Paul Verhoeven on media's normalization of fascism


That seems to be a point of contention about the film and the book, if this thread is any indication.


In what way is “military service as a prerequisite for citizenship” compatible with “rugged individualism?”


One of my favorites has always been Time Enough For Love, even though it’s subtext is finding ways to destigmatize incest. Ole Bob sure had some quirks. But the memoir of a 2000 year old man born in 1912 is fun.


Yeah, I can’t speak for others, but my sarcasm detector seemed to be working that day!


It wasn’t just military service, but any form of public service (though he only got into that in a later short story IIRC, Starship Troopers itself was just focused on the military aspect). And I guess it would be compatible as long as the state protects that individualism, rather than attempting to control every aspect of life, it was a pretty minimally defined state, but with total control in those few aspects, contrasted to Nazism which was a pretty maximal state with total control over all aspects of life, or with Italian fascism where corporate councils combined the inputs of various public groups, but were still ultimately controlled by the state at the end of the day (and in practise it wasn’t much different from totalitarian control).


“You can’t vote unless you enlist in some form of public service” still doesn’t sound like “rugged individualism” to me, especially considering how much of the novel was centered on uncritical adherence to the chain of command.


That was literally the best part of the movie. To buffer what @Exonauts said, I will add: Verhoven made a war movie overtly pretty: bright lighting, shiny costumes, beautiful actors in perfect hair and makeup, stilted dialog–he made it look like a soap opera; like 90210. This is a propaganda technique, and the critics took it at face value, ignoring how simple that conclusion is in the face of how obviously over-the-top these techniques were. That the propaganda techniques were intentionally obvious to emphasize how it is simpleminded and appeals to the nationalism in the lowest-common-denominator–especially considering there are several bits in the film which depict propaganda directly–seemed not to occur to most critics. I mean, how could they miss that the dialog was intentionally stilted? NPH played the fascistic officer as a total ham.


The book’s philosophy was a bit muddled, but I think Heinlein’s view was that the core of individualism was the freedom to make a choice of some sort or another. In that basic outlook he was fairly consistent even as his politics changed.

In “Starship Troops” citizenship (in the sense of having the vote and being eligible for leadership in the state) was predicated on the choice of a competent (analogous to “rugged”) individual who was willing to do something useful for the state, even if that temporarily puts him in a chain of command. This was in contrast to the bugs, most of whom are considered mindless servants of a caste-centred totalitarian state.

Verhoeven critiques that outlook in the film version by pointing out how quickly and easily the first kind of society transforms into the second kind when it comes under pressure. Earth culture transforms from one of competent volunteerism to one of hierarchical militarism to one of fascist groupthink (complete with Nazi propaganda and uniforms) in short order, along with normalisation of death and maiming for both citizens and non-citizens.


“uncritical adherence to the chain of command.”

…in the military. Not the society as a whole.

There was no conscription, and non-citizens had all the rights and benefits of citizens, aside from voting and running for office. Most people in it didn’t even want to be citizens.

All I’m saying is that whatever you want to say about Starship Troopers (and there’s plenty of negative things to say about it’s militarism) you can’t say it was pro-fascism, it also wasn’t as strongly libertarian as his later books, but did have many libertarian and non-collectivist aspects to it.


I never had a problem picking up on Verhoeven’s cultural critique, but I always did (and kind of still do) feel uncomfortable with his pornographic treatment of violence. He’ll linger and linger on someone being KitchenAided by gunfire or kersploded by medically-inaccurate vacuum exposure, and I accept that he’s saying “look at you, you sick monkey, paying $10 to gobble up this horrible stuff”.

But still, he is also actually putting that on the screen, and it’s worse and more pornographic even than is the norm for summer movies. That’s a bit different to satire, because I’d watch his movies for the satire. But the violence porn is a direct challenge to the audience to stop watching, and my reaction is in fact “OK then; I will stop watching your movies”. It’s almost like he’s requiring you to enjoy that stuff, even if you don’t.

Or maybe I’m just too delicate I dunno


In all honestly, I always thought that Verhoeven’s films were cynical, back-handed slaps at and commentary on American’s entertainment preferences (as in, “here America, you want mindless garbage… here’s mindless garbage… and I ‘make’ you pay for it, also.”)


PS: I don’t count ‘Soldier of Orange’; that one was good.


I don’t know. He is a trickster, but I remember interviews where he talked about how much he genuinely enjoyed American films when he was young. His versions of action movies are over-the-top in terms of violence and sex, but they’re never mindless. That includes “Showgirls,” because sometimes his intended point can get lost.


according to a former coworker of mine who loved the novel, and in @gellfex 's post just above yours, the film doesn’t mirror the novel in that way. Veerhoven seems to be intentionally making a film about how such a story can be easily transformed into facile propaganda. I tried to explain to my coworker that that was the brilliance of it, but he couldn’t see it as anything other than the dumbing-down of a beloved landmark science-fiction story. It’s not that he’s wrong, and @gellfex makes a good argument against that interpretation. But having not read the source, I was not invested in seeing a faithful reproduction.


Perhaps “mindless” is too strong, but I can’t shake loose the feeling that he’s saying something about American tastes and getting away with something. I still like Soldier of Orange, though.


Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love quotation is usually a good starting point for his outlook.

Not too far off from Hemingway, really.

The Roads Must Roll is a decent starting for point for understanding his social views. In that short story there’s basically one very economically-vital new technology (the roads, which are basically nation-wide, always-on, giant conveyor belts, so that no one actually has to have cars or wait for trains. Whole buildings are moved regularly this way). A carefully-screened corps of “cadet” engineers run the operation, but stage a coup and use their control of the roads to hold the nation hostage. Basically, a stand-in for workers on the eve of a Communist revolution. It ends badly for them, because no one segment of society can claim to be “the most important”: they’re all necessary and important. Afterwards, the long-term solution to prevent this from happening again is not just technical, but an even higher level of militarization and devotion for the cadets.

So in one short story you have an all-important public service corps that is organized like a combat-free military unit to keep things running, the public free economy which depends on these services but doesn’t necessarily answer to any government, and the short-sighted, selfish social movements which threaten to tear it all down (and thus make the first absolutely critical to making the second work).

In other words, Heinlein embodies early twentieth century American values: a capitalist economy here, a powerful but self-restrained government there, and an understanding that they will help each other without getting in each others way too much.


The bugs weren’t satire. They were convincing and dreadful.

Coming out of that movie I had the distinct feeling that Verhoeven had been unable to make up his mind what he wanted to do with the story. Straight film adaptation of the book? No, couldn’t bring himself to do that, glorifes all the wrong kinds of things.

But full-on comedy? Nope, can’t quite do that either. Heinlein is very dangerous; there’s nobody better than he is at making the most dedicated pacifist want to run, not walk, down to the nearest recruitment office and enlist and get sent off to be a spectacular hero and save the Earth and get the girl.

Ghod knows it’s possible to get a book on film without having read it. My guess is that Verhoeven made the basic error of actually reading Starship Troopers. And, willy-nilly, liking it. And then finding himself unable to give it a full, disrespectful cream pie in the face. Dead though he is, RAH is still entirely capable of defending himself against any sort of Three-Stooges treatment like that.


So, minor, slim, science-fiction novels short stories are “canon” now? You wanted a shot-for-shot remake of the short story? IIRC, Verhoeven didn’t even completely read Starship Troopers. He just used it as a departure point for the work he wanted to create. That’s what great artists do.


sorry posted wrong topic


It’s straight up Archie and his gang of friends.

I saw a lot of Verhoeven’s movies growing up. I’ve since rewatched many of them. They are really different watching as an adult who is can get their head around what Verhoeven was doing instead of as a kid who is just amazed by gore and three-breasted women.

My favourite: The scene in Total Recall when the doctor is telling Quaid that he’s just an illusion who has entered his mind to try to pull him out of the simulation. Quaid asks the doctor what will happen if he shoots the doctor, and the doctor says it won’t matter to him but for Quaid the results would be disastrous. “The walls will come crashing down around you.” is thrown out as a metaphor. Then Quaid shoots the doctor and immediately a strike lead literally comes crashing through the wall to get him.

I love it.