I wish I could say “Netflix and Chill” was a new luxury for me, but assuming we’re talking about it in the literal sense, it’s actually a familiar one. A bit of back story on me: when Saturday nights came around in middle and high school, my parents would go out, as would my brother, the more popular of the Breidbart boys. He joined me once in a while, but for the most part I spent my Saturday nights with the lights turned off, devouring a new VHS from the now defunct Blockbuster Video. I hope it doesn’t sound like I minded, because I didn’t – spend the whole week in class with people you’re not so fond of, it’s not so bad having the house to yourself. And I wasn’t by myself. Every week I had a new movie, a new story, a new world that promised to expand my horizons wider than anything I could understand at that age. One such movie was Paul Verhoeven’s weird little sci-fi action film, Starship Troopers.
The synopsis was as simple as any JRPG: pretty people save the world. In this case, it was heavily armored soldiers “doing their part” to overwhelm the ugly space bugs from another planet. The advertising was bombastic, ranging from epic war in space to grand fun adventure with a memorable “Woo Hoo!” theme song, Blur’s Song 2, that I still remember more fondly than the movie itself to this day.
The film got mixed reviews, earning a 51 metacritic score. Not that this bugged someone who was 13 and just looking for a fun space adventure. I didn’t really have the ability to see nuance in films just yet. Verhoeven’s earlier film, Robocop, only resonated as an action figure to me. And like Robocop, the advertising and execution of the film were so genuine that its many metaphors were flying over my head, too high to quantify. But I knew something was up there. The film had this… vibe… something I couldn’t explain. I remembered strange details, like the way that the soldiers looked like ants in their black armor, overwhelming the other bug monsters. Or how I never quite understood the reason for the war. Or why Neil Patrick Harris was a psychic in an SS uniform. I’m not gonna lie; this was also one of the first movies I could rent that had boobs in it, so that left an impression too. But yeah, 13, what did I know, especially without the advent of the internet fully taking hold?
Here’s the deal. Starship Troopers, as genuine as it makes itself out to be, is actually a satire. The entire film is faux propaganda for a war that didn’t exist…
As one friend put it, it’s the most 9/11 movie around, and yet it somehow pre-dates 9/11.
Starship Troopers came out in 1997, so I’m about half my lifetime late to the party. But watching it again recently filled me with a bit of a sickness, finally seeing the fascist overtones. Even today, this remains a prescient commentary on our society, exposing through fiction the evil we’re all capable of when we believe we’re in the right – but it’s easy enough to miss. The film is pretty bold, pretty spectacular, really, to tell something so genuinely and trust in its audience to understand. I didn’t. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
Actually, this was the SECOND Paul Verhoeven movie to leave an impression I didn’t get because I was too young. The first is the aforementioned Robocop. The 1987 original was another commentary on what we’re willing to concede in pursuit of safety and righteousness, a dark vision of a future where corporations can own the police, the law, and the very bodies and minds of the people. And isn’t the funniest outcome of that movie, meant for adults, that it spearheaded an enormous merchandising campaign aimed at children?
The thing is, I was shown these lessons when I was too young to understand what they meant. I figured them out eventually, but not everyone does. What happens when you never look deeper? What if all you’re taught, all you understand, is that your side is good and the other side deserves what’s coming to it?
Maybe Mica can tell us…