NBC’s newest reality series, Stars Earn Stripes, which pits celebrities against each other in athletic challenges inspired by real military exercises, debuted two nights ago and has been under fire from military family members and Nobel Peace laureates ever since.
Even before its Monday night premiere, the show was greeted with protests from about 100 people at NBC studios in New York. Said Sarah Fuhro, a member of Military Families Speak Out, to the AFP: “Having my son return from two REAL wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the cost of war carried in his body and heart, I find this deeply offensive.”
Also on Monday, nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and American anti-landmines campaigner Jody Williams, posted an open letter to Stars Earn Stripes host General Wesley Clark, NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt, and producer Mark Burnett, imploring the network to reconsider its latest reality bait:
It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Military training is not to be compared, subtly or otherwise, with athletic competition by showing commercials throughout the Olympics. Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.
The other Nobel laureates who signed the letter were peace activists Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams of Northern Ireland, Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, former East Timor President Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta, former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias Sanchez, Argentine artist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and Guatemalan indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum.
In response to the criticism, NBC released a statement to the Associated Press that said: “This show is not a glorification of war, but a glorification of service.”
There is da ifference between the two, but how clearly does Stars Earn Stripes make that distinction if NBC needs to issue an explanation?
Seen in that context, a mass entertainment celebrating the brotherhood and bravery of soldiers in the field would seem to be a welcome image enhancer to the U.S. military.
The United States military has a long history of using media to sway public opinion. During World War I, the iconic images of Uncle Sam and King Kong were used in posters to inspire young men to enlist (the King Kong poster shows the bloodthirsty ape manhandling a blonde woman and reads: “Destroy this Mad Brute: Enlist”). In World War II, the military conscripted director Frank Capra to helm a series of seven documentary films designed to convince a recently non-interventionist nation to get involved in yet another devastating war.
Seen in that context, a mass entertainment celebrating the brotherhood and bravery of soldiers in the field would seem to be a welcome image enhancer to the U.S. military. The U.S. has been operating on an all-volunteer military since the end of the draft in 1973. Maintaining its numbers has been a challenge in the post-Cold War era. The documented manpower crisis has been, at least in part, responsible for questionable military vetting standards, not to mention those ubiquitous television ads promoting the “few and the proud.” A reality series designed to spoonfeed a recruitment-age audience weekly doses of gung-ho seems tailor-made to the U.S.’s peacetime war effort.
No one is saying that the Pentagon is scripting the reality of Stars Earn Stripes. The Mark Burnett production does employ highly decorated (as in Presidential Medal of Freedom) General Wesley Clark as the show’s host, but NBC seems unlikely to be taking marching orders from anyone, or anything, beyond audience numbers.
Still, the network’s independence doesn’t take away from the fact that for many people who represent a wide spectrum of interests—from South African prelates to proud veterans of the U.S. armed forces—the show is unsavory at best. In the cutthroat world of entertainment, the best way to express that opinion is by not watching.
Even with the unexpected boost in publicity, the show garnered just over 5 million viewers on Monday night, placing it behind TNT’s new show Major Crimes, which logged 7.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
It’s an inauspicious start, and one that peace-loving aficionados hope does not improve.
Is there a difference between glorifying military service and glorifying war? Let us know in the COMMENTS.
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Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung