Military Realism on TV – more detail than you need I am sure

The good people behind South/South are more informative than most TV Listings pages. Want to know what your co-hosts have been up to? Well, here’s a former Rhodes Scholar – and NATO commander – Wesley Clark now kitted out with all the tricks of the military TV trade… and there’s Terry Crew from The Expendables, and football (Gridiron I presume) strutting his stuff. Add a boxer, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a few others, and Ka-Pow! You really don’t need to watch much of this to realise its the bright new shiny future of TV. You thought a Cathode Ray was a weapon the Martians had – well, scifi or BB never got this real. Set your scheduler to record (or to the vomit setting – its already on stun).

By South/South. This first appeared at The New Inquiry.

Stars Earn Stripes is a freshly pressed NBC drag show reality television series which debuts its two-hour premiere on 13 August, or ‘Monday after the Olympics at 8/7c!’ as its promotional spots blared all throughout the station’s Olympic Games coverage. The emphatic promise of militarytainment—a real NATO ex-general, real ex-Navy SEALS, real ex-Delta Force commanders, real ex-Green Berets, real celebrities, etc.—outranks previous shows of its ilk. It also makes the Pentagon Channel look like the army version of the perpetuated congressional yawn that is C-SPAN. Here is the show’s self-description:

Hosted by General Wesley Clark (retired) and Samantha Harris, “Stars Earn Stripes” is an action-packed competition show that pays homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services. The star-studded cast includes four-time undefeated world boxing champion Laila Ali, actor Dean Cain (“Out of Time,” Five Days of War”), actor and former National Football League player Terry Crews (“The Expendables 2,” “The Newsroom”), multi-platinum recording artist, actor, producer and television personality Nick Lachey (NBC’s “The Sing-Off”), Alaska businessman and four-time Iron Dog snowmobile race champion Todd Palin, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” trainer Dolvett Quince, Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street, and WWE diva, Eve Torres.

In this fast-paced competition, the eight celebrities will gather at a remote training facility where they will be challenged to execute complicated missions inspired by real military exercises. From helicopter drops into water to long-range weapons fire, the contestants will be tested physically, mentally and emotionally. Each will be paired with a special operative from a military branch or one of our first-responder forces, including former U.S. Army Delta Force and Green BeretsU.S. Navy SEALSU.S. Marines and police officers, who train alongside their partners and compete in the missions with them. Each of the teams is competing for a cash prize on behalf of a military, veterans or first-responder charity.

Take any of the day’s popular television series and you’ll notice they have one claim in common: authenticity. Reality shows based on human affect fundamentally rely on ‘drama’ (let’s imagine it on a spectrum ranging from Dostoevsky to 1980s Mexican soap operas) and not a single one fails to remind viewers how authentic the drama is. Real people generate real emotions that generate real drama. (For a contemporary paragon look no further than Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, and its paratexts.)

Yet unlike other reality shows Stars Earn Stripes cannot and does not aim for authenticity. It can only aim for realness. Realness is the perfect execution of an imitation of the real. Toward that goal, SES has spared no prop nor expense, even hiring retired General Wesley Clark as a co-host. As Supreme Allied Commander Europe Clark commanded the NATO air bombing campaign of Yugoslavia. He is also a former Rhodes Scholar, Democratic Party presidential candidate, and author of Waging Modern War and Winning Modern Wars. He is not filled with hay as some reports suggest. Clark is an essential realness ingredient, and gravely assures viewers, ‘There are no stunt doubles. This is real.’ Then he punctuates that promise: ‘Real ammunition. Real explosives. Real danger.’ Skier Picabo Street was quoted on the show’s Twitter feed: ‘I rode a real fine line between show & reality. What defined that line was the live ammunition.’ In case you needed more reassurance (after all, how could we trust that Wesley Clark is not some silver-haired cardboard simulacrum if the show’s advertisement spots didn’t constantly remind us he was a ’real’ general?) producer Mark Burnett says:

As you know I am a veteran and served in the [British Army] Parachute Regiments. I love the military. What this show is, and what you’ll see, is a love letter, in a fun way, to those who protect and serve us, showing how hard it is to do their job.

Since SES bills itself as a competition show, it could favor a little theatrical pre-game we might call Real v. Realness. I chose three items, but the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Real: Ušće Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Belgrade, as it caught fire during Operation Allied Force’s large-scale air bombing campaign in 1999 under General Clark.

 
Realness: The show’s promotional photos show (top) a giant explosion behind all eight celebrities and (bottom) Dean Cain, Terry Crews, Laila Ali, and Nick Lachey (curiously the only contestant without a rifle in both pictures, as though not carrying a gun was stipulated in his contract). An unidentified blast mushrooms in the background next to the tagline, ‘They’re not in Hollywood anymore.’

Read the whole post, and indeed, watch the trailer: here.

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