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Is Starship Troopers a Satire of Fascism?

starship_troopers_-_movie_posterThe terms fascist and fascism get thrown around a lot, but rarely with accuracy. The science fiction novel Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein, and the 1997 movie of the same name, are alternatively accused of promoting or lampooning fascism. Starship Troopers isn’t my favorite film, but I think it’s entertaining and original enough to rewatch every now and then. I just watched it last week, when to my surprise, RedLetterMedia featured it over the weekend in an episode of “re:View.” Watch the full episode here.

In their review, Mike and Jay take the position that Starship Troopers is a satire of fascism, and that audiences largely missed the point when the movie was released in 1997. There’s some evidence for this. The director, Paul Verhoeven, definitely interpreted Heinlein’s novel in this way. At one point, characters are wearing uniforms obviously inspired by the Nazi Gestapo. Violence is shown as the only solution, and militarism and war are at the center of this futuristic society. Characters consider the alien arachnids to be ugly, mindless, and inferior to humans. They are confined to a “Quarantine Zone,” like the Nazi ghettos.

Mike and Jay argue Starship Troopers inverts a common character arch in which a character living in an oppressive society comes to rebel against that society. Instead, in Starship Troopers, characters who originally question the social order, or who are at least indifferent to it, end up embracing it. Characters become less human as the film progresses, until, at the end, they cheer when it’s revealed a captured arachnid feels fear, an emotion that typically elicits sympathy.

starshiptroopersVerhoeven himself said his movie adaptation is “playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society… of course, the movie is about ‘Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.'” He copied some propaganda scenes directly from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935).

But is the Terran Federation depicted in Starship Troopers a fascist society? Despite the fascist ascetic in the film, it just doesn’t measure up. Benito Mussolini defined fascism as a merger of corporations and the state. Fascism is more generally characterized by a cult of personality, extreme nationalism, veneration of past glory, militarism, racial superiority, and authoritarianism.

Well, Starship Troopers certainly portrays a militaristic society, but that is where the comparison ends.

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Anatomy of a Media Hit Piece

lord_of_nazgulI came across this hit piece at the New York Times recently, that uses guilt by association to demonize White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon and scare its readership into questioning the Trump administration’s motives and legitimacy. The headline itself begins with dark and ominous tones. “Taboo Italian Thinker Is Enigma to Many, but Not to Bannon.”

Uh oh, who is this obscure Italian, and why is he taboo? And how can an obscure Italian philosopher be an enigma to many, when most Americans have never heard of him?

It begins,

Those trying to divine the roots of Stephen K. Bannon’s dark and at times apocalyptic worldview have repeatedly combed over a speech that Mr. Bannon, President Trump’s ideological guru, made in 2014 to a Vatican conference, where he expounded on Islam, populism and capitalism.

But for all the examination of those remarks, a passing reference by Mr. Bannon to an esoteric Italian philosopher has gone little noticed, except perhaps by scholars and followers of the deeply taboo, Nazi-affiliated thinker, Julius Evola.

The first sentence passes off opinion as fact, and sets the tone for how the reader is supposed to feel about the rest of the article. “Bannon’s dark and at times apocalyptic worldview.” (Cue ominous organ music.) The second paragraph delves deeper. It tells us Bannon made a “passing reference” to Julius Evola, a 20th-Century Italian occultist and fascist intellectual. What was this reference? You’d have to dig to the bottom of the article to find it.

Mr. Bannon suggested in his Vatican remarks that the Fascist movement had come out of Evola’s ideas.

As Mr. Bannon expounded on the intellectual motivations of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, he mentioned “Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the Traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian Fascism.”

As the article points out, Bannon was actually incorrect. Evola used the fascist movement to promote his ideas, not vice versa. The real intellectual architect of Italian fascism was Giovanni Gentile. But so what? Bannon’s crime is having a passing knowledge of obscure philosophers and interwar European history? That’s like saying anyone who has read about terrorism is a proponent of terrorism.

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What is Totalitarianism? A Special Presentation at WIU

Join me at Western Illinois University in Macomb for a special presentation of “What is Totalitarianism?” sponsored by the local chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty.

Thursday, March 10 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm, Morgan Hall 316

“Is Big Brother watching you? Join Michael Kleen as he discusses the reality of totalitarianism in the contemporary world and explains how some individuals, even with good intentions, are bringing us closer to George Orwell’s nightmare.”

If the United States came under the control of a totalitarian regime, would we recognize it? This and other provocative questions are asked and answered in my reading of “What is Totalitarianism?” (Part 1 and Part 2) which will include a presentation on the reality of totalitarianism (defined as “total state control”) in the world today.