“On RoboCop”: A Digressive and Somewhat Personal Essay on Beauty, Poetics, and Aesthetics by Sampson Starkweather

Sampson Starkweather

On RoboCop

The 2011 Kickstarter video to build Detroit a giant statue of RoboCop is, despite what anyone may tell you, one of humanity’s and art’s greatest achievements.


The video is a ten minute rap in a British accent which maps out via mad verbal flow the plot of RoboCop from beginning to end, with sound clips from the movie often being the actual end rhyme of lines of the rap, little caesuras in the music, sort of like the actors are guest rappers making unintentional cameos or appearances in another omnipotent god-like rapper’s song about their own plight, in this way making it not un-like a Greek chorus. Like the best comedy or jokes or sometimes even literature, the absurd commitment and simplicity of the form is its genius (which mirrors the idea of constructing a giant statue of a robot cop in a city crumbling from capitalistic decay: one person’s dystopia, capitalism, is another person’s utopia, artists!), which becomes mesmerizing … like a long-lined epic poem where an incantatory rhythm is established … almost like listening to the ocean.


One of the first Internet memes I ever came across or aware of, was in retrospect a kind of fantastic “fan fiction” but of art, “fan art” (is that a thing?) of RoboCop riding a unicorn (go ahead, Google that shit).

It’s hard to explain how effective this combination is, like discovering peanut butter and jelly or something, a certain simplicity, two mythical things that the cultural currency of, the collective imagination of, turn into a reality, truth—tell me unicorns are not real and I’ll kick you in the fucking teeth! The impression Googling this phenomenon back in ’06 left on me was not unlike that magic a perfect metaphor achieves: a sudden expansion of consciousness or understanding upon its vision. My favorite wrinkle to this meme was a RoboCop/Unicorn ’08 presidential campaign sticker … I would still legitimately vote for that ticket.


The famous tagline for RoboCop is: “Part man, part machine, all cop.”

Whoever came up with that tagline was a fucking poet (Hart Crane eat your heart out)! I’ve often tried to riff off this as a poetic dictum, or at least make a sweet tweet of it:

Part man, part poet, all debt >>>> Part poet, part robot, all cop-out …

shit like that. I like the idea of the tagline as a new literary form or genre (sort of like a contemporary American haiku).


Recently in a Google alert for my name, a result showed up from the IMBD of RoboCop. Apparently there is a character, a cop named Starkweather. So I clicked on his IMBD character and for his bio it says: “This character biography is empty. Please add a character biography by clicking here.” In that instant I felt my own mortality >>>> like the scene when RoboCop has memories of his former life as Officer Murphy. I clicked on “FUN FACTS” and there was a quote from my cop doppelganger:

From RoboCop (1987)
Starkweather: “We’re getting creamed out there Reed”

Apparently that was his only line in the movie. I feel like if life is a movie, most of us only have one line. I wonder what mine would be? Probably: “We’re getting creamed out there Reed.”
I found out that Starkweather was in RoboCop 2 and 3—yes there was a RoboCop 3, and it has one of the best IMBD plot summaries of all time; besides the fact that it poetically and perfectly fits its form, practically defines it with its pacing, efficiency and grace but it also eerily seemed to mirror or predict the current state of Detroit and its collapse, as well as the Occupy movement against corporations (to be said in ominous hyperbolically melodramatic “In-a-world …” voice-over):

The mega corporation Omni Consumer Products is hell bent on creating their pet project, Delta City, to replace the rotting city of Detroit. Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the area have no intention of abandoning their homes simply for desires of the company. To this end, OCP have decided to force them to leave by employing a ruthless mercenary army to attack and harass them. An underground resistance begins, and in this fight, Robocop must decide where his loyalties lie.
That touch of drama at the end, that little kiss of mystery, or metaphorical possibility to our current time and our struggle (both of state and spirit) is so beautiful. In fact I found so much potential in the form that I’ve started a conceptual book which consists of fake spectacular IMBD plot summaries (not unlike prose poems) for M. Night Shyamalan movies that don’t exist, tentatively titled Will the Real M. Night Shyamalan Please Stand Up.


Recently in the shower, in my mind, I was writing a sprawling, intellectual but sincere and at its core, humanistic essay on RoboCop, called “On RoboCop” in which, letting down my paranoid guard about writing any definitive or critical prose rooted in time, anything un-liquid, I explain my obsession or constant return to RoboCop as a metaphor, especially for Poetry(ies). RoboCop is on par with Shakespeare in its scope and in being of its time, and I suppose in its field, it examines—I hate that word—it enacts, or reveals death (mortality), HOPE … with both a paradoxical faith in technology (future) but also suspicion and frightening reliance on >>>> a cocktail of capitalism, politics, class, corruption, culture, violence, the self, techno-spirituality, love, honor, loyalty and dissent or I guess what I’m getting at is more the double-edged metaphors of money, drugs, family, the city (infinitesimally), power, freedom, will … and I don’t know a better word for it—action, which metaphor can’t touch (Hamlet rebooted 2.0). There is truth to the saying that the camera (an invention intended to replicate the human eye) loves action: movement: physics: transformation, a form of narrative, tension, an opposite re-action … it’s human nature, the thing is I hate action movies, but in RoboCop action has meaning, depth, consequences, most of all, and this is perhaps why I love RoboCop as a default metaphor for poetry, or the possibility of poetry, is that it implies a certain intention, a certain AIM, and that is what defines poetry or art, or at least is the property that jumps out to me as its distinguishing quality, as if everything else around it is carved away, allowing it to take the form it must. On another level of course, as the exhaustive list above attests, it’s the comprehensiveness, the universality of life that the themes and subjects suggest, much like an interview, or maybe it was a poem, in which Dana Ward was explaining poetry through an anecdote in his book, where he finds himself in the dreaded airplane situation or scenario where the person next to you finds out you are a poet (or writer, but fuck that!), and asks what do you write about, or better yet, what’s your poetry about or like, (which even I am guilty of, sorry but coming from another poet this turns from a nightmare into one of the most profound and beautiful questions ever posed). Anyway, the point is Dana explains how his answer is of course a kind of bait, he says, love, death, politics, fucking, friendship, guilt, pain, joy, loss, forgiveness, etc, you get the picture, or at least that’s what he’s hoping that the dope he just met on the plane will get, he’ll blurt out, “oh I get it, it’s like LIFE!” therein enacting the inverse of the title of his book, This Can’t Be Life, stolen from Jay-Z only naturally, which maybe only now I understand, as the title is like that dope on the plane, who even after having it all laid out (in life) (by the poet) (in real time) he still doesn’t get it, he doesn’t, couldn’t distinguish (Zizek quote here) the fine line between the poetry on the one hand and the life of the poet on the other (are attached to the same fucking body!), anyway, my point is, in the shower, in my mind, the essay I’m writing about RoboCop is really about beauty, and not even I’m sure I know what is meant by beauty when I say it, but that’s why I don’t write essays, and fuck it, I don’t write poems either, I write poetry.

Sampson Starkweather is the author of The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather. He is a founding editor of Birds, LLC, an independent poetry press. His most recent chapbooks are Flowers of Radby Factory Hollow Press, and Until the Joy of Death Hits, pop/love GIF poems (a collaboration with Ana Božičević) appearing somewhere soon on the Internet. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram and YouTube. Disclosure: HFR is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Sales from Bookshop.org help support independent bookstores and small presses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments (