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188. Corners of the mouth (IV)

Verhoeven’s 1987 film RoboCop is often taken to be a parable about free market cruelty and hubris. Quite the contrary, RoboCop is about knights, kings, and resurrection. RoboCop is set in Detroit—Detroit, the Motor City: the heart of America, just as the heart is the motive power of the body. The city has strong rhythm and its pulse can be found—could be found—in the Motown sound. This was a dirty and dangerous place, but it was also home to serious funk and soul. Yet we all know that, sometime in the 1970s, the music died; and Detroit today is a wasteland, a blasted heath. The heart has been ripped from America; and everything she has done since has been offbeat—zany and adorable, but unreal.

In RoboCop the city is dominated by Omni Consumer Products and the corporation is the government; it is a company town, right down to the police; it is a mirror, Detroit was a feudal city-state owned by the Ford family. America is a republic, but she has always had kingdoms within. OCP is more than just a corporation that owns everything: “Omni-” not only means “everything”, it means “abundance”: the corporation is the abundant all; it is divine. Now, all is not well in the kingdom. There are two OCP weapons programs: RoboCop and ED-209, a less humanoid battle-robot made on the cheap for government contracts. What the rival programs have in common is that the young executives—young princes—that run each have total contempt for “the Old Man”, the chairman of OCP—the king.

Of the two projects, it is the cybernetic man-machine RoboCop that is fully implemented. The somewhat dog-like ED-209 guns down an exec during a demonstration and is relegated to guard duty. RoboCop, built around a dead policeman, the typical Irish cop, Murphy, provides cybernetic resurrection: Murphy is killed by criminals linked to the corrupt OCP execs, but he returns as a knight in shining armour—RoboCop’s bodywork is polished steel. Only when man and machine work in harmony can order be restored to the kingdom.

RoboCop finds the corrupt executives, but they have programmed him to be unable to arrest company officers; he is bound by Directive 4. So he takes the evidence to the board—the king’s court—and shows a video confession to the Old Man. The chairman is then taken hostage and it is only when he fires the officer-prince that RoboCop can gun the exec down. The king releases his knight from enchantment and justice is restored: the traitors are vanquished, OCP can provide abundance again. RoboCop is freed from Directive 4 by the Old Man—the four elements release a fifth—and can use his human name again, previously he was a nameless slave to the wicked princes. He is “Murphy” again; the king completes technological resurrection.

In a news interlude, we see an interview with an unemployed Jewish intellectual, Keva Rosenberg, who opines that Detroit is just “the law of the jungle”. This is the leftist counterpart to OCP’s corruption—the desire to destroy and kill, for money or envy. The law is a circle of trust and love underpinned by duty and overseen by the king; but if the king is deceived by wicked underlings, a knight errant must strike out to restore order—to restore the “O”: the eternal circle of OCP, the all that provides abundance.

On the OCP board there is a single black executive; throughout the film he gives non-verbal cues that he knows who is behind OCP’s corruption—and at the end he gives RoboCop the thumbs up. This toad-like man is the dweller from the underworld in the overworld: the sole black man in a white world, yin to their yang. He is the hermaphrodite, the joker, who sees all: the fool covertly guides the knight. Of course, in the real world the corruption at the heart of America was never sniffed out; and so America lost her soul.


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