RFNPR: WELL DONE, UNIVERSE.

1. I have to keep it short today, as I spent the evening at a big-screen viewing of Starship Troopers. Holy balls, I forgot how much I love Starship Troopers. To this day I have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that there are people in the world who do not understand that this film (and director Paul Verhoeven's other big-budget splatterfest, Robocop, for that matter) is satire. Seriously, there are people who say things like "My god, it's so violent!" or "What's wrong with you? That movie is, like, fascist!" Come on. It might not be "A Modest Proposal" but I don't think it's that hard to figure out.

2. Speaking of fascists, here's your Random Fact of No Particular Relevance: Unity Mitford, the British aristocrat and fascist who became part of Hitler's inner circle before and throughout the Second World War – by the way, her sister Diana was married to British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley; nice people, those Mitfords – was born in Swastika, Ontario.

I could not make this shit up if I tried. And believe me, I do.

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38 Responses to “RFNPR: WELL DONE, UNIVERSE.”

  1. eau Says:

    If you love seeing wingnuts crap themselves with rage (and I know you do) tell a hardcore Heinlein fan all about how much you love that film. Pant pyrotechnics ahoy!

  2. FMguru Says:

    The best part about Heinlein nuts getting angry about ST is that it's, for the most part, a pretty straightforward and accurate translation of the novel onto the screen. Heinlein's poitics really are that ludicrous when straight-facedly presented. Ask them for specific examples of why the movie is a travesty of an adaptation, and they start flaiing. It's awesome.

  3. J. Dryden Says:

    I think the problem with STARSHIP TROOPERS's satire is that, unlike Swift's, it doesn't keep a steady pitch throughout–at times it's big and loud (the hilarious Newsreel segments), at times it's much subtler, like the way Michael Ironsides makes fascism sound both common-sensible and noble during his high school lectures. (And then there's Neal Patrick Harris, whose winking presence alone should have tipped people off that this was a gag, but didn't.) The emotional/comic/satiric beats are all over the place, making it hard to grasp whether or not Verhoeven is kidding the *entire* time. (He is.)

    But that makes it hard to hold an audience. When American audiences think "satire," they think AIRPLANE! or YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. (Or at least, they used to, before those fucking Friedberg-Selzer abortions started partial-birthing their way into multiplexes. Kids today, I tell ya.) Satire for the sake of sheer comedy, we get. Satire as a way of mocking our beliefs, less so. Trey Parker and Matt Stone manage to do it, but their stuff is loudly, proudly *comic.*

    Verhoeven's stuff is *funny*, but ST is *not* a comedy. It's a dark piece, played with the fist-pumping, viscera-spilling, catchphrase-spouting volume all the way up to 11. But that dissonance–a highly cerebral takedown of the bells-and-whistles fascists and warmongers use to justify their evil, wrapped up inside an ostensible "thrill-a-minute" splatterfest–asks too much of his audience–we have to watch, react, realize that we should be laughing, laugh, then think about why we're laughing and what that means about what we're seeing, and how it relates to real life…and by then the next guy has been eviscerated by a *new* king of bug and holy shit, this one shoots acid, and what were we talking about?

    I guess what I'm saying is that ST is only maximally satirical the second or third time you see it, and most people weren't going to give it that chance. Plus, I know he's *supposed* to suck, but Jesus, man, Caspar Van Dien really, really, *really* sucks.

  4. Ed Says:

    You should never be ashamed of your love for SS Troopers. Hell and yes, that movie is great on multiple levels (not including the acting). But you seem to be forgetting the third leg of the holy trinity of Verhoeven "big-budget splatterfests", Total Recall. I'm not sure either Robocop or Total Recall could be considered satire (kinda depends on how strict you are with your definition), but between these three, it's a pretty safe bet that Verhoeven is not a fan of corporate militarism, or militarized corporatism, or really any combination of corporations and the military.

  5. cromartie Says:

    The sober me finds the prescience of so much of Starship Troopers depressing.

    The bitter me finds the fact that in Robocop they try to pass Dallas off as Detroit stupid. Take your fucking statue and put it in the lobby of the Comerica building you goddamn carpetbaggers.

  6. Daniel Says:

    Verhoeven is a master. Robocop has a lot of interesting satire and whatnot, but it also has some visceral action setpieces to go along with it. Neil Patrick Harris in the Starship Troopers newsreels revitalized his career.

  7. Professor Coldheart Says:

    Shameless plug, but I covered this very topic on Overthinking It for our "Verhoeverthinking Week" about a year and a half ago. I speculated on why everyone gets that "Robocop" is satire but fewer people get that "Starship Troopers" is.

    http://www.overthinkingit.com/2009/11/26/starship-troopers-fascism/

  8. Mister Mild Says:

    I recall a lot of alt.net arguing about the film when it first came out, and a whole lot of virtual head-exploding by people whom I would in retrospect have to classify as wingnuts. Heinlein is the other main gateway into Libertarianism, and a lot of things people like the Instapundit prattle as received and unassailable wisdom derives directly from works like Starship Troopers or the stories collected in Expanded Universe or the endless aphorisms of yet another Heinlein Mary Sue character, Lazarus Long. Like the idea that an armed society is a polite society, to name one, that it must necessarily be so. But of course all the armed societies we could actually look at and visit somehow can't be used as evidence to test the conjecture.

    The thing's that made True Fan heads explode were significant deviations from Heinlein's text. Because about the only thing that made it from book to movie intact and unaltered was the conceit that citizenship and franchise could only derive from military service. Everywhere else, the movie can only make True Fans grumble and mutter and demand to know, why? WHY? Number one with a bullet was: Fucking. Men and women sleeping and eating and shitting and fighting and FUCKING together, whaaaaaat? In the book, of course, there's an absolute and armed-guard separation of genders. (Most people thought the movie version stole the gender integration and fucking from The Forever War, but maybe not. In The Forever War the soldiers HAD to fuck, with assigned partners, so nobody could play favorites).

    Once you got past the OMG FUCKING, though quite a number never did, Heinlein's Bugs weren't a god-damned thing like Verhoeven's Bugs. Heinlein's Bugs used material reality just like the rest of us, and possessed a technological civilization. There weren't any giant beetles shooting blue fire out their asses into orbit or throwing big rocks to hit the Earth from light-years away.

    Get past the Bugs, then the complaint was that the military equipment and tactics were all wrong, wrongity, wrong. Heinlein's Mobile Infantry were basically space paratroopers who got fired out of a electromagnetic cannon in a space capsule to drop onto a targeted planet. They wore rocket-propelled armored battle suits and they could launch individual nuclear missiles, if they had any. Fan boys have been eating that up for decades. To show them a Starship Troopers without the drop capsules and battle suits was missing the whole point, as they saw it. It would be like making Gone With the Wind without a Civil War.

    Then there's the love triangle which isn't in the book, and then there's that Doogie-Howser-in-the-SS thing that isn't in the book, and while Heinlein may have invented the waterbed, he didn't know dick about interactive media and so that wasn't in the book either. Life on a ship like the Rodger Young was, as Heinlein portrayed it, a whole lot like life on a US Navy battleship before WWII. Whereas on Verhoeven's Rodger Young you could FUCK. (Personally, thank God Heinlein had no sex in SST. His treatment of fucking in later works is so precious I have to hide under the couch in embarrassment).

    It's interesting that the thing most of us would applaud as satire is what the True Fans think is the one thing the movie got RIGHT. I thought it was interesting the way we see fascism from the inside, without the barest tinge of nuance. There can never be the slightest doubt that the Bugs are the Bad Guys and that the war they make on humanity is truly an existential struggle in which all sacrifice to war and unity is justifiably obligatory. 'This is for the species, kids,' as N. P. Harris' character says.

