NBC is taking advantage of its Olympics coverage by promoting its new fall and late summer shows. A particularly unnerving one is for a show called Stars Earn Stripes, a new reality/competition show hosted by former presidential candidate and Army general Wesley Clark that takes D-list celebrities and puts them through very realistic military exercises with real military personnel. Almost every single part of that sentence felt weird to type, but it gets even more uncomfortable when you realize that NBC was essentially plucking (or, rather, reaping) semi-famous people from their relative obscurity and making them engage in combat with each other — not unlike The Hunger Games, which are not supposed to be real. And even though the contestants don't have to actually kill each other, the idea is to see who can perform on the same level as a soldier of the U.S. military by making them go through the same exercises as the actual U.S. military. The military is entertainment now. Entertainment is the military. Welcome to Idiocracy! It finally, actually happened.
(Should I mention how NBC is partly owned by GE, and GE has over a billion dollars in defense contracts? That's not weird, right?)
Now, it's obviously not the first time we've seen things that are military-inspired on television. Fitness boot camps are certainly nothing new, either. But taking a bunch of famous people (and Todd Palin) and putting them not through military pushups, but into actual tanks and combat scenarios with actual explosions is a whole new territory. And yes, it's all for charity and not their own personal honor or gain, but still. One line in the promo stresses that every episode features "real missions" with real military operatives and law enforcement professionals. The underlying message is supposed to show us how hard the military works for us, and how much we should appreciate their sacrifices.
And then Dean Cain of Lois and Clark fame tells a camera operator that he could totally die.
We are led to believe that all the contestants — an eight-person lineup including Cain, Palin, Terry "President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho" Crews (which means this is definitely Idiocracy), Laila Ali, WWE Diva Eve Torres, The Biggest Loser trainer Dolvett Quince, Olympian Picabo Street, and Nick Lachey — had no idea what they were getting into, which puts them in a place somewhere between the actors in Tropic Thunder and the teenage tributes in The Hunger Games. (Because something tells me they probably had a little bit of an idea.) And through their real-fake military travails, they learn what it really means to be a soldier.
I have news for them: They will never know what it's like to be a soldier. Soldiers volunteer themselves for service, and they don't do it to be on television. They go into combat not knowing if they'll come out of it alive or with all of their limbs, and sometimes, they don't. And if they do, they are then faced with the effects of PTSD. And I don't think NBC will be putting Todd Palin through that. I mean, my god, look who he's married to. (I said it. I said it.)
Stars Earn Stripes [NBC]