With few exceptions, movie adaptations of novels rarely do justice to the books they are based on. Offhand, I can think of a handful which were at least somewhat worthy representations of their authors’ original works(“The Outsiders” and “Invasion of The Body Snatchers” come to mind as examples.) Even less common, are instances where the director attempted to mock or satirize the political ideas of a book, yet unwittingly ended up portraying them in an flattering light. Such was the case with Paul Verhoeven’s film version of Robert Heinlein’s classic, “Starship Troopers.”
It is a complete mystery as to why Paul Verhoeven was chosen to direct a film adaptation of a book he didn’t remotely like, and admittedly never even read:
“I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring,…It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn’t read the thing. It’s a very right-wing book.”
So there you have it, a guy directing a film version of a story for which he had zero passion and even a mild disdain for. That’s not to say these types of movies should be made by drooling fanboys, but is it to much to ask that a director should have at least read the book and sympathized with it’s message(at least to a degree.) Apparently it is.
The system in Heinlein’s original novel was a form of “limited democracy”(what progressives would probably take to be “fascism.”) Citizenship and the right to vote were not granted on the basis of being born, but instead needed to be earned through volunteering for Federal service. That didn’t mean they had to become soldiers or join the military, only that they must volunteer for the Federation and serve in some way, thus showing individual sacrifice for the common good. It was a reaction to the suicidal and degenerative nature of 20th century democracies, where “people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted… and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.” The message being that a person has to prove through sacrifice for the common cause, that they should have the right to have a say in how they are governed. Heinlein later clarified and expanded on this concept in his 1980 anthology, “Expanded Universe.”
I think I know what offends most of my critics the most about STARSHIP TROOPERS: It is the dismaying idea that a voice in governing the state should be earned instead of being handed to anyone who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37 degrees C.
But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
In the same essay, Heinlein floated some creative ideas on criteria for voting eligibility:
A state that required a bare minimum of intelligence and education – e.g., step into the polling booth and find that the computer has generated a new quadratic equation just for you. Solve it, the computer unlocks the voting machine, you vote. But get a wrong answer and the voting machine fails to unlock, a loud bell sounds, a red light goes on over the booth – and you slink out, face red, you having just proved yourself too stupid and/or ignorant to take part in the decisions of grownups. Better luck next election! No lower age limit in this system – smart 12-yr-old girls vote every election while some of their mothers – and fathers – decline to be humiliated twice.
Math isn’t really my strong suit, so I might have had to rely on being laser cannon fodder in the mobile infantry to earn the franchise.
Written in the relatively tranquil 1950’s postwar America, Starship Troopers was prophetic in other ways, such as in predicting with incredible accuracy the patterns of crime we have come to face today:
From Chapter VIII, pp. 90-96:
I found myself mulling over a discussion in our class in History and Moral Philosophy. Mr. Dubois was talking about the disorders that preceded the breakup of the North American republic, back in the 20th century. According to him, there was a time just before they went down the drain when such crimes as murder were as common as dogfights. The Terror had not been just in North America — Russia and the British Isles had it, too, as well as other places. But it reached its peak in North America shortly before things went to pieces.
“Law-abiding people,” Dubois had told us, “hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, home-made guns, bludgeons … to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably — or even killed. This went on for years, right up to the war between the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony. Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assult, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places — these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings. But parks were so notoriously unsafe that honest people stayed clear of them after dark.”
Sound familiar to the world we currently live in? “the knockout game,”school shootings, thug gangs, mall riots, flash mobs, etc etc. Heinlein named them all without yet knowing what they would be called.
Verhoeven, in the movie version of Starship Troopers, did not apparently he care for any of Heinlein’s ideas and instead sought to mock them(he says it clearly throughout the DVD commentary.) He also states that the theme of the film is how “war makes fascists of us all.” Curiously, the screenwriter, Edward Neumeier seems more sympathetic to Heinlein’s vision, often sparring with the director and remarking how “it’s actually a society that works pretty well. “There’s no sexism. There’s no racism…later we’ll see that there’s very little crime. In fact they seemed to have achieved the ideal sort of politically correct society, although we sort of question how they’ve achieved it.”
While xenophobes like me who lean toward ethnonationalism and race realism would be skeptical that such a color-blind multiracial society could exist without significant friction, I suppose one could make the case that with forced assimilation and a collective insistence on holding everyone to a high standard(things which pussified western countries seem unwilling to do) it might have a chance to work. This is what millions of open minded whites like myself optimistically assumed would happen, during the post segregation “multicultural window.” In current western societies, people aren’t pressured to adopt a color blind mentality but rather they are encouraged to show racial solidarity and embrace their distinctive native cultures(all except White people of course… who are not allowed to self identify except in a pathetic, self hating, “I’m ashamed to be white” kind of way.) Who knows? Moving on…
When Norman Jewison made “Rollerball” in 1975(a film that seems more relevant now than ever,) one of the main points he attempted to convey was how modern sporting events were becoming disgustingly violent spectacles. Yet he was later appalled by the audience’s reaction to the film, when he realized that they actually enjoyed the violence in the film, with some enthusiastic fans even wanting to start up an actual Rollerball league to play the brutal game.
In the same vein, when one watches “Starship Troopers,” a film intended to mock soft fascism, they might conclude that a limited democracy focused on civic minded citizens might actually be an improvement over our current “warm body,” transnational corporate bureaucracy where anyone idiot with a pulse can vote.
The film “succeeds” in the endeavor by portraying this system in a fictional, futuristic setting. We are able to see a successful quasi-fascist system in action without all the baggage associated with similar systems in 20th century history. It focuses on the society itself, and how it would work, without the “Jew obsession,” conspiracy theories, creepy Hitler worship, and the promotion of ethnic genocide that tends to instinctively repulse people away from being open to the possibility of a more positive and empowering form of “national socialism.” It exposes them to an idea without activating their kook detector, thus bypassing an ideological force field of preconceived biases.
In the shower scene, one of the female cadets reveals that she joined the service because she wanted to have children, and it was “easier to get a license” if you’re a citizen. This is of course meant to shock us, like “how could a society be so cruel as to make someone need to obtain a license to have a baby?” That’s not the way I reacted though, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Given what we have seen in the last 50 years, does anyone really think that everyone should be allowed to have children? and that in a civilized society, the only criteria necessary to be a parent is the ability to hump a willing partner of the opposite sex? It seems to me the results of that reproductive indifference have been catastrophic. Now I’m not suggesting that we restrict breeding to some high IQ elite subset of the community or create some kind of master race, but is it too much to ask that someone be able to at least read and write at a third grade level? Or that they be screened for drug abuse and given a background check? In our present political system, even asking these types of questions is taboo, and actually suggesting and implementing practical solutions is downright unthinkable. “Warm body” democracy and the fear of electoral backlash from a largely illiterate and uninformed citizenry, has made our governments impotent at nearly every level. That’s one of the reasons people are turning away from democracy and giving other systems a second look.
Starship Troopers isn’t a great film. It’s an above average 90’s action adventure movie and a satirical perversion of Heinlein’s terrific novel. But hey, what can you expect from the director that made “Showgirls?”(even though I actually happen to like “Showgirls” in a weird, nostalgic way.) Yet in attempting to mock fascism, “Starship Troopers” somehow manages to create an advertisement for a society which is in many ways superior to our own. Everyone seems happy. Everyone has a role to play that suits them, and they all sacrifice for the common good while preserving some individual autonomy. Those who don’t wish to be citizens aren’t exterminated but are simply left to do their own thing. Colonel Carl summed up their worldview succinctly when he stated:
“You disapprove? Well too bad! We’re in this for the species, boys and girls.”
My thoughts exactly.
A realistic depiction of our own modern day America would be much more terrifying than anything portrayed in “Starship Troopers,”(with the possible exception of a bug alien invasion.)
Perhaps culture wars make fascists of us all.