How "Starship Troopers" Aligns with Our Moment of American Defeat

It has become clear, in these last decades of decadence, decline, towering institutional violence, and rampant bad taste, that American life is stuck somewhere inside the Paul Verhoeven cinematic universe.

For most of "Starship Troopers," humanity, in every possible facet, gets its ass kicked. A culture that reveres and communicates exclusively through violence -- a culture very much like one that responds to peaceful protests with indiscriminate police brutality, or whose pandemic strategy is to "dominate" an unreasoning virus -- keeps running up against its own self-imposed limitations. Once again, the present has caught up to Verhoeven's acid vision of the future. It's not a realization that anyone in the film can articulate, or seemingly even process, but the failure is plain: society has left itself a single solution to every problem, and it doesn't work.

Donald Trump didn't empty American politics of everything but violence; he's just what was left afterward. He is more an emblem of American defeat than its author. The world of "Starship Troopers" aligns with our moment in its wastefulness and brutality, and most of all in being so helplessly recursive. At the end of the film, the human survivors of the bug siege become the heroes of a bombastic military-recruiting ad. A splash of onscreen text cheers, "They'll keep fighting . . . and they'll win!" The second promise is extraneous. All that's left to win is the chance to fight more, and to fight off the realization that the fighting itself has become the point.

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