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A Reality Proposal: How Stars Can Really Earn Stripes

August 20, 2012

If “reality TV” has done anything, it is to distract us from reality by parading a collection of clowns before us like a macabre Vaudeville show drilling the depths of our collective moral decay.  If Stars Earn Stripes accomplished anything, it was to hold a mirror in which we could see what we truly value as a society. So, really, Stars Earn Stripes is just a natural progression, celebrating our love of warfare and violence in a way that no show has dared until now. It is a sharp turn in the road, a bright and shining example of what could be, and how reality TV can begin not just to show us what we have become, but show us a way to make even more of it. A way that might actually be able to solve serious social problems.

The insightful quip from Nick Lachey, suggesting that being in a boy band is a great way to prepare for war is easy to dismiss, but let’s not. Let’s take him at his word, and accept that the single-minded focus on a goal, the constant push to be better than anyone else, to be omnipresent as a way to achieve victory might actually be good strategy in international relations. Maybe. And that fighting away throngs of girls throwing thongs is a lot like combat.

As uncomfortable as I know it made some people, let’s look at the fact that we have elevated Chris Kyle and his 160 confirmed kills to the highest status we can give someone, celebrity, as a reflection of what matters to us.

This show makes perfect sense to me as an accurate reflection of who we are. Perhaps the most cringe worthy part of the whole show was to hear one of the contestants gloating about how awesome it was to be on “real” missions, with “real” weapons and “real” stakes.

This is not real. This is a game show. There is nothing real about this. And selling this as real does all of us a disservice, most especially the real soldiers who actually risk their lives in hostile territory, who are left with deep psychological wounds as a result of even a single kill, who are emotionally crippled from watching their friends die, and facing death multiple times a day.

And therein lies our great opportunity. Stars Earn Stripes is “almost real.” Imagine what we could learn if it were, well, actually real.

I think that we have shown that there is a market for celebrity void of talent and spectacle void of purpose. One only needs to say the name “Kardashian” to illustrate that we love a good train wreck. Likewise, we have time and time again shown our love of violence. From video games to movies to celebrating a man who has killed 160 human beings to the fact that we spend more money on war than we do on education, health care and human services. So, I think it’s time we admit it, and just “go there.”

I know this will sound crazy, but there is a lot of good to be done here.

The first step is to go ahead and make these missions real. Put celebrities in real missions, real foxholes, real planes with real weapons. And follow them. For real. If we have enough of them, say 20 a season, the chances are really good one of them would either be killed or seriously injured. Imagine the suspense! Those that survived would surely have funny stories to tell us, and their perspective is clearly one that people will listen to. Politicians, theologians and activists are just hopelessly dull, but can you imagine Paris Hilton’s stories of hiding under a dead child during sniper fire in Fallujah? Hello, sweeps. I suspect that the ratio of dead celebrities to living celebrities wouldn’t be far off from the ratio of dead soldiers to living soldiers. It would be a great way to help people get a grip on how we are decimating our own population.

It does little, however, to show what the ramifications are abroad, in those mysterious places we know so little about. What are we doing to those populations and how can reality TV help us understand that? There is a way, and it ties it beautifully with the other problem that Stars Earn Stripes has, that of not allowing us to see the psychological impact of warfare, just the big guns so celebrated in our media.

Of course, it would be unfair to send them in without the full training that our soldiers get, so the studios would have to come up with some sort of intensive training. The part that would seem the trickiest would be how to help them deal with the reality of killing other human beings, but this is the genius of the solution.

Fortunately, when we’re at war, we’re not killing real people, just villagers and stuff, people who are poor or don’t have a whole lot to live for anyway, people who we don’t know and don’t look like us. So it’s a lot easier. We could never abide by having innocent Americans killed in this manner. Then it would be acts of terrorism, not war.

Or could we. We do, in fact, have a lot of people in this country who are more of a drain than an asset. People who cost us a lot of money by being incarcerated, or uneducated or unhealthy, hell, some of them aren’t even real Americans. What if the studios could use them as special training agents to prepare celebrities for war? Like sparring partners with an uncertain outcome. Not only would the suspense be spectacular, and remember, these are people we have already written off anyway, but during the time that they were being used as practice dummies, the studios would pay them, getting them off of public assistance, they would be living the lives of television stars.

We could round up the homeless people, immigrants and criminals and set them up in manufactured villages that would be used for training. Those that weren’t harmed would be living a much better life. Those that were harmed? Eh, it’s not like they had much to live for anyway, and really, we’ve already written them off. The villages could become tourist attractions in and of themselves.  Visitors could wander the streets – not during filming or training of course, we wouldn’t want to harm Americans or our guests – and see what it’s really like to live in a war-torn village. To see the lives, the people, the aftermath and the ever-present danger.

And if they happened to be mortally wounded, well, then we wouldn’t have to worry about them any more. Besides, they would also earn celebrity status during this time, which is pretty much the highest honor we can bestow on anyone.  In a single season, a homeless guy could go from being “that dude on the corner” to “that dude that Dean Cain shot the shit out of in the 2nd Season of Stars Earn Stripes.” A homeless woman may become the celebrated figure from the third season who “sobbed and punched Todd Pailn out after Palin stomped on her son in training.”

Further, it would, let’s be clear, clean up our streets a bit. It would provide us the same bright clean starts we offer abroad, when we clean up those cities in a similar manner. That’s reality, bringing home the great work that we really do abroad.

I know it sounds Draconian, or even something the Marquis DeSade would suggest, but we’ve got a precedent. From minstrel shows to Circus geeks to  boxing to Jersey Shore, we have an earnest tradition of mocking those we revile and even letting them think that they are stars.

Keep in mind, if Stars Earn Stripes is to become an actual “reality” show, it would have to show us what happens to these celebrities when they really do kill people. After all, that is a huge part of war, and as it is, they’re just not getting that part of the experience. We would all benefit from watching these hapless celebs deal with the reality of killing people.  While it would be prudent to interview a psychiatrist for at-home viewers, surely an important part of the show would be to see what happens to these celebrities when their psychiatric needs are not tended to. It would be riveting, and I think very eye-opening for all of us.  With their traumas not dealt with, their mental and physical conditions not tended to, we could see what really happens from war.

Again, it’s not novel. We are fully accustomed to simply watching homeless vets struggle on street corners, their own decay has become the backdrop of our urban cores. But in those cases, they are mere nameless extras, it would be so much more powerful if we could watch celebrities do it.  Nick Lachey himself, perhaps, with his boy band training, could shuffle down Main Street muttering the lyrics of once-popular 98 Degrees songs. You have to admit, that would be a lot funnier than some old dude with a sign begging for anything that helps.

The beauty of this idea is that there is longevity built into the show. The psychological impact of war would create years of voyeuristic tension for each celebrity. From training them to watching them go to war to watching them re-enter their glamorous lives.  How long will it take before Nick Lachey is singing Justin Timberlake songs instead? Before Leila Ali is swinging at signposts and dreaming of a better life?

I think it merits thought, and discussion, and maybe production. The ratings would be sensational. And it’s about time that reality TV for real, and really taught us something.

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