WaPo's Stuever: 'Stars Earn Stripes' Puffs Jingoistic 'Military-Industrial Complex'; Salon's Greenwald Slams 'Military Worship'

August 13th, 2012 5:27 PM

A new reality TV show featuring C-list celebrities doing military training exercises to compete for charity was denounced as "empty jingoism" and a modern-day spin on "[a]dding a celebrity quotient to the military-industrial complex," kind of like when Bob Hope entertained the troops during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

That's pretty much the reaction of Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever to the new "Stars Earn Stripes" program, which debuts tonight at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC. "It also feels about five years too late, in both its reality-TV tropes and its message of pride," Stuever huffs. "It harks back to the 'Mission Accomplished!' era of attacks and setbacks in the Middle East":

Adding a celebrity quotient to the military-industrial complex is nothing new — Bob Hope taught us that — but NBC’s reality competition show, “Stars Earn Stripes,” enthusiastically melds warfare and fame into a fairly solid drill exercise in gung-ho rituals. It’s a lot of hooah with a bit of puffed-chest hooey.


After watching the first hour of Monday night’s two-hour premiere, I began to wonder whether “Stars Earn Stripes” would have had more resonance during the darkest days of the Iraq war, when, for reasons that crossed the ideological spectrum, we all could have used a deeper understanding of military ops.

But now that we’ve become inured to the standard-issue “hero” appellation given to each and every enlistee — when even some returning soldiers complain that gratitude isn’t backed up with real benefits — “Stars Earn Stripes” feels too much like a “Be All You Can Be” advertising refrain. If you’re antiwar to the core, then the show is just more empty jingoism.

If, however, you have an abiding admiration for combat maneuvers, training, weaponry and specialized skills, the show can be fascinating and even exhilaratingly virile. Most of us are probably somewhere in between — respectful of service; wary of warmongering; and perhaps still nursing a crush on the anonymous Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden.

So yes, in fairness, Stuever admitted that the program is captivating TV if you're a military buff, which is more than one can say for left-wing writer Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, who denounced the reality show as another example of what he sees as the country's national civic religion, military-worship.

In his August 13 post, "NBC's war for fun and profit," Greenwald actually lamented that "[v]enerating the military is such a common American cultural ritual that one barely notices when it happens any longer."

Those darn soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. They're always getting praised, even worshiped, Greenwald groused:

What this NBC sleazefest really reveals is the way in which reverence for all things military has become America’s national religion, seamlessly embedded into virtually every cultural event.

Greenwald doesn't just see this as a problem with the entertainment division of NBC, however, as he blasted an ABC News Pentagon reporter for being too buddy-buddy with the Army's Golden Knights parachutists (emphasis mine):

This morning, ABC News‘ Jake Tapper pointed to a fun, playful video of his ABC News colleague, Pentagon correspondent Luis Martinez, jumping out of a military airplane with the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army team that regularly parachutes into football stadiums during halftime as the adoring crowd cheers. In the four-minute video, Martinez plays the role of the hapless clown, acting goofy and nervous with his manly, stoic military guide, Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Figel, over whom Martinez openly slobbers and to whom he is symbolically tied as he jumps.

That worshipful, tongue-wagging fun and games with the U.S. military might not be the most appropriate activity for someone who is supposedly an adversarial reporter covering the Pentagon would never occur to any of them, because, like NBC, they’re just practicing America’s national religion — military worship — and who would ever object to that?

Covering the Pentagon is supposed to be adversarial?!

Granted, no one wants newspaper reporters to be dutiful stenographers for the persons and institutions they cover, but I would expect that most Americans, liberal or conservative, understand that there's a difference between being an objective reporter with a healthy dose of skepticism and being a cynical, adversarial reporter who disdains the institution that he's assigned to cover.