- Our Future—Our Past:Fascism, Postmodernism, and Starship Troopers (1997)
"Nazis. We love them," professes Tony Barta, referring to Hollywood's fascination with fascism as its most beloved villain (128). Tall black leather boots, well-cut Nazi uniforms, Germanic accents, and fascist architecture have energized and sexualized the worn plots of Hollywood films and their primal conflict between good and evil for more than half a century. "The reason for all the German uniforms and everything is that the Germans made the best-looking stuff. Art directors love it," said Ed Neumeier, screenwriter for Paul Verhoeven's science fiction thriller, Starship Troopers (1997), in an interview (Svetkey 8). To be sure, the films that stage fascism's seductive powers most spectacularly are often films about our future—science fiction films. From Star Wars (1977–83) and Gattaca (1997) to Equilibrium (2002), Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004), or Hellboy (2004), science fiction action-thrillers resurrect fascistic troops and fascist architecture, tinker with a master race, or evoke the archetypal evil of Nazi villains. TV classics such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) lost much of their semantic depth if the episodes were not modeled on the quasi-Holocaust suffered by the Bajorans at the hands of the fascist Cardassians (Kapell 104–14).
The current cinematic appropriation of fascism focuses on the performativity that rendered it cinema material in the first place; it is articulated by a self-referential, but historically blind system of cinematic signifiers. Fascism reappears in the popular imagination less as a historical legacy than as a reservoir of aesthetic images and spectacles referring to earlier cinematic representations [End Page 87] of Nazism rather than the political realities of the Third Reich. Michael Verhoeven's 1996 science fiction spectacle, Starship Troopers, lends itself to an exploration of how contemporary science fiction film transports the past into the future and why. Starship Troopers, like other recent sci-fi films, functions as a postmodern pastiche that exploits the "terrific" spectacle of the Third Reich without any clear moral reference point. It exemplifies how current science fiction cinema translates history into spatial registers that override temporal coordinates and how this translation is aided by advanced digital media that "transcode" cultural discourses and categories, such as history, into digitally enhanced surfaces or game options.
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The big budget Starship Troopers, designed to have international appeal, turned out to be a box office flop. Critics panned its poor acting and excessive carnage, and focused on the fascist overtones by a Dutch director whose pre-Hollywood career included anti-fascist features such as Soldaat van Oranje (1977). Loosely based on the novel by the much debated and allegedly right-wing science fiction author Robert E. Heinlein, Starship Troopers features a futuristic, military society whose values include submission to state authority and self-sacrifice for the sake of the human race. While the novel concentrates on the rigorous demands made on infantry combatants as part of the war machinery, Verhoeven expands its scope by developing the war with an alien race into outrageous representations of dehumanized Otherness. At some point in the distant future, Earth engages in a deadly intergalactic battle against a race of giant, intelligent bugs, the arachniads, who hurl their spores into space and threaten to annihilate humanity. The film's storyline follows the fate of four high school graduates who enter military service to participate in the fight against the arachniads. Starship Troopers makes ample use of the convention of reducing representations of fascism to mere signals: black SS-like uniforms of the troopers and intelligentsia, Mussolini-style eagles, and intimidating halls and public spaces serve as a backdrop for the extreme suspense. Fascistic Earth also sacrifices its own kind in large numbers on the battlefields of the arachniad empire which are littered with charred insect and mutilated human bodies. Meanwhile the four high school friends rise through the ranks of the army and experience romantic entanglements seemingly unperturbed by the fascist values of their society and the genocide around them. While fascist signifiers dominate the look of Starship Trooper, the film also re-inscribes xenophobic constellations into futuristically altered and technologically enhanced social contexts...