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.