While some of us hope that reality TV goes the way of the late-60’s, early 70’s variety shows, it looks like they aren’t going anywhere. NBC, after broadcasting the most-watched event in TV history (The closing ceremonies of the London Games), premiered it’s dud of an answer to Dancing with the Stars. Despite NBC’s somewhat loose definition of the word, Stars Earn Stripes pairs “stars” with retired military and first responders to train and participate in war-games. They compete with each other and win prize money for their respective charities.
I couldn’t get through a full episode, but I may not be the right person to judge it. Even though this is just as self-important and awkward as most reality shows, I find myself happy for both the exposure and money that the charities receive. I also have no grudges against the military specialists who get as much screentime as the stars. Chris Kyle, former Navy SEAL and current best-selling author, is the only recognizable name on the dais of the former-military. The hosts of this spectacle, former DWTS co-host Samantha Harris, is uncomfortably paired with former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark.
Clark gets the worst deal out of all of the participants. While a respectable analyst and public figure, Gen. Clark seems self-conscious and out-of-place on the show. This could be because most of his scenes feature him alone in the “mission control,” set watching the events unfold on a tabletop screen that seems to be added in post. During the events, Gen. Clark grimaces and pushes gravitas on the audience like a new drug. It’s laughable, considering how poorly the stars (and in some cases the military pros) do during the events.
Of course, the controversy surrounding this show isn’t about how bad this and other reality TV is for us as a culture, but instead around nonsense. On the WBEZ blog, Stars Earn Stripes is accused of being the latest in a concentrated effort by “Hollywood and the United State’s [sic] government” to dazzle the American populace with military propaganda to…well there’s no reason given. This writer and others suggest that the celebrities desire to “fire a real gun,” or participate in the military games or that they think it is fun as either an insult to or glorification of actual combat. Realistically, most of those things are fun to do if in a controlled/training environment.
Other protests have come from a group of grandmothers and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (along with eight other Nobel Peace Laureates), calling for NBC to end the show because it glorifies armed violence and that it tries to equate war with athletic competition. In the letter they said that this show “pays homage to no one anywhere,” but this is not true. The ineptitude of the celebrities and their own vapidity makes the military experience accessible in a way to the average civilian who watches more Kardashian than news. The very funny and fit Terry Crews expresses extreme surprise at how the weight of his gear impeded his swimming in the first episode. While this is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the military, it does exemplify the kind of mental and physical discipline it takes to simply train for combat.
The show is not good, I’ll grant that. Is it evil? Of course not. The fact is deserving charities are getting exposure and money they wouldn’t otherwise. So there’s a small chance that this goofy reality show may actually do some good.
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