If Americans felt a giant ghost boot in their collective pants last night it probably had something to do with the premier of what some people (me, specifically), are calling the worst idea in the history of television, NBC’s valor of battle/depression of faded celebrity hybrid concept Stars Earn Stripes. Back in August I pointed out that it was likely to be a big hit:
There are a few things that the American viewing public just can’t get enough of: fawning treacle about the nobility of the armed forces, watching vaguely familiar-looking “celebrities” running from one point to another, and the Palins. NBC’s forthcoming reality show Stars Earn Stripes has all three, which puts its projected ratings numbers at roughly 150 million people per episode.
I’d like to tell you that the show was a galumphing horror show failure of nationalism and anxiety-inducing schadenfreude that was instantly canceled, but I can’t. Not because it wasn’t, I just didn’t watch it; I don’t love you people enough to subject myself to that. Also not watching were a group of Nobel Peace Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wrote a letter of protest to the show’s host, former big time war guy General Wesley Clark, reading, in part:
Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public … NBC is working with the military to attempt to turn deadly military training into a sanitized “reality” TV show that reveals absolutely nothing of the reality of being a soldier in war or the consequences of war. (via)
That’s what we have the the entire metaphor of the NFL for, he forgot to mention.
An NBC spokesman responded Monday, The Washington Post writes, that “Stars Earn Stripes is about thanking the young Americans who are in harm’s way every day. This show is not a glorification of war, but a glorification of service.”
You want a glorification of service? Go leave a big tip for your waiter next time you’re out to dinner. “Service,” in this case, is indivisible from the concept of war, unless we’re really expected to believe that what soldiers actually do all day is ham it up in the dirt in front of TV cameras with that one guy who used to be on that one thing and Sarah Palin’s goatee’d snow-sled of a man wife.
As Think Progress points out today, the fact that the show has aligned itself with a number of worthwhile military-related charities makes it a bit harder to criticize:
Part of the reason this bifurcation is troubling is that Stars Earn Stripes is helping raise money for some organizations that provide those kinds of material support, including the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska, a state that is home to a disproportionate number of military families, the Wounded Warrior Project, the USO, and the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides educational scholarships to service members and their families. But in its first episode, at least, the emphasis is more squarely on the competition aspect of the program, the sight of Terry Crews talking about how awesome it is to have figured out a sniper challenge, seeing Picabo Street kick in a door, than on the charities their efforts benefit, and the reason those charities need public support so badly.
OK, maybe. But here’s an idea for an even better military-related charity, and stay with me here because this is going to sound a little crazy: not starting wars. Or at the very least, failing that, how about this for a reality TV show pitch that’s sure to get the American public interested in the “sacrifices” that our “brave men and women” make every day “keeping us safe”: showing us what the actual human cost of those empty buzzwords actually is. We could put it on TV somewhere every day, like, say the news. There’d be no shortage of content, and we’d all come away from it with a better understanding of what war is really like, meaning the exact opposite of entertainment — horror.