November 10, 2013
Starship Troopers’ Sweet Sixteen
When I was 17, a science fiction movie came out that had audiences baffled. Some loved it for its extreme action while others found it vapid and a waste of time. Some still thought of this movie as just escapism, fun but not really life changing. However, a few found the movie to be, well, smart and funny and important. This sci-fi movie is, of course, Starship Troopers.
People really reacted to Starship Troopers then and apparently that reaction carries on today as an article in The Atlantic explains. This movie is one of the most misunderstood movies according to The Atlantic. Why is that? Well, because many viewers and critics failed to see the satire. The website Literary Devices defines satire as
“a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. It intends to improve the humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles. A writer in a satire uses fictional character, which stands for real people to expose and condemn their corruption.
A writer may point a satire toward a person, a country or even the entire world. Usually, a satire is a comical piece of writing which makes fun of an individual or a society to expose its stupidity and shortcomings. In addition, he expects that whosoever he criticizes improves his character by overcoming his weaknesses.”
Starship Troopers most obviously fits into this category. As The Atlantic points out, the satire points to at least one country but perhaps the entire world: “The resulting film critiques the military-industrial complex, the jingoism of American foreign policy, and a culture that privileges reactionary violence over sensitivity and reason.”
However, many viewers and critics did not catch the satire. For them, Starship Troopers was simply an over-the-top action sci-fi flick with pretty faces, no depth, and a ridiculous plot. And when seen without the satirical element, I understand this position. Even with that, it is a movie that amuses. Sure, if the satire flies over your head, the movie is silly. But it is silly in a fun way, a veg out and just chill way. If you get the satire, then the movie provides you with ideas to ponder, positions to question, and issues to discuss.
In many ways, Starship Troopers is sci-fi at its best. Yes, it is over the top, bloody, silly. It also draws attention to very real issues and points of discussion: violence, military, jingoism, foreign policy, class, and even technology. One thing I love about sci-fi and fantasy is that these genres can critique very real issues, very in-the-moment topics, all in a way that is more palatable. People can digest the absurdity of the military-industrial complex in Starship Troopers without feeling uncomfortable by it. When we try this with our own military, people throw words like “unpatriotic” or “traitor” at us. I am not saying the military is bad here. Please don’t misread or infer otherwise. All I am saying is that sci-fi can point out what may be uncomfortable in our real lives in ways that make us think twice without judgment or worry. Here is a clip that serves as a perfect example of just this:
We see the way that propaganda manipulates, but it is less offensive because the movie is so farfetched.
I neither like nor dislike Starship Troopers, but since November 7, 2013, was its 16th anniversary, why not talk about it as satire instead of as an empty flick void of anything redeeming.
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures