- "A World That Works":Fascism and Media Globalization in Starship Troopers1
The issue raised in the film is the following: is a temporary dictatorship allowable when such an outside threat presents itself? The film goes a step further and asks the audience: do you want this?-- Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film Starship Troopers continues to attract attention from academics, critics, and social commentators for its obvious fascist imagery and its apparently muddled political subtext. Based on Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel, Starship Troopers depicts an efficient and harmonious world government engaged in an intergalactic struggle against a race of highly-evolved insects called Arachnids. Despite half-hearted efforts to spin the controversy generated by the film, Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier seem content to let it remain an ambiguous artifact in which one person's militaristic fantasy is another's biting satire. But the film is a study in ideological uncertainty. The fact that fascism is the only ideology capable of producing a state strong enough to meet the Arachnid threat places the audience in the uncomfortable position of identifying and sympathizing with a society it is conditioned to despise. Neumeier believes fascism is "in our biology," an internal urge every human being must overcome. "Fascism is around every corner," he warns us, "so watch out".1 Verhoeven depicts a future in which the global culture is militaristic, highly mediated by populist Internet-style television, juvenile, yet educated and modern—American. In larger terms, the Terran Federation governing Earth in the twenty-third century is, in many ways, the logical outcome of economic globalization. Paul Leonard appropriately describes the Federation as a "globaltarian" culture – a synthesis of an all-powerful media and an authoritarian government.2 The Federation is based in part on specific historical antecedents ranging from Imperial Rome to National Socialist Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union. But Starship Troopers is still focused on American society, offering, perhaps, a more relevant commentary on it today than in 1997. This article examines the historical context of Starship Troopers' Federation and its inter-species war and explores the film's allusions to America as a potential globaltarian power. Why is the Federation, to borrow its own slogan, "A World that Works"? And, as Verhoeven asks, "do you want this?" The answer in the film is resoundingly "yes"—and "no."
Starship Troopers traces the fate of a handful of high-school graduates who join the military shortly before war breaks out between the Federation and the Arachnids. The Federation is a highly militarized state but seems free of internal conflicts stemming from racial or sexual divisions. The only division in society is between "citizens" and "civilians." Military service "guarantees citizenship," which entails suffrage and access to state benefits like birth licenses and college tuition. Our hero, Johnny Rico, comes from a prosperous family and faces the decision of whether to enlist and win the affections of his love interest, Carmen, who is slated for pilot training, or to do his parent's bidding and attend Harvard. Johnny opts for the girl and joins the Mobile Infantry. The first half of the film revolves around a love triangle [End Page 17] between Rico, Carmen, and another female classmate, Dizzy, who is in love with Rico. This soap opera is interrupted by an Arachnid meteor attack on the characters' home town of Buenos Aires, initiating Johnny's transformation from a spoiled juvenile into a vengeful warrior and natural leader. The second half of the film focuses on the war between the human race and the Arachnids. The invasion of Klendathu, the Arachnid's home planet, results in a bloodbath for the humans and forces the Federation to adapt a more cautious strategy. After a brush with death on Klendathu, Johnny and Dizzy are integrated into their former teacher's unit, Rasczak's Rangers. After bungling his command during training, Johnny quickly proves himself a hero in live action and plays a leading role in the capture of a "Brain Bug" responsible for administering the bugs successful strategy against the humans. It is a turning point in the war, but great work remains. The film therefore ends...