E28 -

Paul Meany & Eric Gomez join the show to discuss how Starship Troopers failed as a satire.

Hosts
Landry Ayres
Senior Producer
Guests

Eric Gomez is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute. His research focuses on U.S. military strategy in East Asia, missile defense systems and their impact on strategic stability, and nuclear deterrence issues in East Asia. He has presented research on these topics at annual meetings of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association, and the 2018 Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) Fall Conference. In the summer of 2019, he attended the Strategic Force Analysis Boot Camp hosted by Georgetown University and Sandia National Laboratories.

Paul Meany
Intellectual History Editor

Paul Meany is the Assistant Editor of Intellectual History at Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. He is interested in libertarian themes in political thought throughout ancient, medieval and early modern history.

Summary:

Humans in a fascist, militaristic future wage war with giant alien bugs is truly the best way to describe Starship Troopers. This was the third movie in a trio directed by Paul Verhoeven throughout the late 80s and 90s. When the movie was first released in 1997, it received mixed reviews because a large portion of the audience did not conclude that the movie was satirical.

Transcript

[music]

00:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Welcome to Pop & Locke. I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

00:05 Landry Ayres: And I’m Landry Ayres.

00:07 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, Landry, I am simply speechless. I thought I had seen it all, aliens, predators, Ghostbusters, you name it, but recently, I’ve learned that the only good bug is a dead bug. We are discussing none other than Paul Verhoeven’s largely misinterpreted by critics, graphically violent sci‐​fi satire Starship Troopers. Joining us today is libertarianism.org’s own intellectual history editor and host of the Portraits of Liberty podcast, Paul Meany.

00:35 Paul Meany: Hi.

00:35 Natalie Dowzicky: And our Dr. Strangelove super fan, the Director of Defense Policy Studies here at the Cato Institute, Eric Gomez.

00:43 Eric Gomez: Hello.

00:44 Landry Ayres: Yesterday was the first time I had ever seen this movie, and I had what I think is a pretty common reaction to it, which was immediate dislike. I thought it was fascistic, jingoistic. But upon reflecting and preparing for this, I realised thinking about the movie when you know more about it provides more context and gives new meaning to the film. So what kind of context does Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel that it is based on provide, and how does the film play off of that?

01:26 Eric Gomez: So, Robert Heinlein is actually one of my favorite authors. I read Starship Troopers a few years ago. I also… Stranger in a Strange Land is probably one of my favorite novels. I think I’ve read that cover to cover three or four times. And I’ve read several of his other works. So I really like Robert Heinlein as an author. And the context… I was also doing some research on the novel in preparation for this, and I didn’t realise until doing that research that he wrote this… Well, number one, Robert Heinlein was a very ardent anti‐​communist, and he also wrote this book in a matter of weeks after the United States paused above ground nuclear testing in the Eisenhower administration, I believe, in 1959.

02:16 Eric Gomez: So this was kind of a response to that and a… The book was a critique of how American society was becoming too soft and materialistic and also how… I think that’s where some of these fascist tropes come from of “only military service can guarantee citizenship” and a very heavy focus on military power and violence as the realm of the state, which is kind of strange when you compare it against, say, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which Heinlein wrote less than 10 years later, which is libertarian fantasy on the moon. [chuckle] So I always found it interesting that the same guy could write both of those types of novels.

03:07 Eric Gomez: One interesting thing that I’ll… The last thing I’ll say about the novel is, combat really… It doesn’t make for a good action movie. Most of the novel is the classroom sort of instruction or Rico going through the training process. There’s a little bit of combat against the bugs, but it really drives home the point in the book that it’s more about exploring the political and social factors rather than the actual violence, which, of course, doesn’t make a good action movie. So I think this visual representation of… The movie is a good visual representation of that, but it had to go all out on the warfare stuff to, I think, keep people interested.

03:52 Paul Meany: So, I watched the film so many years ago. I think I watched it when I was about 10 years old.

03:57 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, my gosh. [chuckle]

04:00 Paul Meany: Yeah, I thought it was so… It was the best for me when I was younger ’cause I was like, “Oh my God, there’s blood. There’s guts. There’s swearing. There’s nuclear bombs. There’s aliens.” It’s all there. So I thought it was the coolest film ever. And then I didn’t think about it too much. I watched it every now and again. I used to tell my friends, I’m like, “Oh, this movie is so bad, it’s good.” Then I read the book, and I was not expecting the book to be what the book was. As Eric already said, it’s mostly just chatting away in the classroom like…

04:28 Paul Meany: It’s really bizarre because it almost reads like propaganda, and there’s people always arguing over whether or not the book is satire. And I always just think maybe Robert Heinlein was kind of a guy who just liked to play around a lot with ideas, and that’s why he could go through such dramatic… Like The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the professor, and it’s inspired by Robert LeFevre, the libertarian activist in the early 20th century. And so I think he was just inspired by things that were happening around him.

04:51 Paul Meany: But either way, what I’m kind of sad about is that the movie is nothing like the book, and looking around, you can actually see what the directors and the lead writer said. He said he basically read the first two chapters of the book and just thought it was really boring and asked the writer to explain it to him. [chuckle] And I was like, “Yeah, fair enough if you don’t really like that kind of thing.” But the movie, I used to think, was not that great, but as I got older and watched it every now and again, I started to appreciate a lot more how intelligent it is. But I didn’t know this until reading about it either, is that the director originally did recruitment campaigns for the Dutch Navy. So he actually knew what directing recruitment videos would be like. And some people didn’t really understand that it was a satire, and maybe that’s ’cause he got a little too close to reality in some ways, ’cause people always say propaganda isn’t just lies, it’s kind of like contextual truths and half‐​truths and misplaced things. So I thought that was really interesting.

05:45 Landry Ayres: On that front, Paul, about a lot of people not realising the movie is satirical, they play a lot of the subject matter pretty straight, right? And the movie never kind of intimates that, “Hey, I’m just kidding.” It plays it very seriously, and if you’re kind of enmeshed like I am in the world of defense politics and military technology and that kind of stuff, yeah, you can kind of get it pretty quick. But if you’re not in that world, and most people aren’t, then it comes across as very like, “Oh shoot, they mean this seriously, right?” This isn’t just… This isn’t just like, “Ha‐​ha, look how ridiculous this kind of mindset is.” It comes across as kind of sincere if you aren’t sort of cued into that kind of world. And I think that’s part of the reason why so many people come away from this being like, “Oh, that was just weird political propaganda stuff going on.”

06:55 Eric Gomez: This movie, I think is really interesting in particular because, like Paul had mentioned, Verhoeven obviously was sort of reacting to and spoofing the book that it was based on in a sort of critique of it. I think he viewed it, like a lot of people have viewed the book. But Verhoeven specifically, he’s coming off of making RoboCop and Total Recall. So it’s the sort of third part of this satirical futuristic sci‐​fi trilogy of things turned to 11. But he also grew up in the Nazi‐​occupied Netherlands at the time. So he has the background of being involved in this propaganda recruitment video environment for the Navy, but also growing up in a heavily fascist place. And I think that probably is an explanation for why he read the book the way he did and why he wanted to make the movie something different.

08:05 Landry Ayres: And I think if you don’t know that, there’s very little in the movie that winks at the audience to say, “This is satire.” But as soon as you know that, you’re keyed in and you’re sort of in on the joke. And I think it would be helpful to draw a line between successful satire and “successful” satire, whereas one that does the job and is effective in satirizing something, compared to something that satirizes something and the audience is able to digest the satirical message.

08:44 Landry Ayres: And that I think is the big problem I had with this movie, is it does a very good job of satirizing fascism and ultra‐​conservative militaristic culture, but it does so at the expense of the audience, who if you’re not in on the joke, you really lose a lot of what makes the commentary really biting and incisive. And I actually think much more interesting than when I watched it. I think thinking about this movie is very interesting. I thought watching it for the first time, I was like, “This is an hour too long… ”

09:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. [laughter]

09:22 Landry Ayres: “Why are they all… Are they all in high school? They all look like full grown adults. They’re supposed to be in Buenos Aries. It looks like they’re in Southern California. What is going on?” I was just lost.

09:35 Eric Gomez: There’s a bit of a timing issue too here. ‘Cause the movie comes out in 1997, and that’s kind of a weird limbo in terms of what Americans are thinking about in terms of foreign conflict, because it’s before the global War on Terror, but it’s after the Cold War. The book was a product of the Cold War, so you kind of have… The Bugs as like a communist society, but if it’s coming out in ’97, when US’ unipolar moment and biggest baddest military in the world and things are kind of relatively calm and peaceful, then there’s not that kind of stuff happening in the background of people’s lives that they can easily filter this through.

10:23 Eric Gomez: So I think that might also have some impact to do with it. But then it’s like, if this movie came out 2002, 2003, maybe it has a different reception because then war or conflict against a foreign adversary is more in the backdrop of everyone’s minds when they see it. So I wonder if that had something to do with it.

10:46 Paul Meany: I was gonna say on the topic of satire, one thing I have a problem with is that people always say, “Oh, it’s so hard to tell if it’s a satire.” And I get frustrated with that a lot, because I feel like the movie plays it very quickly, and I think the original book was written to be kind of like a Utopia. But whenever someone writes about a Utopia, you can always tell what their dystopia is, ’cause that’s what they exclude. I think there’s lots of different kinds of what people portray a Utopia as, and some people portray it as technological advancement gets us up to the stars and we live all day playing video games and eating the best food ever, blah blah blah.

11:17 Paul Meany: Or we don’t have to do anything with our lives. Other people view Utopia as like a Spartan work culture, and that we all pull our weight and it’s more of a symbol of justice as opposed to prosperity. And so in some parts of the book, yeah, there’s lots about technology, but the movie strips all of that away. There are just like guys with machine guns, there’s technology, but the Bugs kind of equal them. But a big part about the film is how fast it moves.

11:38 Paul Meany: So you’re getting this information, “A man was caught murdering someone and then at 6:00 PM, his trial has already happened and the execution’s on live TV.” So that just shows you that the legal system in this whole set up is abysmal. Has no real concept of what we have today. But you gonna go past that so quickly, ’cause you’re like, “Oh, back to Saved by the Bell meets Jarhead with the cast.”

[laughter]

12:00 Natalie Dowzicky: Exactly! [laughter]

12:02 Paul Meany: In the original, Johnny is supposed to be the descendant of Filipinos in Buenos Aires. And then they make him like this square jawed White man with blond hair, and I think there was a little bit of a point to that. They were all cast with a particular purpose.

12:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, so actually he apparently, upon my research after watching the movie thinking it was basically another Mars Attacks! Type movie and then researching more about it. [laughter] Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon both auditioned, but the director specifically said that he was looking for the prototype of a blonde, White and arrogant actor.

[laughter]

12:39 Natalie Dowzicky: To portray… He admits to taking parts of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will and other types of propaganda, and really trying to put Nazi imagery within the… Within the film. So he had pretty… Wahlberg and Damon are huge actors, even at that time. He had a lot of options and chose to evoke certain emotions. You can’t watch this film and not think about how whitewashed it is. And which is why Landry and I were messaging back and forth, I was like, “Wait, they’re from Buenos Aires?”

13:13 Paul Meany: I’ve heard that as well, the whitewash thing. And I’m a little confused. I know the Nazi symbols give me always a big laugh ’cause in this film, the guy who gives Rico corporal punishment when he gets the guy shot in the head, the guy who whips him is Black. And you look at his uniform very closely, he has the double lightning strike of the SS on his shoulder pad, then he has a cap with a skull on it. And so Starship Trooper is the bizarre future in where a Black man whips a White man wearing Nazi memorabilia. And it’s just this bizarre world. And sometimes I think it’s not whitewashed, it’s this weird, everyone’s equal in the future, but we’re still fascists. And so they have the mixed showers, and they don’t even care. It’s kinda like this weird… It reminds me of the Spartans used to… They, women and men, used to go around naked, and this weird difference about it all, and how we’re all kind of the same, as long as we’re fighting for the one organism that is the massively overarching state.

14:03 Paul Meany: And they’re all about self‐​sacrifice and stuff. So I feel like I’m… I remember the Sky Marshal, one of them… He steps down, and after the Battle of Klendathu, and the woman who he replaces him, it’s a Black woman, which is… There’s never been a Black female president in America, but in the fascistic Starship Troopers world, it’s really just about merit, seemingly, or in the ideal form.

14:24 Eric Gomez: Yeah, it’s… I was gonna say a similar thing to Paul where the main cast, yeah, I think Natalie is right in terms of Rico’s sort of novel identity getting whitewashed a bit, but it is an interesting… The military is very diverse. There’s that scene where they all shower together and they’re talking about, “Why did you join?” And some people are like, “Oh, I’m just from a poor farming family, and they wanted something better for me,” and some person was like, “Well, I just wanna get into politics, and you need to be a citizen to do that, so… ”

15:00 Paul Meany: And one person’s like can I have a child license, please?

15:05 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.

15:05 Paul Meany: Yeah, through citizenship. Yeah. But like it’s easier to get it through citizenship.

15:08 Eric Gomez: So you have this incredibly… It’s racially diverse, gender diverse, reasons for service diverse, and also, I’m assuming it’s a world government because all that happens in Buenos Aires, but then they’re like, the capital of the Federation is in Geneva, which is like, “Wait, so is this just a world government now?”

15:31 Eric Gomez: But I don’t know. I thought that was an interesting thing, and I think Paul raises some good points there about like, “Hey, as long as everyone’s a good fascist, then we’re all on the same team and we gotta worry about the bugs.” Uniting against the alien threat, the thing that’s out there that isn’t human. That’s a common trope in a lot of sort of these sci‐​fi things of like, “Oh, there’s bad stuff beyond the stars? Well, shoot, time to just squash all of our petty little differences ’cause we gotta survive against the alien threat.” So I think that…

16:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Independence Day, Mars Attacks!

16:10 Paul Meany: I was gonna say that Starship Troopers is almost like a completed fascist society in which they’ve won the war, they’ve overcome the struggle, and now they’ve realised the reality of fascism. And so fascists were always striving for a particular thing, and they were always striving through force to get there, and it’s always the extermination of the other, whatever group you wanna make that. So in the Starship Troopers world, it was like delinquents and lay‐​abouts and social scientists, people of probably liberal ideas, persuasion.

16:37 Landry Ayres: Yes. [chuckle] I saw the… The social scientists thing made me really cackle.

16:42 Eric Gomez: That’s a good… For people like me…

16:43 Paul Meany: They win and they take over the world, and then what happens? Well, they have to find a new enemy. I love the part in the movie, again, people don’t understand it’s a satire ’cause they don’t… They don’t pay attention to those two‐​second little clips, they show the map of the Universe and where Earth is and where the bugs are, and the distance is just astonishingly massive. This like galaxy view. And it’s like, “How is this even a relevant enemy?” And there’s… That’s how desperate fascism is for an enemy. It always has some sort of other, whether it’s millions of light years away, just to justify cohesion.

17:13 Eric Gomez: It’s clear on the other side of the Milky Way. It kind of reminds me of… There’s a great… It’s a few years old now, but there’s a map of like, “Of course Iran wants war. Look how close they put their country to our military bases,” and it shows the US presence in Afghanistan in the Middle East surrounding Iran, and it’s like, “Oh no.” Or there was another one like that when there was an incident a few years ago where a Russian airplane approached a US Navy warship in the Black Sea, and there was all these reports of like, “Oh, too…

17:50 Eric Gomez: Russian airplane gets too close. Unsafe.” And then someone drew a map, it’s like, “Here’s where the United States is, here’s where Russia is. Here’s where the warship was, next to Russia.” Who was too close to whom? [chuckle] And it kind of… When I saw that sequence that Paul referenced, that jumped into my head ’cause it’s like, “Yeah, why do you need to… There’s a whole galaxy between you two. You’d think that would be enough space where both could not have to attack each other, but yet it’s not.”

18:30 Paul Meany: I’ve always wondered in the film if Buenos Aires was actually destroyed by the bugs, because in the first Battle at Klendathu, the bugs are made out to be mindless, and then when they land, when they first see the warrior bugs, the arachnids, the arachnids just scream at them for a while, and don’t actually attack them. Whether or not that’s just movies showing off how cool the bugs, or it’s a genuine confusion of the bugs not understanding why the humans are there. I think it’s really interesting, because it’s really vague. They don’t even show you… They show you them dodging a meteor, but could the bugs fire meteors that far? Does it make that much sense all the time?

19:05 Eric Gomez: Right. And it doesn’t make any sense ’cause there’s no bug incursion, as far as we can see. It’s just that the infantry lands on their planet, and then they get attacked in what appears to be a sort of defensive maneuver. The only type of real menace we see from the bugs that they’re enacting is when they suck the brains out of Zander in the cave at the very end. And I was waiting for, when they hold it up in front of the giant bug face that’s just so gross.

19:41 Eric Gomez: I was waiting for the bugs to be peaceful and to be like, “And now, we will give you a place to live.” And that they weren’t killing any of the troops because they were giving them a peaceful place to live or something like that. I was just waiting for that to be the twist, but that wouldn’t be satirical. That would be like an earnest ending, where everyone would be like, “And now, you see the error of your ways and you realised that the bugs were actually just like us all along.” And they were like, “Nope, the bugs have to be evil. They have to eat your brains, they have to suck them out with the weird tentacle needle thing.”

20:17 Paul Meany: So I was gonna say on the topic of psychics, I think it’s a big part of the film that not many people really pick up on, in my opinion. Maybe because it’s not extremely blatant to begin with. I’ve watched the movie so many times since I was 10, I’m such a loser. But one of the big things I found amazing was at the beginning of the film, they’re showing off an autopsy in the classroom and have this random little bug, and the teacher talks about how this bug is…

20:40 Paul Meany: One of the characters is like, “Why do we even bother doing this with this stupid bug?” The teacher is like, “Stupid bug. This small thing has no sense of consciousness, no sense of self, it doesn’t feel pain. It just follows orders.” And you’re like, “Oh God, that’s a terrible life to live.” But then, you find out human society and bug society are the same. Carl has psychic abilities that he develops later on, to actually give Rico ideas of where the brain bug is.

21:04 Paul Meany: So both human society and bug society have a psychic caste at the top that tells everyone else what to do. And the only difference between humans and the bugs is, is that the bugs on the lower end, the warriors and the workers are fearless and have no sense of self but humans just aspire to be like that in the Starship Troopers world.

21:20 Eric Gomez: But you could make the argument, I think, that I think makes your point even more potent, which is that, the fascism inherent in this society is so prevalent and so entrenched that the people, most of the people who follow through and are part of the infantry that end up being the counterparts to the bug warrior soldiers actually don’t have that sense of fear. They go on and they land on the planet and they’re just like, “Come on, let’s get some.” and they just go, go, go. And they shoot and maybe if they get their leg bitten off, then they’ll have a sense of fear. But most of the people still end up being a fearless killing machine that they’re being told to be. So I think if anything, it just makes it even more potent that they really are the same.

22:11 Eric Gomez: I’m curious about how did humanity spread across the stars, because you see when Rico is handing in his paperwork or when he’s going to class, his instructors have those horrible injuries. One guy’s missing two legs and one arm, one guy’s missing his arm, his science professor, she’s blinded. And where did they get those injuries? Presumably they did not get… Presumably they didn’t get them fighting other people on earth because there’s other human settlements in the stars. So is this the first time that the humans are encountering the bugs in a war?

22:52 Eric Gomez: Have we just exterminated other alien species to get where we are? It raised some questions that the movie never explicitly answers about the nature of the society and the nature of, does humanity always need… Like we talked about earlier, in a fascist society, you always need that other to be striving to eliminate, right. And have there been other bugs, maybe not actual bug species, but other intelligent life in the universe that humanity has just exterminated because they were the arachnids of the earlier generation? And the movie never answers it, but it was just something I thought of after watching the movie of like, “How many times has this… I wonder how many times this has happened in this universe?”

23:46 Paul Meany: One of the great ironies of the film is at one point, Johnny, he’s talking to the teacher, John Rasczak, or whatever. I think it’s a Polish name. He’s talking to him and basically, he’s saying, “I don’t know if I should join the military or not. My parents are against it but I wanna become a citizen.” And then he turns to him and really earnestly and warmly says, “Johnny, figuring things out for ourselves is one of the only freedoms we truly have.” It’s so funny, ’cause then the films like, now watch some propaganda clips. And you start to realise that’s the whole warning. This is the only freedom you really have and you don’t have it.

[music]

24:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Jumping back to what Eric said too, I was just thinking that the film is very cyclical, in the sense that it starts off with propaganda and ends with propaganda and essentially, just admits that like all the people that are part of the fighting force are just pawns that they’re using to recruit more people and… Recruit more people into violence for this ever persistent enemy. And I was just thinking, that design of the film, in that way also makes you think how many more people have been bought into this propaganda machine, in a sense?

24:55 Natalie Dowzicky: And I was wondering how you think propaganda plays a role in this society and if you think that the society buys it? ‘Cause you know how it’s a satire, but it seems that obviously, there’s not enough winks and nudges from the characters to suggest that it’s a satire, but… And it’s almost like they’re like, “Oh yeah, this propaganda is good. This is helping us gain more, whether it be troops or supporters, or more citizens versus civilians.” What role do you think propaganda plays?

25:32 Eric Gomez: I think it’s playing a pretty central one, if… Presumably there isn’t any other source of information, right? This society doesn’t strike me as the type of one that has MSNBC on one channel and Fox News on the next… So, a lot of the information you’re getting is from just the State, for more or less, and… Yeah, I think a lot of it, you’re right. And the sort of nature of, early on in the film, Johnny Rico has those moments in class where he says… His instructor asks, “Do you believe in this distinction between citizen and civilian that we’ve established in this society?” And he says he doesn’t know. But by the end of it, he just becomes his teacher, like he’s saying the same lines and the same things that his teacher, who later becomes his lieutenant, says to him. And it’s sort of like any kind of doubts are gone, right? He has become what he… In a matter of only what, a year or two maybe, has turned into the exact same thing of the person he replaced. And so, yeah, it’s a pretty grim ending from that perspective of like, “Oh, this is just gonna keep going”.

26:58 Paul Meany: It’s also interesting, after Rico’s first battle, he’s put in this big vat of luminous green goop, and there’s robots dabbing away at his wounds with little cotton swabs, it looks pretty cool. But then he’s technically killed in action, and it’s like some sort of symbolic rebirth, like after his first battle, he’s like a new man. And there is a cyclical element to the film, ’cause at the beginning of the film there’s that little joke where the child comes out and says, “I’m doing my part”, and everyone laughs. And then later in the film, just a little later, you see them handing out guns, or bullets to kids at school.

27:30 Paul Meany: And then a little later on, you see Rico’s walking through his military training place where he’s doing basic, and he sees someone who looks kind of young walk by as a new recruit. And then towards the end of the film, on the last mission, there’s a batch of new recruits and they’re like 15, 16, and they make jokes about it. And that’s the whole point, it’s like, it’s all about the next generation, there’s always the new one to come in.