    That kind of limits the film's scope as satire. It's like showing us a Third Reich in which the regime's real or perceived enemies were really everything Nazi propaganda portrayed them to be. It's like saying that it isn't paranoia if people really are out to get you. It's black and white Good vs. Evil. It's satire gone meta.

    And as it's a space opera about big beetles shooting blue fire out their asses, I've yet to find anyone who feels compelled to defend it politically. Unlike, say, Red Dawn.

  9. deep cap Says:

    Don't you think it's a little bit of Poe's Law though? ST is just so off the wall that Wingnuts worship it. It reminds me of how Saint Ronnie claimed that "Born in the USA" was about the Republican definition of patriotism and all his fans fell for it hook line and sinker despite Springsteen's objections.

    (Yeah, Heinlein fans might object but how many wingnuts are literate? Most watched that move with no context other than their regular KKK meetings.)

  10. deep cap Says:

    Oh and for those wondering what Poe's law is:

    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

  11. Ellie Says:

    You forgot to mention the other Mitford sister, Jessica – the socialist, anti-fascist, journalist, and author of "The American Way of Death". Interesting person, Jessica. More random trivia: J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame named her first daughter after Jessica Mitford.

  12. The Moar You Know Says:

    I was about 15 or so when I was reading one of Heinlein's books – Friday, possibly the worst of any of his catalog – and had the stunning realization that not only was he totally and completely full of shit, but that the societies that he presented were not something that humans should be striving towards, but the deranged imaginings of a teenaged lunatic that had never grown up.

    I'll repeat, I was 15.

    People who take Heinlein seriously as adults are suffering from a serious personality disorder.

  13. Elder Futhark Says:

    RE: Red Dawn (say it like Eddie Murphy says "Hercules!" in the Nutty Professor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxYQQoYfMtQ):

    "Wolverines! Wolverines! Wolverines!"

    I'd say this treatment pretty much sums up that movie.

    RE: Heinlein: I've always maintained that anyone who reads Heinlein first becomes completely immune to Ayn Rand. It should be required reading for boneheads and Teatards, and then, if it doesn't take, we wall 'em all off in Arizona and let 'em each other alive, in a rugged individualist paradise not unlike the Gombe Chimp Park.

    RE: Starship Troopers. One of the Best.. Movies.. Ever! It is a sad pity the sequels were ever made. Biting satire, adn the fact that people don't get that puts me in mind to… wall 'em all off in Arizona to …

    However, the geek genius in Verhoeven's version is the fact that the bugs have manipulated organic life to do all the things stupid humans do with crude matter. That is just fucking amazing if you pause to think about it.

    The unspoken fact is those brain bugs are fucking geniuses beyond any human genius. They make Einstein or Newton look like Eric Cantor or Michelle Bachmann.

    If they can make incredibly destructive blue plasma out of big bug ass juice that not only slices and dices super-armored battle cruisers, but also can shoot giant fucking asteroids half-way across the galaxy, quite frankly, they probably deserved to win. That's the classic message of this movie: the wrong aliens won.

  14. ladiesbane Says:

    Mister Mild, I could go on all day — just as I did when I saw Kubrick's Kubrickization of The Short Timers, an old favorite by Gustav Hasford, as did my (Philip K.) Dick-loving friends who saw Total Recall. It doesn't work to relate the novel to the movie in any of these cases. When I read Starship Troopers, I get weepy. When I watch it, I do a shot every time the Kurgan shouts, "Medic!" Separate works, lovable for different reasons.

  15. Monkey Business Says:

    For my senior year of high school AP English Literature, I did a report on Orwell's 1984 and Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land. The following summer, I immersed myself in Atlas Shrugged.

    When I matriculated at college the following August, I was as if I had passed through Hell itself and emerged on the other side, burned clean of conservative tendencies.

    I promptly got drunk, smoked pot, and had anonymous sex. Best. Decision. Ever.

  16. oxus Says:

    I tried to watch Starship Troopers this summer.
    After the first 2 minutes I realized it was satire. After the first hour, I turned it off.
    Just because something is satirical doesn't mean it is "good" or "enjoyable." To me the movie is the visual equivalent of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music- I appreciate the muse behind both, but in both cases the result is a terrible bore.

  17. evrenseven Says:

    Hey Ed… Cracked did a great bit on Starship Troopers the other day..

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19259_6-mind-blowing-ways-starship-troopers-predicted-future.html

  18. JohnR Says:

    A couple of points:
    1. "In The Forever War the soldiers HAD to fuck, with assigned partners, so nobody could play favorites). " Either your copy is way different from mine, or you're mis-remembering it. In mine, choices were freely made, and it wasn't required. It also wasn't a big part of the book. Perhaps one of us has a later, and modified version. And
    2. Starship Troopers (the book) was mildly entertaining as Heinlein goes. I still enjoy it on occasion, and screw the politics. Starship Troopers (the movie) is a steaming sack of shit. Satire it may be, but personally, I'd rather have my satire served up as a tasty dish rather than as a pile of pickled lemons with vinegar on top. I did like Robocop, though.

  19. SeaTea Says:

    My issue with Starship Troopers at the time, and with many types of satire now, is that I'm concerned about the people who don't get it. If you don't get the fact that it's satire, the entire film comes off as a very pro-violence, pro-war, people-dying-is-funny, xenophobia-is-great thing.

    There's a Green Day song that says "bombs away is your punishment. Pulverize the Eiffel Towers who criticize your government. Bang, bang goes the broken glass and kill all the fags that don't agree".

    They clearly meant those lines as satire. To make fun of the post-9/11 jingoism in America. But how many of the teens at a Green Day concert of the time were raising their fists because they flat-out agreed with that shit? I'm guessing the vast majority.

    So it concerns me. They see a film or a popular song as reinforcing those bullshit ideas instead of condemning them. They feel bolder expressing their disturbing views instead of rightfully ashamed of them because of a work of art that was meant to do the opposite.

  20. acer Says:

    @oxus and @JohnR:
    I saw it once in the theater and had the same reaction. It, for me, was the cinematic equivalent of shitting out a lunchbox. I'll reserve judgment out of respect for my friends who've told me they didn't really get it until the second or third time, but I'm not sure I'll ever know.

    I regard Heinlein as a hack sci-fi writer whose life's work consisted of turning on countless vulnerable geeks to a thoroughly rancid "philosophy." Not quite despicable on the Hubbard or Rand level, but still a piece of shit.

  21. acer Says:

    @SeaTea:
    Maybe satirists could actually encourage people to jump off bridges. Weed out all the strict literalists over 12. Barring that, I don't think artists have a significant responsibility to society's dumbest members.

  22. SeaTea Says:

    I agre with acer's logic also… so it's a bit of a quandary for me.

  23. deep cap Says:

    Just look up "America Fuck Yeah" on youTube and look at all the comments that completely miss the satire.

  24. mothra Says:

    Also among the non-fascist Mitford sisters was Diana, the eldest.

  25. Hawes Says:

    Do you like Starship Troopers? Would you like to learn more?

  26. Robert Says:

    My biggest regret wrt Starship Troopers (the movie) was changing Johnny Rico from Filipino to Aryan Superman (who can't act).

    Elder Futhark – your comment on Heinlein exposure acting as a vaccine against Randianism sounds on point. I encountered "The Fountainhead" in paperback at the local library as a teenager; the cover art made me suspect it was SF, which was almost all the fiction I read at the time. Five pages in, I had come to three conclusions: this books will be all about Howard Roark; Roark is an asshole; I do not wish to read a book about this man. Curiously, I continued to read Heinlein with pleasure, if not discernment.

    Tangent: I just finished Anne Heller's "Ayn Rand and the World She Made". Best book about Rand I have ever read.

  27. EJ Says:

    @SeaTea

    IMHO it's not really good satire if everyone gets it, then it's just agitprop. I'm not too worried about someone who enjoys Starship Troopers purely at face value – there's a vast amount of dumb, jingoistic entertainment out there for them and one more movie isn't going to make a difference.

    The reason SST (the movie, not the book) works well as satire is that even if you know it's satire, you can't help but get into the "rah, rah, kill the bastards" spirit of the thing. I've always felt that the movie is supposed to be a propaganda film from the future (not just the little info-breaks, the whole thing), and the satirical power of it is that even though you know it's a joke, part of your brain still wants to watch Johnny Rico splatter a bunch of big bad bugs.

    @Mister Mild
    I think the relative crappiness of the military equipment in the movie was a deliberate choice, or at least it worked well to make the movie's point. In the film it's the first point at which there's obvious dissidence between the ostensible message of the film and what we're actually watching – you realize something's off when these ostensible heroes are being tossed into battle with nothing but a couple of grenades and a crappy assault rifle.

  28. Major Kong Says:

    I found it interesting how the recruits kept getting younger and younger throughout the movie as they were obviously getting desperate for manpower.

    The last propaganda clip shows what looks to be a couple of 12-year-olds headed off to fight.

  29. eau Says:

    @Dryden – RE: steady pitch of satire.

    I get what you're saying. For me, this 'steady pitch' is something I find irritating about a lot of satirists – they just keep on hitting that same note, over and over. This is very much a personal thing, and I in no way mean to imply that Verhoeven is superior to Swift. Just want to make that plain right up front.

    The film is taking blue-plasma-butt-pot-shots at ol' Rob, military-sf & space opera in general, big budget action flicks in general, the particular brand of fascism that the US seems to cultivate (hence Rico as Aryan superman, rather than regular brown guy) – pretty much anything and everything. No wonder it came out a little… uneven.

    In the end, I'm with EJ. These aren't *great* films, but Verhoeven's great accomplishment in this and his other movies is that you roll your eyes, you think about turning it off, you think about how fucking awful Casper and Ironside and Denise Richards are… and you still get a buzz when Doogie swoops in and saves the day.

    alsotoo, @SeaTea – If EVERYBODY gets it, is it really satire? I am reminded of that little tiny singer from Tool getting a crowd of thousands to chant "I'm an individual" in perfect unison. Classic. Part of the joy for me is that someone, somewhere, doesn't get the joke. Call me jaded.

  30. Xynzee Says:

    Wasn't the movie released abt the time we did go bomb some where?

    Having never read Heinlein I didn't know he was pushing such a political line. Though being a bit slow on the uptake I probably would have seen the fascism as the back drop for the story line than an instruction manual to dismantle Medicare.

    @Seatea: good thing you didn't see the Beavis & Butthead era. I was never sure if I was to laugh or cry with every "Fire! Fire's cool!" (insert B&B lagh here).

  31. Mister Mild Says:

    JohnR–

    Well, we could argue about my memory, or you could hop over to Amazon and use the look-inside feature to read page 5. I don't recall claiming it was a big part of The Forever War, and why that should matter, I can't imagine.

    Mister "Why do you always get the tired ones when you're ready and the randy ones when you're tired?" Mild

  32. Randy Says:

    Not to pick too many nits, but the Wiki article at the link says she was conceived in Swastika and born in London. Perhaps it's even funnier that way.

  33. cleter Says:

    I saw Red Dawn in a theater that was near both a Navy base and a college. At the showing I saw, half the audience was cynical college students who thought it was a hilarious satire, and the other half were fresh-faced Navy recruits who thought it was deadly serious.

    When I saw Starship Troopers, there was essentially the same dichotomy in the crowd.
    I recall an interview with Verhoeven where he said there were two key inspirations for his version of Starship Troopers: the kind of war movies that were actually made during WWII, and his visceral hatred of Star Wars. He wanted to make the kind of sci-fi movie that would be made if we were actually at war with aliens; and a movie that showed the gritty horror of a space war in a way that Star Wars did not.

    Those are both interesting goals, but I think it's a bit problematic that he tried that via an adaptation of an existing work. If it had been an original story, like Robocop, I think it might have worked out better.

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