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This Video Explores Starship Troopers’ Messy Satirical Relationship With Fascism

“The only good bug is a dead bug.” Yeesh.
“The only good bug is a dead bug.” Yeesh.
Image: TriStar Pictures

Starship Troopers is a seductive satire. Let’s dig into why, and how.

In a thoughtful new video posted by YouTube channel Wisecrack, the creators of the channel take a deep look at Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s classic novel. Troopers is a complicated film, a satire that’s so straightforward that some people miss the satire entirely, and this video digs into the murky complexity of the film’s relationship with fascism.

Wisecrack argues, interestingly, that Starship Troopers isn’t a straightforward satire, even if it’s intended as one, and nor is it a movie that accidentally glorifies fascism. Instead, it’s somewhere in the middle, exploring a fascist state of mind in a way that’s sometimes celebratory, sometimes mocking, and always enthralling in a way that’s built to cause the viewer to be drawn into the mindset of the movie’s fascist heroes, in a way that, no matter what its conclusion, is a harrowing reminder of how seductive fascist ideology can be in its presentation.

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It’s a great video, and complicated my thoughts about Starship Troopers, which is a really fascinating film in its own right. Do give it a watch.

io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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DISCUSSION

blue-haired_lawyer
blue-haired_lawyer

Uniforms, regalia, and iconography aside, it’s interesting just how universal the ideology or way of thinking discussed by the video actually is. For instance, we can draw direct parallels to American society. It’s a society that professes to greatly value veteran status, and sees military service in its politicians as an unquestionable good. A society that uses the transformative experience of military service as a selling point, where teenagers can go off, be all that they can be, and come back as responsible men and women ready to lead in the civilian job market. Where people are provided with cutting edge experience in service, and cheap education or competitive job placement post-discharge. It’s a society that engaged in sloganeering and emotional appeals in its ramp up and prosecution of the War on Terror while denouncing criticism as unpatriotic.

I wonder if it’s lost on anyone that two of the most successful movies about the War on Terror and its related theaters of operation were Zero Dark Thirty, a movie that depicted torture as an effective tool and one of the reasons America was able to find and kill its great enemy; and American Sniper, which offered an uncritical us-versus-them view of the conflict, used biblical themes in its portrayal of a protagonist guarding cowardly civilian sheep from evil, and killed off at least one soldier critical of or otherwise disillusioned with the mission for his lack of “faith.” All this while films critical of the war have either failed, or only succeeded because their minuscule budgets could be offset by the viewers they managed to get.

Americans like violence, they like torture, they like dehumanizing their enemies, they are willing to give up civil liberties if they think it will keep them safe, and they are comfortable with the idea that might makes right. I am sure we can engage in an intellectual argument challenging those assertions, but I will preemptively point out that no one in government has suffered any serious consequences as a result of related actions, and that consumers happily buy fare that covers those themes.

That is not my way of saying that the U.S. is fascist, but rather that this way of thinking deals with concepts that are universal, or maybe that a war movie about fighting giant bugs offers many of the same war story tropes as a novel from the Western Front or a movie about a sniper in Iraq. Wisecrack finds it worthwhile to point out that the soldiers of the Mobile Infantry aren’t depicted as particularly bothered by the events of Buenos Aires, but aside from using 9/11 as inspiration for joining I haven’t seen American soldiers depicted as bothered by those events. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the uniforms and iconography, and the propaganda newsreel format.

As an aside, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with giving a youtuber credit for regurgitating years-old scholarly work. For instance, if you would like to know more about cinematic derealization and Starship Troopers, you can find it in your winter 1999 copy of Film Quarterly.