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The Morning After: Unfriendly Fire

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Tyler Golden/NBC

Picabo Street, left, with Brent Gleeson.

Before it even debuted last night, NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes was granted that highest of honors for a reality TV show: a protest. The competition, in which celebrities are paired with soldiers to carry out special-forces-type maneuvers, was denounced by nine Nobel laureates, including South African bishop Desmond Tutu, for glamorizing war and its violence by making them into entertainment. The show, they argue, tries to “sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition.”

Which, I guess I agree? That is, it makes war into entertainment in the way that billions of dollars worth of pop entertainment already does. The movie Battleship. The game Battleship. The movies of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Half the so-called war-history documentaries on basic cable. Hell, we just finished watching the Olympics, an event founded in the principles of peace but one that features events that, like numerous sports, mimic combat or appropriate its tools—wrestling, archery, fencing, &c.
None of which is to minimize the way Stars Earn Stripes presents a cynical idea—giving people the excitement of battle minus its blood and consequences—by wrapping it in idealism: competing for charity, claiming to exist simply to remind us how dangerous the job of soldiers and first responders is. (Which it is. And acting as if we need a cheesy, staged reality competition to make us aware of that fact manages to insult the soldiers, the celebrities and the audience all at the same time.)

But when it comes to propagandizing war—or anything else—reality shows are more harmful when they take actual combat and package it in entertainment form. See, for instance, the short-lived group of combat-based reality shows, post-9/11, that I dubbed militainment at the time. (You need no better proof of how the culture has changed between then and now than the fact that Stripes host Gen. Wesley Clark, for a brief time in the 2004 race, was considered a good prospect to become President.) The offensive aspects of Stars Earn Stripes are relatively minimal; I’m more bothered by the constant product placement, suggesting some dystopian future where we will read about an attack led by the Buffalo Wild Wings 82nd Airborne.

And the offensive aspects of the show are, at least, the most interesting parts. Overall, the first installment was yet another overbloated, two-hour NBC reality marathon, The Biggest Loser with live ammo and C-list celebrities. (My favorite celeb ID was the one introducing Todd Palin, one of the challenge’s better performers, as a “four-time Iron Dog winner”—because I’m sure he just barely beat out all the other Iron Dog winners to get on this show.) Even the title is a clunky, trying-too-hard play on words. From the hyperbole—the more you tell me the stars could really die out there, the less I believe it—to the drawn-out elimination process, this militainment show was one long, slow march. If it raises money for any decent causes, I don’t begrudge it; if it gives some activists an opening to argue for peace, good on them too. But for me, this show is barely worth wasting the ammo on.

11 comments
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hardtruth00
hardtruth00

 The fact the ten Nobel prize winners complained is possibly the best endorsement this show could ever have.  Any show that annoys Liberals, while benefiting our armed forces, is a show that I will watch and recommend.

Arcturus
Arcturus

The main problem is it is boring as hell, and what the "stars" have to do is so lame it wouldn't captivate a 6 year old.

dsafd asdfasdf
dsafd asdfasdf

what a shock review coming from strident liberal obama voter poniewozik

T B
T B

 Actually it was a pretty fair review, not even agreeing with the people that are making a big deal about the "controversy". It's ironic really that you came in here to accuse someone of prejudice and bias when you yourself only came across as far more so in the end.

WhiskeySausage
WhiskeySausage

There's a considerable difference between Special Forces (aka Green Berets) and Special Operations "Spec Ops" (aka Seals, Delta, Rangers, Special Forces, etc). Stars Earns Stripes is about Spec Ops, not just Special Forces. Get it right or stop writing about it. 

T B
T B

 There is a considerable difference. Unfortunately what we're seeing in this show doesn't resemble any of the above. So maybe you should "get it right" first.

WhiskeySausage
WhiskeySausage

I was criticizing the semantic use the author chose to call the 'things the Tv Celebs have to do as "Special Forces Type Maneuvers", what the author should have called it was "Special Ops Maneuvers". That's what my "Get it Right"  criticism was aimed at.

In no way do I actually believe that the stunts the TV celebs have to do are actually valid or in any way resemble Spec Ops type maneuvers,  Which they do not. 

However, TB, since you're obviously not very well synapticlly connected, let me try it another way. I wasn't arguing if Earth is round, rather, I was arguing that we should call the world 'Earth', not Mars, just because they are both planets and might be confused. 

anon76returns
anon76returns

Umm, "Stars Earn Stripes" is a reality tv show.  I would think criticism should come from a tv critic, not an expert on the various branches of the armed forces.

Sergio Andrade
Sergio Andrade

let's get those kids fired up to take the arms career, they cant afford college anyways and war is always profitable to the guys who decide when and against who we go to war...

anon76returns
anon76returns

O, the irony James!  Time.com has decided to follow up your complaints about 'militainment' with ... wait for it ... an online poll asking 'Which Expendables 2 Star is Most Expendable?'  I guess another dystopian future will be one in which we viewers get to decide which contestant is blown up on the island, rather than just voted off.