Pop Culture

Controversy Abounds Over “Stars Earn Stripes” ““ Is it Warranted?

I’m not really the target audience for the new NBC show Stars Earn Stripes, which premiered earlier this week. I don’t come from a military family, I only have a few friends who have served, including one Marine who was in Iraq, and frankly, I’m just not interested in the subject. But, I had seen the commercials during the Olympics, and since it happened to be starting when I turned my television on Monday night, I figured I would give it a shot.

A reality program, Stars Earn Stripes pairs together “celebrities” (I use the term loosely, since Todd Palin is one of them) with someone who actually knows something about war, like a Navy Seal or Green Beret. They compete in challenges that are based on actual training exercises conducted by the U.S. military, and the money won by each celebrity will go to a specific military or veteran charity.

While the program is hosted by a rather big name, retired general Wesley Clark, the cast isn’t that great. The most recognizable are Dean Cain, Nick Lachey, and Laila Ali, in addition to Palin. While I got bored after 20 minutes and turned it off, I do find the controversy surrounding the show very interesting.

On the Roots Action website, there’s a petition that the public can sign that reads, “Dear NBC, Your entertainment show ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ treats war as a sport. This does us all a disservice. We ask that you air an in-depth segment showing the reality of civilian victims of recent U.S. wars, on any program, any time in the coming months. ( has provided a few resources to help you with your research.)”

Those who are against the show believe that it makes war look like a game. They also point out that GE, which is one of NBC’s corporate parents, is a weapons manufacturer. Several Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, agree with this sentiment, and have signed a letter asking for the show to be cancelled. NBC believes the opposite (obviously, as it’s their program), and sees Stars Earn Stripes as a way to, “Pay homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.”

When I first heard about Stars Earn Stripes, I thought it sounded like a weird premise for a show, because who wants to watch Nick Lachey go through a mud pit covered with barbed wire? The thought that it could come across as glorifying war never even crossed my mind because I was stuck on just how random it all was.  Now, I understand where those who are against the show are coming from; while this certainly shows one side of the military, it doesn’t capture the devastation that war can cause. During the short amount of time I watched the program, nothing I saw seemed to be glorifying war, although they did have a lot of fancy schmancy equipment that might appeal to some. However, something did stand out to me that was a bit troubling: one of the professional military partners on the show mentioned during his introductory piece that as a sniper, he had killed over 160 people. He said it in such a nonchalant manner that I was taken aback.

Many will argue that you can just head down to your local theater, and most likely a war-related movie will be playing.  But, as the powerful letter signed by the Nobel Peace Prize winners states, “Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People–military and civilians–die in ways that are anything but entertaining. Communities and societies are ripped apart in armed conflict and the aftermath can be as deadly as the war itself as simmering animosities are unleashed in horrific spirals of violence. War, whether relatively short-lived or going on for decades as in too many parts of the world, leaves deep scars that can take generations to overcome–if ever.”

What do you think? Do you agree that this show is ill-conceived, or do you think it will increase respect for those serving in the military? If you watched the show, will you tune in again?

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

6 replies on “Controversy Abounds Over “Stars Earn Stripes” ““ Is it Warranted?”

I haven’t seen it but I was shooting some major shade at the previews. Like some of the other commenters have said, there’s probably a way to make a reality show about how boot camp kicks your ass and that shows how our soldiers are trained without making it glorify war. If a show focused on actual soldiers it would could still come off as propaganda depending on how it was handled, but at least it would honor the people who actually put their lives on the line and put a human face on the conflict since most people don’t have much of a personal stake in the wars we’re fighting right now. By making it about celebrities playing war, it does glamorize war and makes people think it’s cool. I don’t like the sound of that at all. Also, having the celebs compete on behalf of soldiers’ charities sounds nice and all, but you bet your ass NBC (and GE) are going to make far more money off the advertising that airs during the show than will be donated.

I originally thought of the show as a way to expose how difficult military training is and how wimpy our stars are.  I have not watched it, so I can’t tell is my premise it right or not.  But I agree, we should not trivialize war or what our soldiers go through.

What a strange idea. It’s not something I’ll be watching, as I doubt it’ll make it across the pond. In a way, the title of the show seems to sum up the issues: it suggests celebrities will be emulating what soldiers do to earn recognition. That’s badly worded, I know, but it’s the suggestion that the celebrities are partaking in a military experience, when they quite clearly aren’t. They’re doing some military training, which in other guises is everywhere on reality TV, not to mention available in extreme fitness camps. To be earning respect would be, I don’t know, following a celebrity as they actually did work in conjunction with the army, somehow. The winners will be having money donated to miltary charities, but why not skip the “games” and have the celebrities involved with contribution of that money, and volunteering. Any respect they’re generating, is surely just for people capable of military fitness and ability, not for people who are implementing that fitness and ability in the miltary.

Oh, I don’t know. It seems very odd. And I had to look up who Todd Palin was. Oh dear.

I could be wrong, but I think the problem lies in the shows competitive content, rather than it’s portrayal of military training, which is why it is more heinous than just a war movie. If the shows premise was take a popular-ish civilian and have them do some military training along side real military people to show how hard it is that would probably be a non-issue. Alternately if you took these sorts of skills and divorced them from the “This is all about soldiers and war” context you would have a show similar to Top Shot, which no one really objects to because it is focused on marksmanship, even if it uses some military training exercises in it’s competitions. But this is literally taking war skills and turning them into a winnable game. That’s gross.

I like Top Shot, it focuses on marksmanship at extremes and does not tie back into war or fighting.  I agree with your take that turning war skills into winnable traits is yucky.  Our soldiers use this training to survive not to win money.

Shouldn’t there be something about keeping top training sort of secret?  If the world knows how our elite soldiers train then what would make the elite anymore?  Sure media has been showing this kind of stuff forever, there was that Navy Seals show.   I am sure the military keeps things secret that should be but I wonder.

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