Robocop: A Satire of the 1980s
Airfare Daily Deals eCigarettes Eyeglasses Hotels Jewelry Online Backup Online Dating Online Printing Online Tickets Skin Care Textbook Rentals Vitamins Web Hosting Weddings
Find thousands of shopping-related forums
SEARCH

Robocop: A Satire of the 1980s

Robocop is often viewed as just another dumb action movie, but itÂ’s actually a subversive, razor-sharp satire. The film was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also made Total Recall and Starship Troopers. VerhoevenÂ’s critics see his films as ultra-violent and over-the-top, and sometimes they are, but that is thoroughly appropriate because Verhoeven is depicting a dystopian future that is a nightmarish extension of the present. In particular, Robocop dissects contemporary American values and the ethos of the 1980s.

Robocop is often viewed as just another dumb action movie, but it’s actually a subversive, razor-sharp satire. The film was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also made Total Recall and Starship Troopers. Verhoeven’s critics see his films as ultra-violent and over-the-top, and sometimes they are, but that is thoroughly appropriate because Verhoeven is depicting a dystopian future that is a nightmarish extension of the present. In particular, Robocop dissects the values of the 1980s.

In this era, Ronald Reagan was President of the USA. Reagan was a Republican president. His policies reflected his personal belief in individual freedom. He wanted to reduce people’s reliance on government because he thought that state intervention compromised the status of the individual. Accordingly, he cut the budgets of social programmes including Medicaid and food stamps. Conversely, Reagan empowered private businesses by reducing business regulation and taxes. Reagans’s economic policies were dubbed ‘Reaganomics’.

Critics labeled Reagan’s foreign policies aggressive and imperialistic. He denounced the Soviet Union in ideological terms, famously describing it as an ‘evil empire.’ In 1983, he introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative, a defense project that would have used ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by nuclear missiles. The programme was nicknamed ‘Star Wars.’ In fact, it was the inspiration for SkyNet in the Terminator films.

The political situation in Britain was very similar. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990. Her political philosophy was very similar to Reagan’s and they became very close political allies. Thatcher believed in reduced state intervention, the free market and entrepreneurialism. She privatized state-owned companies and sold off council housing to tenants. She deregulated the financial sector, making private companies more powerful. She was opposed to the Soviet Union and her tough-talking rhetoric earned her the nickname the ‘Iron Lady.’

Paul Verhoeven is often accused of being misogynistic and obsessed with sex and violence: he directed Basic Instinct, which isn’t the most progressive of films. Fundamentally, however, he seems to be a left-wing liberal. He grew up under Nazi occupation in Holland and that shaped his political outlook. Robocop is a ruthless satire on the right-wing policies of Reagan and Thatcher.

Reagan and Thatcher both believed in privatization – public services being run by private companies instead of the state. This is a capitalist ethos that relies on the notion of the free market. The idea is that market competition will force companies to provide a good service. The danger is that private companies will only care about private profit. Robocop exaggerates this situation. Even the police force is run by a private company, OCP. A private police force is dangerous, because it’s completely unaccountable, and can’t be controlled by the state.

Another theme of the 1980s was aggressive business culture. This was the era of the yuppie – young professionals in pinstripe suits and braces, armed with file-o-faxes and mobile phones that looked like bricks. ‘Greed is good’ was an iconic line from the film Wall Street. Reagan and Thatcher permitted this unrestrained business culture by cutting regulations. Business is portrayed as a macho, dog-eat-dog world. The OCP executives are even willing to murder each other for private profit. Even the criminals are talking about capital investment.

Corporate paranoia was a major theme of the postmodern era. Each of the films we’ve seen this semester features a sinister global corporation: Weyland-Yutani, Tyrell, OCP. As a police officer, Murphy is owned by OCP: he has signed a waiver that gives them permission to use his body in the event of his death. OCP sees Murphy not as a human being, but as private property and they further dehumanise him by turning him into a machine, a piece of hardware. Dehumanisation is one of the central fears of science fiction. However, a remnant of Murphy’s humanity survives and his partner Anne Lewis recognises it. At the end, the head of the company asks Robocop his name and he replies ‘Murphy.’ This suggests that he has retrieved his humanity.

America is portrayed as an increasingly trashy culture, with inane sitcoms and aggressive advertising. In the film we see a series of TV commercials. These give us a snapshot of society, revealing all of its problems. One of the products is a board game called Nuke’em, in which you try to nuke members of your family. The slogan is ‘Get them before they get you.’ This was a comment on America’s foreign policy in the 1980s: Reagan’s second term as president was marked by the bombing of Libya.

We see a car advert for the 6000 SUX, which is a joke about the quality of American cars. The political activist Ralph Nader criticised the US automobile industry for investing in styling at the expense of safety. American cars were notorious for their lack of fuel efficiency. Nevertheless, the criminals desire these cars as status symbols. When one of the gang members gets one of these cars, Clarence Boddiker blows it up because he can’t stand someone having the same model as him. This reflects the materialistic ethos of the 1980s.

We also see snapshots of TV shows. A running joke is the annoying sitcom character with the catchphrase ‘I’d buy that for a dollar!’ This suggests that in this society everything is for sale, monetary value is the only thing that matters. This can be seen as a critique of the free market ethos of the 80s. Overall, we are presented with a vulgar, shallow and aggressive culture not a million miles away from our own.

Buy the complete Robocop series from Amazon for just $23.99 and Free Shipping!

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
experts
in Popular Culture on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Popular Culture?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (11)

Very interesting and well written review. Thanks Michael

Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Thanks, Abdel. I appreciate your comment.

I love this film. I will never get tired of it. Thanks for this article.

Very excellent analysis.

Great to read your take on this film.

Interesting analyses of both the movie and the '80's. Well done.

I've seen the movie and was a favorite. Excellent write, fb liked.

I've seen Robocop several times. My intial reaction was "What the hell?"

I agree with your observation. I find Robocop morbid as a half-dead man is trapped beneath a machine.

Beautiful synopsis of Robocop.

"Your temporary setback could cost us 50 million dollars in interest payments alone!" - The Old Man

Beautifil synopsis of Robocop.

"Your temporary setback could cost us 50 million dollars in interest payments alone!" - The Old Man

ARTICLE DETAILS
RELATED ARTICLES
ARTICLE KEYWORDS