Paul Verhoeven on media's normalization of fascism


So you think that the film should have been made as fascist propaganda, without signalling to the viewers that it was fascist propaganda?


ST is the slimmest of slim sci-fi pulp novels. Making a “faithful” film adaptation from the novel would have resulted in an(other) unremarkable, sci-fi action film, with proto-fascist undertones at that. Verhoeven’s brilliant synthesis resulted in a much more valuable artistic contribution. The hat has spoken.

And did you just compare Heinlein’s Starship Troopers to Moby Dick, in terms of the fundamentalist preservation it deserves? There was no disrespect, neither to the author’s estate (who voluntarily sold him the rights), nor the readers (with the exception of yourself, apparently). I’m guessing you similarly object to Picasso’s “Guernica” because it’s not a photograph.


Something odd is going on. Revisionists are talking about Heinlein’s short story like it was something other than what it was: '50s pulp science fiction. Have they read it? I’ve heard US marines in boot camp pass it around to “psych themselves up.”


I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘rugged individualism’, for me (and from how it was used historically in his era) it seems to be mostly focused on the individual and their interactions with the state in matters of economics - which would be perfectly compatible with the situation described by Heinlein here. In fact the concept of ‘rugged individualism’ back then was perfectly compatible with the draft, which goes far further than Heinlein goes, I believe he was even criticised at the time for producing a book aimed at a young audience that didn’t have the draft included. As long as there’s no compulsion for taking up federal service, then I don’t see a massive problem with here. At worst one might argue that his system would inevitably decay into a fascist system, but that would be an unintended consequence rather than something he was arguing for explicitly, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t follow anyway.

I’m not personally advocating any of this as a good way to structure society btw, just trying to be fair to his arguments in the book.


Only if you change the dialog of the play significantly. My family watched Sir Ian McKellen’s brilliant 1930’s fascist setting film of Richard III the other night, no need ot change the title.

I’m fascinated why @petzl is so focused on the length of the work being so relevant to fans wishes that it maintain it’s integrity. Would it be OK to film “Old Man and the Sea” as a slapstick comedy?


I know what you mean! I’m pretty sure some people here read a different book than I did.

And Verhoeven has apparently admitted that he’d never read through to the end of the book, which is kind of necessary in order to understand it at all.

I’m glad you enjoyed the movie, though, even through you are totally wrong :grin:


Verhoeven was a young child during Nazi occupation of his homeland and remembers seeing and smelling burned bodies from bombings from the age of 5. You can’t really pull a “he doesn’t get what war is like” card on him.

What it says to me is that you have projected something onto him without any reason. Why are you sure what he would and would not dare to do what you are sure he would not dare to do? Did I miss something where he made a movie of Battle Cry and it was reverent and respectful?

I’ll wage heavily that the majority of people who read Starship Troopers read a story about some badasses killing aliens and the majority of people who watched the movie Starship Troopers watched a movie about some badasses killing aliens.

Heinlein might have had something more interesting to say than that. I know Verhoeven had something more interesting to say than that. But there was a guy named Johnny and alien bugs divided into castes and that’s pretty much close enough for a movie adaptation of a book in my mind.

But not at all necessary to direct a movie adaptation of it.


Well, obviously since I thought the movie was slightly less watchable than Showgirls, which in turn was slightly less watchable than paint drying, my viewpoint here might be a bit acerbic. If I liked the movie I’d be far more likely to forgive the misrepresentation of Heinlein’s work.

You know, if Verhoeven was well read, he might have noticed that Steakley’s Armor would have been a better vehicle for his political views. Personally I think he should have written his own bug hunt, without buying some superficially related title to stick on it, though. Then we’d all be happy.


Oooh, how was it?


To an extent I’ll give you that. Ender’s Game was also a novel about some badasses who go kill aliens but it would be pretty weird to try to stick that label on Verhoeven’s film.

I know the story about the unrelated script and the licensing but only the wikipedia version. For all I know Verhoeven wasn’t the one who pursued the licence, studios do all kinds of crazy shit. On the other hand, for all I know Verhoeven specifically licensed the book to spite Heinlein. In a way I kind of hope it’s the latter. That’s probably the best story.


This is the only part of your comment i have any problem with. I prefer my movie adaptations to be either much more faithful than this one was or a commentary on the original work or aspects of society related to it. In my estimation Verhoeven’s work fits the second.


Maybe making a distinction between fascism proper and its twin, militarism, helps.

I don’t know about any fascist regimes that aren’t also deeply militarist.
But maybe present-day American militarism is a sign that you can sustain militarism and democracy at the same time for at least a few decades.

Here in Austria, reviewers seemed to be evenly split in three camps: “glorifies the military too much” - “great satire” - “way too obvious, plump satire”. Which means that Verhoeven got it about right, on average.

Don’t think so, in this case, although other biases might play into it. After all, the source material does glorify the military. Preconceived notions on the military do color how you view it, though.
I have one friend who read the book without watching the movie first, and without knowing Heinlein’s politics. This friend actually thought that it was intentionally written as a dystopian novel warning of excessive militarism.

My own take on Starship Troopers (the novel) is essentially based on the Death of the Author. I’ve stopped caring about what Heinlein actually thought - he generated great ideas. And Starship Troopers works as a dystopian novel on par with 1984 and Brave new World.
Just like 1984 takes communist-style totalitarian rule to its extremes, Brave New World starts from shallow consumerism, and Starship Troopers starts from a belief in the wisdom of the military way of looking at things.

So, the premise of the dystopia is that military service is a condition for voting; in addition, every high-schooler gets a propaganda class that is run by a veteran.
If a person freely chooses to become part of the military, they become subject to the usual totalitarian brain-washing, and then sent to war. If they survive, they get to share in political decisions.
Now, the decisions in that system will of course be different from the decisions made by a real democracy. The propaganda claims that these “citizens” have shown their readiness and ability to take responsibility for the state as a whole.
I rather think that instead they have shown a tendency to see violence, or even war, as a solution to problems. They have shown a readiness to submit to a totalitarian system, maybe enticed by a prospect of rising through the ranks and being in charge. They have been traumatized by war and might be suffering from the usual psychological problems that flow from that. And they have chosen not to walk away after they had seen how evil the system they had joined really was and they were given a chance (or was that a movie-only scene? I don’t remember).

So I’d expect the laws passed by that group of people to be harsher and more authoritarian than laws passed by average people. And I’d expect nations governed by such “citizens” to be more likely to resort to war. And in fact, Earth in “Starship Troopers” does seem to be involved in perpetual war against various aliens.


Starship Troops is not Shakespeare, it’s not Hemingway, it’s not Homer. It’s just not. (The length was at issue because ST was being compared to Moby Dick, one of the longest books in the canon.)

I’m fascinated at how Verhoeven’s adaptation/reimagining of a minor pulp sci-fi novella is controversial in any sense at all.

But to your point: should I rule out a Old Man and the Sea slapstick comedy? Not sure. Should I rule out a comedy that parodies the founding of Christianity? Then, I lose The Life of Brian. Should I rule out a portrayal of mass-murderer Hitler as a comedic '60s hipster? Then, I lose The Producers. Anyway, send me a script.


Fish have tremendous slapstick potential.

/me slaps petzl around with a large trout


I don’t know of many SF books that were so desperately in need of Verhoevenesque subversion as Starship Troopers.
There might be a couple of others, but they were most likely written by Heinlein, too ;-).

I don’t think I get your point here. Are you saying that in a time when war is real and present, criticizing it is mean because it insults the Heroes who Put Their Life On The Line?

There was not much to add to the disgusting-yet-interesting idea from Heinlein’s novel, except to show how well it fits in a fascist context.
Remember how the fascist movements of the 20s and 30s were not simply evil dictators suppressing their own people, but were instead carried by a wave of enthusiasm among citizens ready to “do their part”. Hitler got voted in by thirty percent and then used various tricks to gain absolute power - had they instead limited the franchise to exactly those people enthusiastic to “do their part” - you do the math.

I don’t think your values/philosophy is in line with Verhoeven’s, or mine for that matter. So maybe that’s why he couldn’t make the movie you wanted. You ask these questions coming from a value system where “making a sacrifice for your country” is an intrinsic value. You are assuming that “military service” and “strong individuals” are somehow positively correlated, or that one even causes the other. You are assuming the presence of existential threats that need to be fought by a military so strong that it’s relationship with civil society becomes an interesting question. You are suggesting that exploring how alternatives to universal enfranchisement might work is somehow more worthy a treatment of the question than answering it with a resounding “no”.

