Rob Ager, “The War on Bugs” (2012)
Researched, written, edited and narrated by Rob Ager, this documentary examines the themes of the science fiction film “Starship Troopers” made by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven in 1997. This film was the third of three SF flicks Verhoeven made, the earlier two being “Robocop” and “Total Recall”. Additionally Ed Neumeier worked on the scripts for “Robocop” and “Starship Troopers”. The documentary’s style is fairly basic, depending in the main on running excerpts from the film which Ager’s narrative refers to. It is divided into short segments dealing with different aspects and manifestations of the themes of “Starship Troopers” that satirise fascist tendencies in American and Western societies.
Ager begins with a brief history of how he began watching “Starship Troopers” and thinking it a clever adaptation of James Cameron’s film “Aliens”. Over time, he became fascinated with Verhoeven and Neumeier’s aims in writing and developing the script from the original eponymous Robert Heinlein novel and turning it into a superficially B-grade movie heavy on satire and irony. Ager quotes an interview in which Neumeier explained why the film was developed as a comedy and satire: he and Verhoeven believed its themes would be delivered more effectively in a humorous cartoony way as opposed to a dramatic approach which would have the effect of being preachy and didactic.
The film quickly begins to delve into the research that Verhoeven did on fascism, its history and its symbols. Verhoeven studied the history of the US during and after World War II, noting the country’s ready celerity in invading other countries such as Vietnam, Grenada and Panama so as to impose and maintain a particular political-economic-social order and prevent these and other nations from following independent paths. The political philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky is cited as an influence in the way Verhoeven develops the propaganda of the fictitious state that wages constant war against insect-like aliens on another planet.
The bulk of the film is devoted to explaining aspects of the fictional imperialist space empire of the future Earth in which Anglo-American society and its values dominates throughout, and how these political and social aspects mirror or parallel tendencies and developments in current Western society. Under various subject headings such as “Lies”, “Media”, “The War on Everyone” and East vs West”, particular issues that Ager notices in “Starship Troopers” are brought out and explained in detail. Of particular interest is how Ager draws attention to parallels in the way the war in “Starship Troopers” is sold to the gullible public and how the War on Terror has been promoted to audiences in the US and beyond – yet the film was released several years before the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in September, 2001!
A real eye-opener is Ager’s investigation of how political correctness and agendas promoting equality and egalitarian values, multiculturalism and social diversity actually mask racial prejudice, and how fascist governments and politics can hide behind supposed tolerance for other races, religions, different sexual orientations and other outsider groups. This of course is actually an old divide-and-rule tactic used by power elites in the past though the actual divisions may vary: over a hundred years ago it was one group of working-class people against another (as in, say, poor white people against poor black people) or one brand of Christianity against another (as in Protestants versus Roman Catholics in parts of the Anglosphere), now the dividing lines are along life-style issues (such as the interests of gays or a particular sub-set of gay people in their community against those of the general heterosexual community) – but the desired effect of dividing people and weakening them through culture wars is the same: a small privileged elite, all sharing the same or similar values, emerges on top.
The main gripe I have about the documentary is that Ager’s accented narration does go very quickly and viewers may need to watch the film a few times to catch and absorb all that he says. Possibly also a frame-by-frame investigation would have assisted in Ager’s bringing out the film’s concerns in more detail and enabled viewers to question aspects of Ager’s analysis as well. Ager’s investigation is subjective and viewers more or less have to try to keep up with it and accept it at face value.