Monday, August 13, 2012

Stars Earn Stripes: bad TV, worse morality UPDATED

This is your fault America. When television producers were looking to cut costs and introduced low-budget fare to the public in the form of reality television, you gobbled it up. It did not matter how asinine or offensive the show was: Operation Repo, Jersey Shore, Undercover Boss, Toddlers and Tiaras. The dumber the better. Continuing this streak of crapulence, NBC is now subjecting us to Stars Earn Stripes, where eight celebrities, of varying quality, conduct dramatized military and law enforcement activities under the tutelage of former special operators and SWAT officers as well as today's least-liked graduate of Hudson High School for Boys (my alma mater), retired General Wes Clark.

I will not critique the show in the usual sense (the L.A. Times and Washington Post have already done so), mainly because I refuse to watch this nonsense. There has been, however, push back against the show because many feel that it glamorizes war and treats it as sport instead of the serious, deadly business that it really is. From a petition making its rounds on Twitter today, the leftist activist group RootsAction wrote the following to NBC:
Your entertainment show "Stars Earn Stripes" treats war as sport. This does us all a disservice. We ask that you air an in-depth segment showing the reality of civilian victims of recent U.S. wars, on any program, any time in the coming months. 
Their assertion is not incorrect - Stars does treat war as sport which is the greater of two disservices to the public (the other being the quality of the entertainment they provide). As a veteran who has seen war as closely as one can, I think that Todd Palin jumping from a helicopter is a far cry from earning stripes and can only be interpreted as the fetishization of war. (Aside: Where are all of you non-commissioned officers? I'm sure you did more than this nonsense to earn your stripes.)  In spite of this, Stars Earn Stripes seems comparatively benign to other forms of war glorification. These eight has-beens may shoot weapons at static targets, but compared to modern video games where war is literally a sport, albeit digital, this show seems delightfully archaic.

This is not to give Stars or NBC pass. They are using war and America's current trust, nay, love of veterans and the military to make profit for themselves and their shareholders. I find this morally offensive.  Yes, the winner of the show's competition gets $100,000 to donate to their veterans/law enforcement charity of choice. But how many dollars were spent producing this show? How much will ad revenue bring in? I suspect the profits of a prime-time show on NBC will exceed $100,000. Good on them for doing something for charity, but I think they could and should do a lot more.  If NBC were to contribute all of their profits to veterans charity, and I strongly suggest that they do, this show would cease to be a morally reprehensible source of entertainment. It would merely be a reprehensible source of entertainment, which is exactly what you all seem to clamor for anyway.

Update: As I think about why this form of profit-making from war is so offensive to me, vice other forms such as video games or war movies, I think it has to do with the fact that this show is purely profit-driven. Realistic video games show war as it is: bloody and cruel. Whether gamers choose to acknowledge this lesson potentially learned is not the fault (or even design) of the games' makers. But the lesson is there. Likewise, movies involving war generally have some sort of political message: to support the troops or protest a particular war or war in general. Stars Earn Stripes has no political message, it has provides no lens through which to learn more about the horrors of war. It is about the military and what they do being totally awesome and profiting from providing that viewpoint. In other words, it provides no utility to society except for those few making a buck off of the worst experiences mankind must endure. That is what makes this show so morally reprehensible.


  1. I'm not sure this show is going to make any money. It isn't hard for me to imagine it being cancelled after two episodes and replaced with America's Got Talent re-runs.

  2. I'm not getting as outraged as everyone else over this. People (Americans) like to see things about war and violence and the media delivers. I'm a fan of reality television - for better or worse - but I won't watch this not because it offends me, but the "stars" are all questionable. If they had some better stars, I'd give it a shot.

  3. You know, you make a great point in your update to this post.

    To be honest, I AM worried about the levels of violence on screen and on video and its effects -- although, I don't believe in regulating artistic free speech and I'm not talking regulation here. But we can talk about the effects honestly.

    I don't know. A cliche, but the older I get, the more turned off from popular culture I become....

    - Madhu

  4. I think everyone who watches it is hoping to see Vanilla Ice get shot.

  5. I also have a grass roots petition objecting to this show. On my petition you can read strong and heartfelt comments from veterans, relatives of service members and veterans, and concerned civilians who all object to this show. Please take a moment to read over their comments. So far I have 762 signers. Please pass this petition around, tweet it, blog it, and please if you agree, sign it.


  6. SOFREP also did a series of critiques of Stars Earn Shit.

    Check out this video also from SOFREP: (SOFREP Xperience)

    " Saudi oil has backed and supported one interpretation, I think the US/West, instead of backing a moderate "Muslim", can go for the throat and pursue/fund Qur'anic textual criticism. Very do-able. "

    Read more:

  7. Considering the ratings tanked, I'm wondering why it's taking NBC so long to offically kill this thing?


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  9. I think it all started in Japan and China as they wanted to warp the minds of our youth with that garbage, but now it's purely for profit as everyone is jumping onboard to make that money .. Adam Friedman