Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ender Bender 11: Chapter 8, "Rat" (Part 2)

Sorry about the delay, folks. Jumping right into things:

Ender notices Dink's late to things sometimes, so he decides to stalk him.

Remember how I said things were going to get weird? Yeah:

But Dink didn't practics. He stood near the door, watching Ender.
Ender stood across the room, watching Dink.
Neither spoke. It was plain Dink expected Ender to leave. It was just as plain that Ender was saying no.
Dink turned his back on Ender, methodically took off his flash suit, and gently pushed off from the floor. He drifted slowly toward the center of the room, very slowly, his body relaxing almost completely, so that his hands and arms seemed to be caught by almost nonexistent air currents in the room.
Yeah. Reading that scene, I couldn't stop thinking of the bathing scene from "Witness." I don't know how to interpret Card's fascination with underage nudity throughout this book. I mean, maybe it's trying to be like a camp thing? I never went to summer camp, so I really don't know. Do boys (and a single girl) just spend all their time naked at summer camp? Is this the equivalent of Dink skinny-dipping? If so, what does that mean for Ender just watching from the 'shore'?

This book is flipping weird.

Dink gets dressed again and takes Ender back to the empty barracks, where they talk about why Dink's never been promoted. Or, more accurately, why he's refused the promotions he's been given. It's all because of The Man, man.
["]I can't believe you haven't seen through all this crap yet, Ender. But I guess you're young. These other armies, they aren't the enemy. It's the teachers, they're the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing.
Take the red pill! You can't trust the system! In case you didn't remember when Ender explicitly statd this lesson before, the adults are the real enemy. You know it's a theme because they keep saying it. Like that bit of "Hamlet" where he says "lo, indecision is bad" a few times.

Despite doing his level best to make any and all subtext into just plain text, there's a decent amount to unpack here. For the most part, I've been looking at Battleschool as symbolizing military training--both the aspects that Card thinks are stupid and the things he thinks would make it better and more effective--but this chapter connects it further to the whole notion of sports in school. It clicks with a lot of things, actually, and I'm a little shocked that I didn't notice that in Salamander Army, Ender was essentially picked last and forced to play right field.

Dink is saying stuff that wouldn't have been out of place coming out of my mouth during a pep assembly in high school. The game is a waste of time and money, a barbaric, brainless distraction from the real issues. Of course, in this case, the people best able to espouse this view are the ones who are best at the game, and not the ones who (like me in high school) couldn't catch a pass to save their lives.

And this is where I see all the people saying that Ender's Game talks to kids without talking down to them (which I think includes Card himself in that introduction) and wonder if they're reading the same book. Maybe it's just me, but this kind of over-the-top pandering feels like condescension. "Sports are stupid, and you'd be better than anyone at them if you wanted to be. The only reason you're not popular is because they're all jealous of you, because you're clearly better than all of them anyway. They don't see the real truth, that they're just pawns in someone else's game and you're one of the enlightened few who can see the strings and how pointless it all is. What really matters is video games, which you are awesomer than anyone at." It speaks to that particular kind of disaffected, self-aggrandized, oversimplified conspiratorial mindset that I know was common among my teenage peers. And it speaks to that mindset in a way that says, "yes, you're absolutely right," with a little pat on the head. It'd be great if this book eventually took a turn toward showing that, in fact, this view of reality is not much more sophisticated than the one held by the so-called pawns, but based on the tone here, I don't particularly expect that to be the case.

Dink says he doesn't leave because, despite everything, he's as addicted to the game as anyone else. He's the pro-wrestling fan who knows it's all staged but loves it anyway, the video game addict who knows next year's Call of Duty sequel won't be appreciably different from this year's, but drops the $60 nonetheless. If nothing else, this contradiction in Dink's character feels realistic.

He further explains why he's not a commander, pointing to Rosen's neuroses (because of course the Jewish character is neurotic. Did Card learn everything he knows about Judaism from Woody Allen?), that he's afraid of the dark and doesn't understand why his team actually wins battles.
Any minute somebody could find out that Rosen isn't some magic Israeli general who can win no matter what. He doesn't know why anybody wins or loses. Nobody does.
Nobody, except strategy genius Ender Wiggin, that is!

See, this whole system has replaced real childhood, which Dink knows about because books.
"Children can lose sometimes, and nobody cares. Children aren't in armies, they aren't commanders, they don't rule over forty other kids, it's more than anybody can take and not get crazy."
This reads like it's meant to be cutting social commentary, but about what? Little league?

Dink continues on, and Ender starts crying because he thinks about home and Valentine, which causes Dink to continue more about how they're all supposed to be adults and nobody cries. He talks about how crazy Bonzo is, that everyone at Battle school is a little crazy, and how getting naked and floating in zero-g is how he deals with the craziness.

And eventually we get to the crux of the conversation:
"I can't believe you still believe it."
"Believe what?"
"The bugger menace. Save the world. Listen, Ender, if the buggers were coming back to get us, they'd be here. They aren't invading again. We beat them and they're gone."
"But the videos--"
"All from the First and Second Invasions. Your grandparents weren't born yet when Mazer Rackham wiped them out. You watch. It's all a fake. There is no war, and they're just screwing around with us."
It's all a conspiracy, man, so the government can stay in power over the sheeple, man! And it's all gonna lead to a civil war where it'll be Americans against everyone else and by the way Dink's not American, which is info we're getting right now because it's relevant now and wasn't before so there's no need to go back and edit it in at a less awkward moment.

Ender doesn't believe Dink's conspiracy theory, and chalks it up to a different conspiracy, that the Russian hegemony that controls the Netherlands, where Dink is from, tightly controls the local media, but "lies could not last long in America," and I just chuckle. And of course, as with every conversation, Ender learns an important lesson. And as with every important lesson that Ender learns, Card feels the need to spell it out for the reader, as if this were the end of a "G.I. Joe" episode.
It [the seed of doubt planted by Dink's words] made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.

Next time, Ender fights the system, man!