27:53 Paul Meany: And the end of the film, the final propaganda clip is them saying, “They’re the new generation.” And so, it is just this dull again and again and again, an indoctrination on indoctrination. Sometimes I feel people can be very dismissive of what is and isn’t propaganda, ’cause in places like America, where the Defense Department pours massive money into films and could be considered one of the biggest production companies that helps make massive films as long as they align with the military’s ideals. There’s been multiple films that have been used as recruitment movies almost. Us people don’t really wanna believe that we’re being propagandised but we’re… In some ways we’re similar to the people in Starship Troopers with how we view the military. And the whole point of the film is that it shows that war makes fascists of us all. A lot of war movies make you kinda have to go into this really binary mindset to justify all the mega violence you’re watching.

28:42 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, it’s interesting that you bring up that point, Paul, because I was reading a few articles about this movie that came out like in 2018, so they were more recent than the movie. And I pulled a really interesting quote, and it said, “All that’s left to win is the chance to fight more, and to fight off the realisation that the fighting itself has become the point”. So, essentially that violence is what they’re after and perpetuating violence, and we’ve talked about this a few times on this show now, about these movies that… The point of the movie is violence and the fact that we’re watching it is us buying into this fact that we think this hyper‐​violent society is something that is entertaining to us, which is kind of messed up in a way.

29:25 Natalie Dowzicky: Like we talked about it with The Purge and other films, but it’s also striking to me because when this film came out in ’97, and we’ve mentioned the shower scene which I imagine was pretty controversial at the time this movie came out. I imagine that shower scene was more controversial than the violence in the rest of the film, which is just another statement on American society about our acceptance for violence, especially in big Hollywood blockbusters, particularly.

29:53 Paul Meany: One part about the film that I kinda just… The massive amounts of violence I thought were crazy. And I feel like the more violence there is in a film, the more they have to make out people to be extremely evil to justify you enjoying all of this. But with the bugs, since they’re so alien it’s not the same. It’s more you’re watching people get destroyed. Like the bugs, they just fire green gloop, you know, pods and slime, the usual alien stuff. But the human… It’s actually the humans that are getting the massively gruesome and terrible deaths, and the bugs don’t scream when they die, they make like a droney sound, but they don’t make a proper scream, but you would know people are dying.

30:26 Paul Meany: And you can almost see it that people are getting just torn to shreds because of the system they live in and how it needs to breed conflict to justify its cohesion. And I think it’s a pretty cool statement in a way. Normally people say violence in films can be just gratuitous, but I was like, “Hey, I’ll give Starship Troopers a pass.” And plus it’s why I loved it as a child, so.

[music]

30:47 Eric Gomez: This is like a departure from the serious stuff, but why doesn’t anyone have stand‐​off weapons in the future? It’s so weird. Like watching… You know, I was watching this and the “tactics” of the mobile infantry are just stand in the open, take no cover, and just fire hundreds and hundreds of rifle rounds into one bug to kill it. It’s like, well, no wonder you need so many people, you guys… For a fascist society, you sure do suck at war.

31:21 Paul Meany: They always lose.

31:23 Eric Gomez: And they… Yeah, it’s so… And it’s like I see it in Star Wars, where Star Wars is basically just 18th or 19th century, like naval battles, but in space. It’s like have any of you have heard of a missile? Like a thing you can fire from far away that can strike with precision. And I think that…

31:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, that wouldn’t be as cool.

31:47 Eric Gomez: No, it wouldn’t be.

31:48 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s much cooler to have bug guts on you.

31:50 Eric Gomez: Yeah, I guess, I mean it’s like less visually appealing, but it’s like, man, how did you… Or the fleet tactics of, “Oh, every time a ship gets hit in space, they’re gonna crash into each other.” Well, space out, you have space, like you’re in space, you don’t have to be a hundred yards away from each other when you’re dropping off your troops. Anyway, I don’t know, that kind of stuff just makes me wonder what the heck’s going on.

32:22 Eric Gomez: But… And that’s one thing where I think in the books, the book Starship Troopers gave rise to power armor, that was the first mention in novels of power armor. And these guys don’t have… They’re mobile infantry, they don’t have power armor. What’s mobile about them? They just walk everywhere.

32:39 Paul Meany: So, as a Starship Troopers super‐​fan I have watched the later films. There’s two and three, and then there is the CGI ones, there’s two of them. And the CGI ones are way different because they all have massive power armor and they have guns that go around backwards, and they can run away and fire at the same time. They all have nuclear missiles and it’s completely different, they just kill all the bugs, it’s ridiculous, five of them can kill thousands, it’s nothing like the movie at all. But I think that’s part of it, is that the movie is about that war‐​like sacrifice, and they talk about it in the film, and Bootcamp, one of the characters, says, “Why can’t we just drop nukes on them?” And then he makes them put his hand on the wall and he throws a knife at it.

33:18 Paul Meany: Makes the glib little remark, you can’t press a button if you disable his hand. But the whole point is that that’s not very manly, you gotta produce a manly society, even though we have women in the military, we all want to be manly. And that’s the weird… It’s egalitarian, but in a way that they crush all gender and racial norms so everyone can fit in with their one vision of how the world ought to be.

33:36 Paul Meany: And we’ll tolerate people who disagree with us or civilians, but they can’t partake in society. Another thing I find really interesting is that Paul Verhoeven also made the movie, RoboCop. And RoboCop’s entirely different because RoboCop was like a dystopia made by Reganite deregulation and privatizing the police and stuff. But Starship Troopers is the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and it shows that range that both Heinlein had with Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Verhoeven with RoboCop being the neo‐​liberal hellhole. And Starship Troopers being the hyper fascistic, other hellhole.

34:13 Landry Ayres: Can someone explain to me how old they’re supposed to be at the beginning of this movie? Because they’re at some sort of academy, but it’s not the military academy, so is it like a college and then there’s a professional school…

34:31 Natalie Dowzicky: I thought it was high school.

34:31 Landry Ayres: Or are they supposed to be like… I thought… Yeah, ’cause, well, and also… So it’s like space high school but they’re not in space, and it’s in Buenos Aires but they treat it like it’s Southern California or something, and there is a football game that happens. There is a very strange arena football scene where they’re all wearing half the amount of armour, it’s like arena football and that it’s on a smaller scale, but the points are all off, there’s apparently not gravity in the place where they’re playing, ’cause they’re all doing flips and no one is playing defense. And then… But the teams that are playing each other, one is Zander’s team, and one is Johnny Rico’s team, but we then learn Zander is going to the military academy, but then when Brooke Shields gets there, he’s already been there, he’s the assistant instructor. So it seems like he’s older, or is he part of a private school compared to a… Or a more esteemed school? And then there’s a prom that they go to where… What is… I don’t understand anything. And this is all in the first 20 minutes.

35:42 Paul Meany: This is what it’s like living in America. No, Landry, this is what it’s like living in America where no one can tell you what age you are in every particular grade, and they don’t know what prom is, or what homecoming is or cheerleading, it’s part of the… The highs and lows of American football. This is what it’s like being a foreigner. You don’t get what anyone’s talking about or how old anyone’s supposed to be. You’re like, “I’m in the eighth grade.” I’m like, “What does that mean?”

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36:02 Landry Ayres: And now for the time in the show where we get to share all the other things we’ve been enjoying with our time at home. This is Locked In. So, Eric and Paul, what else have you been enjoying besides Starship Troopers?

36:16 Eric Gomez: I’ve got a book and a show. On the show front, my wife and I are watching The Wire, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen it but it’s the first time she’s seen it. And it’s so funny, ’cause she always says, “There are no protagonists in this show, everyone is awful except maybe Omar and maybe Detective Freamon.” It’s like those are the only people you root for because everyone else is just so much of a hot mess in their personal lives. So, we’re on season two of that, we’re near the end of season two, with the stevedores, and moving through that one pretty quick. On the book front, I’ve been reading a lot of Sci‐​fi. I’ve gotten very into my local library in pandemic, and I’m reading a lot of books by John Scalzi, he’s a sci‐​fi author. There’s a couple of series that he wrote that I’m reading right now, one is called Old Man’s War, which is kind of like Starship Troopers, in that humanity is colonising other planets, but the deal with Old Man’s War is when you turn a certain age on the Earth you can sign up to go out into the colonies and basically never come back to Earth.

37:37 Eric Gomez: And they put your conscious… They transfer your consciousness into a bio‐​engineered young person’s body for humanity to fight against aliens and try to colonize planets. And it doesn’t have the kind of fascist or political stuff in it as much, I think it’s much more about what does consciousness mean, what does a sense of self mean if you can just plug and play consciousness into different bodies. But it’s a good series, I’ve read the first two books of that, and then I’m reading the last book of his Interdependency trilogy, which is about… Basically, what if an ecological disaster happened, like a slow motion ecological disaster was happening in space. I’m reading it as very much like global warming, where in the book…

38:29 Eric Gomez: The way that humanity exists in a bunch of different star systems, but none of their systems can survive on their own. They’re all interdependent on each other. And the way that they get around is this phenomenon called the flow, which allows for quick travel in between disperse star systems. And what happens in the book is like, the flow is collapsing. This thing like this… It’s not like physical, but this thing that we use to make this whole system work is slowly going away. And what the hell are we gonna do about it? So it’s a very good book. I would recommend John Scalzi, as an author, very highly for new fresh Sci‐​fi.

39:16 Paul Meany: So, I don’t read an awful lot of books that aren’t political philosophy and history, ’cause I am a massive loser. But I have been watching two really cool things. So the first one is a movie called The Platform, it’s a Spanish film. I think it came out last year, or at least that’s when I watched it, and it was my favorite films of the year. And the basic just is as it says, future dystopian society that has left quite up to your own interpretation, you’d just call the administration you never seen it outside of the platforms. It’s just weird rehabilitative center where you go in, you’re assigned a random roommate on a random floor. And then at the top of the entire structure are people who make this massive table of food, like lobster and cake and pasta and everything, it’s like the entire Cheesecake Factory menu is right there.

40:03 Paul Meany: And then it goes down, and everyone has a minute to eat and if they keep any food on the floor, eventually they’ll be like heated or frozen to death. And it’s about people at the very bottom. You’re assigned the floors randomly as months go by, like every month you’re assigned a different floor but if you’re at the very bottom floor there’s no food and everyone starts eating each other. And the whole movie is about people trying to survive in this situation… Yes, it’s very odd and it’s very hard to get people to watch it… I tried to get my dad to watch with me and he’s like, “Everyone’s gonna eat each other, and it’s all in Spanish, I don’t want it,” but he actually watched it and liked it. That’s a really cool movie, which is all about spontaneous solidarity was the theme, and it’s about them trying to send a message, but I think it’s really good.

40:43 Paul Meany: The other thing I’m watching is a show called Love, Death and Robots, which I think is a Netflix original. And it’s an anthology series, it’s like… I think there’s a season of it on Netflix, or it’s two seasons now, it’s 19 episodes. They’re all different themes. But one of the ones I watched was called… Oh my God, I think it was like secret invader or something, or secret invasion. It was about the US Army in Afghanistan, but two members of the Army are werewolves. And in this future, there are just people who are werewolves and they are part of the army. And it’s about the discrimination they face for being what they are and the war they fight in, but also knowing like they’re fighting for a nation that they are not represented in at all and people hate them and call them dogs and what not. I think it’s a really, really weird story and it really goes on about the army in a very interesting way. But yeah, it’s rare for me to have two things, let alone one. So I’m proud of myself.

41:43 Natalie Dowzicky: On my front, I just started reading The Silent Patient. It’s another fiction book that is about a woman who murders her husband and then doesn’t talk at all during her trial. They put her in a mental health institution because of her history before she murdered her husband, and she still hasn’t talked yet. And I’m about 100 pages into the book, and it’s like they’re trying to find different ways to try and get her to speak again. And it’s very interesting. And then I recently started The Leftovers on HBO. It’s not as good as the probably 30 people that recommended it to me said it was. But I’m gonna try and get through it. I also wanna start The Undoing, which has been buzzing lately on Twitter, another HBO show. But other than that, I’ve just been hanging out at home and… Oh, the l.org team started a Sherlock Holmes mystery, which we hope to finish soon. We spent a solid amount of time running around London finding clues for our murder mystery. But I won’t give it away since we don’t know what happened yet, I’m living on the edge of my seat.

43:09 Landry Ayres: One show that I’ve been really, really enjoying and re‐​watching has been Peaky Blinders, which you can watch on Netflix. It is a British gangster series set in Birmingham, starring Cillian Murphy and a lot of other people that you might recognise. But it’s very gritty and stylized, so they’ll be walking around doing their British gangster things and shooting things up with Tommy Guns. But then they’ll be like playing Arctic Monkeys and PJ Harvey and Nick Cave in the background while it’s happening. So there’s this gritty modern soundtrack, which is one of my favorite things that shows do now is to put modern music on period pieces. They do it in Lovecraft Country sometimes. And it’s great. The later few seasons get a little crazy, but the first few seasons, I think are very, very good.

44:05 Landry Ayres: I have also been playing a lot of Baldur’s Gate 3, which I got early access for. So I’ve been trying to cleanse myself of the mindful air parasite that was put into my character’s brain before I turn into an illithid. So been wandering around the Forgotten Realms trying to save myself, fight off monsters, adventure, etcetera, etcetera. It’s great, it’s early access, so you know there’s glitches and bugs and things like that, but I still think it’s a ton of fun. And it’s a great way to get a sort of dungeons of dragons experience while being at home and not having a lot of people that you can play with at the same table, even if you can play over video chat like I do pretty regularly. So check out Peaky Blinders and Baldur’s Gate 3.

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44:57 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If you wanna join Paul in schooling us in what we missed on our first viewing of Starship Troopers, you can find us at the handle, @PopnLockePod on Twitter. That’s, Pop, the letter n, Locke with an e, like the philosopher, Pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. We look forward to unravelling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by me, Landry Ayres, as a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.