A few nights ago, I went with some classmates to see the remake of the 1987 dystopian action flick “Robocop.” As most anyone who was a boy in the 80s and 90s can attest, the original was super cool. It is only with age, however, that one comes to appreciate cynical commentary on the dangers of coziness between contractors and government. The film depicts a Detroit in the far off future of the 1990s in which the civic fathers have privatized their police functions–perhaps the first and most important role of government–to an evil corporation called Omni Consumer Products. Their ultimate product is a robot police officer–a Robocop, if you will–who is part living flesh, part machine. The ethical exploration that arises takes a backseat to campy fun and the film is packed with explosions, but by the time I saw a VHS copy on the shelf of my Nietzsche-expert undergrad philosophy professor, it was clear why.
The reboot? Not so cool. While it was competently directed and still packed with explosions, it felt soulless. Gone was the campy fun of the original. In its place was something slick and glossy, but far less satisfying. Anyone who has seen both the original “Total Recall” and the 2012 remake will understand exactly what I mean.
Given that I went to see the movie with a group of guys who are interested in politics and political philosophy, it’s not surprising that we watched this new robo-offering with those interests in mind. It is also not surprising that a big budget Hollywood movie put forth terrible politics. One of the new Robocop’s framing devices is a television show within the movie. This “show” is called the Novak Element. It is hosted by a character named Pat Novak, who is played by the always explosive Samuel L. Jackson. Novak, it should be noted, has the unsettling habit of not sitting down even while conducting interviews. His guests stand alongside him as he sputters about the screen.
Writing for Mother Jones, the premiere rag for the intellectual left, Asawin Suebsaeng correctly notes that the character comes across as a caricature of Bill O’Reilly. Of course, Suebsaeng strongly approves, as a Mother Jones type is wont to do. The problem is that Novak–one wonders if the character’s name is a reference to the late, great Robert Novak–is a gung ho advocate of drone warfare and the use of drone technology in a domestic setting.
Even Suebsaeng, in honest moments, must know that this caricature of the right is bunk. There is far more diversity of thought on the drone issue on the right than on the left. All on the left but hardcore activists have rallied around President Obama and the gusto with which he remotely rains death from above. On the right, the issue is less settled. Or did I miss the memo in which Rand Paul and his wing of the Republican Party suddenly became liberals?
There is some comfort in the fact that the producers were not rewarded for their efforts, at least aside from the plaudits of writers like Suebsaeng. In a post about several 80s retreads that opened this weekend, Buzzfeed notes that Robocop was a commercial failure. If you should stumble upon this post, Professor Babich, thanks for giving me a deeper appreciation of the original “Robocop,” but don’t waste your money on seeing the new one.