My point is not primarily that you are wrong about these assumptions, my point is that they are diametrically opposed to a post-war European moderate left world view. When I hear “join the military and sacrifice for my country”, I think of when WWII had just started. Our army was now returning fire at the enemy. And across the country, young people volunteered by the tens of thousands to enlist right now. Many of them did not return. They sacrificed their lives for my country. And when I hear “strong individual” in the context of political leadership, I think of the “Führer”. He was, after all, one of the most influential politicians ever to have been born in my country.

So when you say that the book didn’t need subversion, and that there are more interesting questions, I think you just haven’t realized how deep the disagreement goes.

Now that is definitely a legitimate reason for hating a movie. It’s not exactly Verhoeven’s fault, but the movie is, after all, just a movie, so feel free to hate it.




Well this is the thing. Heinlein presents a world where citizenship is tied to participation in a military command structure that is simultaneously a world where people who freely choose not to be in the military do just fine for themselves and enjoy all the rights and freedoms one would expect. I could write a story presenting a world where an authoritarian narcissist takes power and makes all the best decisions and is the best guy ever and everyone is better off and says, “Wow, freedom was shitty, we’re so happy that guy is in charge now!”

My proposed story would be authoritarian bullshit. The idea that taking away people’s right to vote will not negatively affect their other rights isn’t an interesting idea, it’s just stupid bullshit.


Well this is the thing. Heinlein presents a world where citizenship is tied to participation in a military command structure that is simultaneously a world where people who freely choose not to be in the military do just fine for themselves and enjoy all the rights and freedoms one would expect.

Not true, he presented a world where citizenship was tied to participation in federal service, not just the military, but also doctors, teachers, scientists, civil servants, etc.


It could be argued that he fails to do even that. He asserts the existence of such a world within his story, but he does not actually present it by showing what those rights and freedoms are, and what kind of “wiser” decisions his government-of-veterans would make. The book just quotes the History and Moral Philosophy teacher on this, a certain Mr. Dubois (who, in the movie, was merged into the Rasczak character, and brilliantly played by Michael Ironside).
But we don’t get to see much civilian life. We only get a few characters telling us that it’s all good and fascism-free.

Can you point me to the place in the book where it says that? Or did we not read the same book?
I rather think that this is an apocryphal addition Heinlein made later, in discussions about the book.
The only passage I’m aware of that could possibly be interpreted that way is the passage where the triple-amputee recruiting officer tries to discourage recruits from joining, on the grounds that the government gets more recruits than they need:

So for those who insist on serving their term—but haven’t got what we want and must have—we’ve had to think up a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs that will either run ’em home with their tails between their legs and their terms uncompleted . . . or at the very least make them remember for the rest of their lives that their citizenship is valuable to them because they’ve paid a high price for it.

And a little later:

You realize that you aren’t allowed to pick your service?

I don’t see where they say “doctors, teachers, scientists, civil servants” there.

So, in the world of Starship Troopers, you must show a readiness to join actual military service, and submit to some form of military training. If they deem you unqualified to be actually useful on the front, they will make you “serve” in some equally unpleasant and dangerous way. There is no reason to believe that the military indoctrination and the chain of command would be absent for the people in those roles.

Let me point out one more passage:

“Oh. Uh . . . Doctor, were you already a doctor when you joined up? Or did they decide you ought to be a doctor and send you to school?”
“Me? ” He seemed shocked. “Youngster, do I look that silly? I’m a civilian employee.”
“Oh. Sorry, sir.”
“No offense. But military service is for ants. Believe me. I see ’em go, I see ’em come back—when they do come back. I see what it’s done to them. And for what? A purely nominal political privilege that pays not one centavo and that most of them aren’t competent to use wisely anyhow. Now if they would let medical men run things—but never mind that; you might think I was talking treason, free speech or not.

So, the doctor at the recruiting office is a civilian. If the “federal service” (which is referred to as military service here) has so many doctors, why would they need to hire someone else? Also note that while he does not care much for the privilege of voting, he does self-censor his political speech and refer to the inherently fascist concept of “treason”.


I don’t see why that’s relevant to millions of fans wanting the work respected rather than parodied.

But Python did not call their movie “The New Testament” or “The Passion of Christ”. Labels DO matter.