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November 1997, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Viet Nguyen <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 17 Nov 1997 14:04:22 -0800
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Paul Clinco wrote:
>Heinlein's book is *much* more ultra-right than this movie. Heinlein's
>ashes are spinning in the Pacific, too, over the politically correct
>genders of officers and "men."  Heinlein explicitly announced, in many
>books, that the human race should be based on "women and children
>first." Men do the fighting, women fuck heartily, give attaboys, cook,
>and change the bandages. The movie ST wipes all that out.
Someone wrote an extensive comment on the adaptation of the novel earlier,
so he or she can correct me on what I'm about to say, since I read the book
at least a decade ago.  But, in my memory, the genders in the movie are not
"politically correct"---in Heinlein's book, Carmen really is the officer,
Johnny the enlisted man.  Heinlein may have been a fascist, but he was a
smart fascist.  He saw that gender and race equality were necessary in his
vision of a new world order, which was premised upon a certain vision of
meritocracy, i.e., anyone could be a citizen if they earned the right to
it.  This brings up another interesting issue, which is that I thought, in
the book, Johnny and Carmen weren't "white."  (Clinco mentions that Carmen
is played by a Hispanic actor, although that's not "visible" either from
her appearance or her name).  Maybe I'm fantasizing, but I remember them as
being (as their names imply) Puerto Rican and Filipino, or vice versa.  (I
distinctly remember a reference to one of them being able to speak Tagalog,
one of the languages of the Philippines).  If that's the case, then the
movie's far from being politically correct--it actually reverses Heinlein's
revamped fascism, in which all races could serve in the future's army.
My feeling is that ST the novel is clearly a response to the cold war and a
product of Heinlein's own war experiences.  In a cold war world divided
between good (the US) and evil (the Soviet Union, represented by those
mindless hordes of bugs with their hivelike, communistic lifestyle), the
good side had to embrace both participatory citizenship and equal access,
that is, the US had to live up to its own mythological reputation as the
land of freedom-loving, ready-to-die democrats.  hence, our heroes,
minorities and a woman.  US Army commercials express pretty much the same
Verhoeven's version of ST is pretty much like Independence Day in regard to
our post-cold war world.  We have humans on one side, indiscriminate evil
on the other--good and bad are clearly defined in a way that our political
reality isn't.  At least ID had the insight to make its hero black.  All
the people of color in ST got their guts ripped out.  In that sense,
Verhoeven's film is politically correct. It's much more PC to be a white
male than a person of color. (To forestall any flames, let me simply point
out that "politically correct" in this sense means having the real
power--getting the money, getting the women, getting the kicks, and so on.)
>6.      The guns are all machine guns, the hand grenades all World War II
>pineapples. With all the        hypertechnology of the spacefaring age, why
>are these people carrying archaic weapons?  Well, the   answer is that
>Heinlein wrote it that way. Of course, in Heinlein's day, "astrogators"
>were plotting   courses with slide rules.  Some of the younger members of
>this list may have go to a museum to find out   what those are. Hint:
>they don't even use batteries.
Let this younger person point out a fact: Heinlein didn't write it that
way.  In his book, all the soldiers are running around in suits of armor
that let them run faster than a speeding bullet and leap tall buildings in
a single bound.  In short, they're supermen, ha ha.  Hitler would be proud.
 This is probably the area of adaptation where Verhoeven tries to undercut
the fascism in the book the most, by making the humans as vulnerable as
possible.  However, as someone else pointed out, it's highly doubtful
whether all the irony in the film that seems to be evident to people on
this list ever actually makes its way through to the bulk of the audience,
who are caught up in the special effects and narrative.  Even antiwar films
have a hard time getting their antiwar message across, and this is far from
an antiwar or an antifascist film.  That would be like calling Robocop an
anticorporate, anticapitalist film simply because it has some fun with
corporate excess while it makes a hundred million dollars.
Viet Nguyen
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