I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Starship Troopers: How I Quit Worrying and Learned to Love the Bug

by May-Lee Sia
June 5, 2011
How I love this movie. How intimidating it is to write about something that has so often – and so well – already been written about. A deliciously pre-9/11 anti-war movie shot during the Gulf War that loses none of its satirical impact due to its lack of subtlety. If anything, its heavy-handedness is used to excellent effect. Directed by the incredible Paul Verhoeven (most famous for Basic Instinct and Total Recall) and released in 1997, during an idyllic lull in America’s never-ending cycles of militarism, and featuring a good blend of mediocre and outstanding actors, Starship Troopers has gone on to become a cult favorite. The movie’s easy to swallow coating as a Sci-Fi movie is so junkily and predictably enjoyable it seems as if you’ve seen it before belies a depth that will captivate generations for eternity.

Yeah, eternity. There, I said it.

Like the Bible, Starship Troopers contains universal and unassailable truths, answering the big questions about life and death, morality and ethics, love and war. Paul Verhoeven’s deft hand has created a masterpiece that both stands on its own and creates fertile ground for debate, tribute and examination. The treasures of wisdom contained within, however, will only be revealed to the pilgrims who make it through all 12 parts of the YouTube upload. Look to your right! Look to your left! By the end of this journey, two of you will have failed the test.

For those of you unable or unwilling to go through the 12 Steps of Starship Troopers, I bring you three gems plucked from the endless vault of knowledge found in this film and what they might bring you as you seek to answer the great questions of Life, the Universe and Everything.

Comprehensive Catalog of Sci-Fi Clichés, with bonus violations of the laws of astrophysics, continuity and basic common sense.
Enter the comfortingly  familiar territory of all so-bad-they’re-good Sci-Fi flicks - all genders will be equal, we will have interstellar space flight but our ships will still need wings, there will be versions of football where the uniforms look like Power Rangers costumes and high schoolers will look like they are in their late 20s. Starship Troopers starts from there, then goes from strength to strength in terms of excellently pointless shit from the future – I guess we’re all going to get tattooed by machines and train our troops to fight giant bugs by making them play Lazer Tag and waving flags like they were in Les Miz.

I urge you to create bingo cards (a drinking game doesn’t do justice to the smorgasbord of clichés and errors) and fill them with your favorites. Can’t get enough of excessively aggressive drill sergeants or the wingman with a down home flair? We got’em. Love it when a hysterical infantryman has to have sense slapped into him? Check. Craving a stilted monologue about an ethical conundrum? Want to see a character seriously wounded in one scene then miraculously healed in another? Guilty on both counts.

Team Dizzy vs. Team Carmen
This section of the article is of personal interest to your author, having been in the “Dizzy” position far more often than I prefer to admit. Not only do I suck at math, but I couldn’t pilot a starship or make that blank fish-faced expression of non-emotion - only clarifiable through context, dialogue, or really anything other than Denise Richards’ acting ability. At no point would I have both a hot-in-a-cheesy-way infantryman and a swarthy and Duchovnyesque-but-less-hot pilot vying for my affections. No, I would be running around like a maniac shooting anything that moves and throwing grenades at giant bugs. I would be showering co-ed nude and not getting any action, until after me and my hopeless crush are serenaded by a leering Jake Busey playing a day-glo plexiglass violin. If only I’d known before that was what it would take to get him in the mood!

After being impaled by a giant bug, your apparent consolation prize would be that you did eventually bag said infantryman. In a wooden display of proto-mansplaining, he will declare you his “friend” (thanks, buddy!), a soldier and a citizen before your coffin is irresponsibly shot into space. It will coast as a piece of eternal space debris, until it is sucked into the gravity well of an unsuspecting planet and enters a low enough orbit to begin its high-speed descent to said planet and, let’s hope, touch off the spectacular mass extinction of an exceptionally sophisticated civilization. Ain’t revenge sweet!

The love triangle or trapezoid or whatever polygon you choose of Dizzy, Rico, Carmen, Zander and yes, even Carl (a pre-out Neil Patrick Harris), encapsulates the deepest depths and the highest pinnacles of the human heart. Through careful analysis of their intersecting and developing character arcs, astute viewers can find the answers to any romantic question.  And let’s not forget Carmen’s tantalizing comment to Carl and Rico: “Whenever the three of us are together, I feel like things just might work out” – IN BED.

What is the Foundation of Good Governance?
A fundamental problem of democracies is that the laws that result from them are primarily the emergent properties of the decisions of laymen. In the reality of Starship Troopers, this effect is ameliorated by allowing only citizens – those with “the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility” – the right to vote. Practically speaking, the right to vote, run for office and otherwise participate in civic life is gained only through serving in the military. One must be willing to give one’s life to uphold the ideals and security of the human race. Either as an individual, or as part of an organization – as Carl elegantly puts it, “every day  I have to make decisions that send hundreds of people like you to their deaths.” An individual sacrifices personal decision making in order to act on behalf of the greater whole.

Contrast this with the pure democracy of the YouTube comments thread. When the people have spoken – all of them, not just the ones who have pumped round after round of hot lead into giant insects or flown gajillion dollar starships or hypnotized pulsating bugs – we find they are excellent contributors of unexpected factual information (ie: when impaled, don’t pull a bug’s leg out of your chest) as well as keen observers (ie: what can the bugs possibly have to eat or drink on Klendathu?). Though there is a pretty low signal to noise ratio – how many times can we read that “The Heinlein book was better” or “LOL the brain bug’s face looks like a giant vagina!”, a meta-analysis of the comments does provide us with a good insight into the viewpoints of the citizens of the Republic of YouTube: We like our sci-fi gory with lots of explosions. We like our sci-fi factual. StarShip Troopers 2 and 3 are like red-headed stepchildren, best kept unloved and unacknowledged. Hearteningly, though, there seems to be consensus on three key points: Nudity is more acceptable than violence. Starship Troopers is a pitch-perfect critique of fascism and racism. Diz WAS hotter.

Good governance, then, is a delicate balance between the decisions that result from the knowledge of the informed few, and the unadulterated observations of the naïve many. And let’s hope these decisions will one day usher in a brighter future, a future with more boobs and less killing.

May-Lee Sia has no writing experience whatsoever and blagged her way to an illustrious position as a Network Awesome writer via barefaced nepotism. Raised by wolves in the Jumbles (it’s a kind of world puzzle) and kept in an Austrian basement for the last eight years, May-Lee likes having fun. Because apparently you have to state that explicitly in your OKCupid profile nowadays, or people assume you enjoy suffering.