It’s guaranteed at this point that no matter what kind of satirical take on the United States or the world comes out, there are going to be people who misunderstand and misconstrue it. Starship Troopers wasn’t the first, and it damn well wasn’t the last movie to have the point get lost in orbit over people’s heads.
Starship Troopers was dystopian sci-fi at peak camp. The story follows three newly enlisted soldiers fresh out of high school in a society where only veterans get rights and everything is a military-fascist state. The army enrolls people to fight on the planet Klendathu, home of a species of giant, bug-like aliens.
On the surface it’s just a sci-fi action, an Aliens ripoff even, with a bunch of macho space marines facing down an unknown enemy with big guns and bigger egos. The satire was so obvious it’s hard to miss even with a meteor though, so how the hell did people not get it?
Literally A Propaganda Film
Director Paul Verhoeven isn’t one you would call subtle a lot of times. The director and writer that made Robocop, Basic Instinct, and unfortunately, Showgirls, has said he intentionally directed Starship Troopers as if it was a propaganda film for the military.
From the slightly off-kilter acting to the literal enlistment ads that are run throughout the film, it’s made to be like one of the action/war propaganda films that were prominent throughout World War Two and still are in some countries.
With every ad in the movie making the military look like a fun romp around with friends that you’ll make for life, the siege at the end shows the absolute carnage that happens to a lot of unsuspecting people that enlist in the military. Even with half of the older characters in the film having some long-lasting injury or disability due to their time in the military, everything is still portrayed as cool explosions and high-fives with your bros.
Damn, why does that sound familiar?
“I’m Doing My Part”
The signs of a militaristic state are everywhere, especially at the beginning as the trio is still in school and just about to graduate. One touched on is that the military sets up recruiters in schools to get new enlistments, using fake stories of bravado and cool sh*t while emphasizing just how cool it is to be in the military without telling you about the real cost of what life in the military entails.
Wait, that was my high school in rural Georgia. Except they pulled all the girls out of the class and piled the senior guys in for the recruiters. Life imitates art.
Isn’t that the driving ad behind all the propaganda itself though? Showing all these characters being cool and killing the giant bugs to “do their part” and help the cause? Wait, what the hell is the cause?
The Only Good Bug is a Dead Bug
I can not stress enough how much I heard this same phrase changed and directed at BIPOC throughout my years growing up in the United States Deep South. It is both hilariously corny in this instance and dreadfully chilling when “bug” is replaced by almost anything.
It’s a distinct working of fascism, calling for the extermination of an entire people whether it be race, gender, sexuality, or beliefs. The same rhetoric used by the fascists of World War Two, which director Paul Verhoeven grew up under and was seeking to satirize in the film.
It’s successful too. Just like in the movie so many people cheer at the rhetoric and go on to champion it, especially towards a certain group of people after a national tragedy happened over twenty years ago. Many signed up to “take revenge” or “fight for their freedoms”. This movie came a few years too early and that might be why it holds up so well in hindsight.
Rico, the main protagonist played by Casper Van Diem, loses his parents when a meteor strikes his hometown and wipes out thousands. The United Citizen Federation goes on to use this as a recruitment tactic, blaming it on the Bugs, saying they sent the meteor then promising revenge for those killed and encouraging enlisted recruits to take their own vengeance.
The question remains that a government with advanced military technology that’s been colonizing planets for years had no clue of an impending meteor hurling across space? Not only that but when anything on Klendathu, the alien home world, is shown it’s almost barren. The bugs live in caves and don’t really seem capable of that kind of feat, though it’s hinted they’ve colonized planets as well.
Seriously though, how well-timed can a meteor be when a massive boost is needed for military enrollment and morale? Awfully convenient, and there’s no way they couldn’t have known about it, but they still let it happen at the expense of more lives than just those that died from the meteor.
Colonialism Strikes Again
As usual, when it comes to militaristic and nationalist societies, it’s all about real estate in the end. The UCF has been colonizing planets for years at this point, and the bugs could have been living in complete peace when they were disturbed by soldiers moving into their homes.
Okay, Avatar conveyed this a little bit better than Starship Troopers, but it’s James Cameron so there’s not a lot of competing. When the humans come busting into the Bug homeworld what do they expect the bugs to do? It’s never said in the movie, but there’s got to be some reason the soldiers are there fighting the bugs, right? Maybe Klendathu has oil.
Citizenship Through Service
This is the real clincher. There’s not just a draft where you have to do military service if it comes up or at a certain age. You can choose not to join the military and be perfectly fine- except you can’t vote or have children or do really anything except be a cog in the machine.
So, the only way to have any kind of rights is by enlisting, granting automatic citizenship that you may not live to experience. An endless supply of bodies for the human government to throw at whatever planet they want to occupy next, with no withdrawal limit. It’s doubtful any of the votes they’re allowed to cast have any use either, as a fascist state doesn’t hand over power willingly.
It’s a cult classic now, no denying it. It’s just a wonder how anyone missed the point in the first place when everything was so clearly spelled out. The anti-fascist message is strong, it’s not a movie about cool marines kicking ass and taking names, it’s about fooling the viewer into thinking that while criticizing the underlying systems and type of people that lead to it.
Starship Troopers was a relevant critique of society’s ignorance and support of fascist movements, and it made the point by having it go over the heads of the very people it talks about. This movie spawned so many terrible sequels that just expanded on the “Military Badass F*ck Yeah” aspect that the original film is almost lost in the shuffle.
Keep the real message at the heart of Starship Troopers in mind though- War only exists to destroy and ruin, no matter how shiny and appealing it looks on the outside.