Paul Verhoeven on media's normalization of fascism

LJ Frezza takes a loving look back at how Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers are wry commentaries on mass media's normalizing effect on sexism, militarism, climate change, corporatism, and state-sponsored terrorism.

Last year, just in time for a Trump presidency, producers announced a non-satiric Starship Troopers remake was in the works, hewing closer to the fascistic ideology of Heinlein's book. Verhoeven went off at a special screening:

Our philosophy was really different [from Heinlein’s book],we wanted to do a double story, a really wonderful adventure story about these young boys and girls fighting, but we also wanted to show that these people are really, in their heart, without knowing it, are on their way to fascism. [...] We are living in a very interesting, or you can call it scary times, and of course you would like to do something about it, too. But I think if you go to directly into the now you have no distance… you need to have a certain distance as an artist to the project and not be in the middle of it. So [with] all [that] started to happen lately, I started to read about Hitler and studying 1933 and 1934 in Germany, [which] could be a metaphor that you could use to talk about now.

Paul Verhoeven’s Mass Media (Vimeo / Fandor)

Paul Verhoeven Slams ‘Starship Troopers’ Remake, Says It’ll Be a Fascist Update Perfect for a Trump Presidency (IndieWire)

Notable Replies

  1. Verhoeven himself is sometimes mistakenly accused of glorifying fascism in his films, with people confusing trenchant satire for support. Since his childhood was spent in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, he and his family experienced fascism first-hand. As a result, Verhoeven has very strong opinions about resistance against and collaboration with fascists, expressed in his great film "Soldier of Orange".

    Also, thanks for posting the Bixby Snyder screencap from Robocop -- his idiotic catchphrase is a variation on one from CM Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons," which itself informed Mike Judge's movie "Idiocracy." Media normalisation of fascism becomes much easier when the public makes ignorance a virtue.

  2. lorq says:

    I remember when Starship Troopers came out and various prominent critics accused it of being fascist. I was dumbfounded. It was like a curtain had been pulled away, revealing that a whole population of professional critics had no idea how to read a film, even on a rudimentary level.

  3. On the other hand, I do recall one director saying that the problem with anti-war movies is that it cannot help but glorify that which it is trying to protest. I feel that many of those who love Robocop and Starship Troopers missed the satire entirely. Trumpster amongst them, alas.

  4. 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.

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