have millions of teens become more involved in the political process, even if they are mostly dick bloggers? 5. Raging Homophobes Win Okay, on this one, if you dislike Card's beliefs (which aren't put forth in the story) enough to boycott his writing, that is your choice, and I respect it.  Myself, I don't care what an author thinks about stuff, if his bullshit doesn't show up in his novels.  And the novels, on their own, are pretty darn good.  You yourself, five years ago, admitted this.  To me, the fact that someone disagrees with me doesn't really make much difference in how I treat them, and that goes if they are Mormon, Atheist, Buddhist, racist, homophobic, gay, polygamist, sheep-fucker, thief, pathological liar, or whatever.  To me, it seems that by not allowing Card to hold his beliefs freely, I would be being just as oppressive as he is, and just as harmful to society.  If I am going to be tolerant, I will be tolerant even of intolerance.  So, his religion says homosexuality is wrong, and he hates homosexuals.  Your beliefs say homophobia is wrong, and you hate homophobes.  How is that different?  Both homosexuals and homophobes are being treated inhumanely.  Do either of them deserve it?  I think no, you come to a different conclusion, and that is just fine.

Ashes
Ashes

Actually, that mellowing out is one of the things that I thought was well explained in the book.  Psychopaths don't usually win votes.  Moderates do.  A sociopath is dominated by their goal, which, in Peter's case is world conquest.  So, he needs votes, so he modifies his behavior to fit that need; a true sociopath becomes what his desires demand of him, so this seems realistic to me.  The thing I didn't buy is that the URGES of his psychopathy went away, not that he didn't give in to them.  

Ninelives999999
Ninelives999999

I've always interpreted it differently. Everything negative was just manipulation and such. I hate the author as well but I always enjoyed the book. 

Jeff with 2 f's
Jeff with 2 f's

That line about being pompous and politically smug on the Internet... Were you trying to be ironic?

Daniel Mee
Daniel Mee

Well, maybe not ALL problems. ;)

Daniel Mee
Daniel Mee

You didn't like Speaker for the Dead? With the cute little piggy aliens that ritually vivisect each other and their human buddies? Aww. 

Jef With One F
Jef With One F

I will admit that Speaker of the Dead is two things. A) the philosophical opposite as Ender's Game and B) boring as shit. So yes, I think you have a point that negates at least half of the lessons I bring up, but I will bet you every hat I own the movie version doesn't bring that part home.  

MadMac
MadMac

Excellent article, Mr. F. I would add my two pennies. Caveat, I've never read this trash. Life's too short and the list of books I want to read is too long. Now, I would love to blame this on Mormon xenophobia/bigotry/misogyny, second to blaming Reagan, this is my go-to argument. And believe me, I tried HARD to blame Twilight on Reagan. But I think this martial obsession in the US is beyond Mr. Card. We've gone from a nation of citizen-soldiers that "hate war and above all else, cherish peace," to a nation that worships the neo-Nazi, warrior-elite. The Mormon doctrine, as distasteful as it is to me, (honestly what religious doctrine isn't?) has one redeming factor: the value of life. Clearly, Card has stoked the 1980's jingo fires that obviously shaped this little diddy. But as with "The 300," "Clear and Present Danger," and even "Sucker Punch," I think the blame for this burnt turkey lies squarely with the market; young white males that eat this crap up without regard for social context. I wouldn't take money to watch/endorse these horrid, harmful slash fantasies. 

John Seaborn Gray
John Seaborn Gray

Let's not forget the assertion that psychopaths can just up and get better. Peter's mellowing out with age is one of my biggest problems with the book, the single most unbelievable bit in a book about aliens and the children who slaughter them.

Shondolyn Gibson
Shondolyn Gibson

 He can hold his beliefs freely, but when he tries to ruin other people's lives based on his religion, well, I will politely and firmly speak out.

Ashton_whithers
Ashton_whithers

Perhaps you should have read the book... The conclusive message is a little more complex than you seem to suspect.  While I agree that Mormon doctrine is generally rubbish, and I agree that most sci-fi has about as much depth as a puddle of piss on the floor, this is one of the rare exceptions, I think.  It doesn't exactly laud the militaristic side of the human psyche.  Nor does it put forth any Mormon doctrine that I could see.  It's a story, first and foremost.  A pretty decent one too, about psychological trauma as a result of combat, about the mistreatment of youth by the government, about the necessities of leadership and the loneliness they bring, and about what happens when demagoguery trumps reason in the public mind.  It treads the fine line of making the decisions of the military seem clear and logical, and still critiquing them based on their outcomes and methods.  Reading, you can sympathize with why people did terrible things, even as you loathe the terrible things they did, which is a very difficult thing to accomplish, and a mark of good writing, because life is messy. Now, if you don't want to spend money on Card's work because you don't like his beliefs, that is your choice, and I respect it.  But I judge a writer by his works, not his religion, and  saying that this is a "slash fantasy" is like saying 1984 is a pulp novel, or that Fahrenheit 451 is telling everyone to burn books.  It's like saying Hamlet is a murder mystery.  

Ninelives999999
Ninelives999999

I never saw it this way... i always thought the military and such was supposed to be satirical of the American mindset but I guess that was just wishful thinking.

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