While there is already an endless supply of inane and insulting reality series on TV, NBC’s newest stab at competition shows drags reality television down to a whole new level of offensive. Previews abound during the Olympics for Stars Earn Stripes, a show which pairs “celebrities” with military members to compete in life-like drills, but which could just have likely been a 2-hour long “Army Strong” commercial on loop.
The show’s website enthusiastically claims that “Hollywood is paying respect to America’s men and women in the service” with this new game show. Apparently, Nick Lachey parading around in army gear is a better way to pay respect to our veterans than actually working to provide them with adequate health care, education, and homes when they return from combat. While the money that contestants win does go to veterans' charities in the end, the idea that this show honors anyone is laughable. As an NPR review of the show aptly analogized, “To say that you can understand what it’s like to be in the military by shooting a gun and swimming with heavy gear is like saying you can understand what it’s like to have cancer by shaving your head.”
Of course, there would be no way for a television show like this to actually capture any approximation of the reality of what military men and women go through without putting these people in real harm’s way. But even the physical obstacles these celebrities are asked to endure come nowhere close to the physical, emotional, and psychological struggles of being trained in the military, let alone being in a combat situation. “We are using real bullets, real explosives,” the trainer says. He even claims that “things get very dangerous.” Right. Todd Palin is actually going to be allowed to get shot on a TV show.
More backlash against the show has come from several Nobel Peace Prize winners who penned an open letter berating the show for glamorizing war and reducing it to a game, and calling for the show's cancellation. While war is often glorified in TV and movies from Top Gun to The A-Team, a reality television show takes this glorification one step further, shifting from promoting war in the form of a fictional or semi-fictional story to actually trying to parade itself as the real experience. Any movies and shows that seek to portray the brutality and harsh reality of war are not films that are really entertaining to watch, and with a prime-time audience to please, it's not surprising that NBC makes no attempts to convey reality accurately.
Luckily, given the varied but mostly negative reactions to the show, I doubt it will last long. Even if it were a good show and legitimately entertaining (spoiler: it’s not), it should not remain on the air. Honoring our servicemen and women means providing them with the money and resources necessary to support veterans coming home, not getting our entertainment from a competition-based reality series that sanitizes war and makes soldiers' lives look like a game.