In Defense of Reality Television and Wesley Clark


If there are two things that I am unequivocally not a fan of, reality television and Gen. Wesley Clark have to be near the top of the list. I don’t like reality TV for all of the obvious reasons — I don’t want to reward those who would cash in on every meretricious cultural trend, and I can’t stand how obviously scripted and fake “reality” TV is. And Wesley Clark, well he’s pretty much every thing that’s wrong with the modern military. He’s living proof that nowadays you can advance to the rank of General by being a technocrat whose expertise isn’t confined to the battlefield, but rather sticking your finger in the wind to see which way the political trends are blowing. Writing at Slate over a decade ago, Chris Caldwell rather damningly dissected Clark’s military career and his “agenda of score-settling and [expletive]-covering” — and this 2003 New Yorker profile didn’t do Clark any favors either. But more specifically, here’s how Caldwell described the problem with Clark’s approach to the battlefield:

I don’t really see the difference between “modern war,” as Clark describes it, and a cynical kind of media savvy. (“For large democracies, the home front is the critical theater of war, and words and images are the key weapons.”) Like his fellow airwave-hog Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s special negotiator in the run-up to the Kosovo bombing, Clark sought to wage the war by chatting up Tom Brokaw and Christiane Amanpour. He made end-runs around the U.S. Army chain of command and leaked information to other branches of government (State, in particular) and other governments (Britain’s, in particular).  … But at the same time, his methods led him into a propagandistic press strategy that was transparent to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the war. And they hurt him in U.S. military circles, where he was considered a showboating egotist and a devious political operator. Defense Secretary William Cohen told Clark, through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, “Get your [expletive] face off the TV.”

So who here is surprised that Wesley Clark’s now hosting a reality show on on NBC? I groaned when I saw the ads during the Olympics, for a show called “Stars Earn Stripes,” which is kind of like Circus of the Stars meets Full Metal Jacket. Apparently the idea is that you get some  former special forces commanders to walk That-Guy-Who-Used-To-Be-Famous-For-Being-Married-To-Jessica-Simpson and a dozen other no-talent Hollywood hanger-ons to go through some elaborately staged “mission” each week. Presumably Wesley Clark shows up at some point to kick one of them off at the end of the show with some silly catchphrase. (“Sorry, Nick Lachey — You’ve Been Fragged.”)

Anyway, as you can see, I was down on this whole enterprise — until now. Suddenly, even I am inclined to defend sticking Wesley Clark in front of the TV cameras:

Nine Nobel Peace Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have demanded NBC scrub its new reality series “Stars Earn Stripes” because, “war isn’t entertainment.”

“This program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence,” the Laureates wrote to NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, producer Mark Burnett, and to General Wesley Clark, the former presidential candidate who’s hosting the competition series.

The show is, in fact, they said, “a massive disservice to those who live and die in armed conflict and suffer its consequences long after the guns of war fall silent.”

“Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public,” the nine continued.

Oh come on. It seems pretty clear to me that the point of the show, or at least how it’s being sold, is that it’s a patriotic endeavor to show how difficult the job of soldiers really is and what they go through. I’m obviously cynical about Wesley Clark and his motives, but even I have no doubt he belives the courage of soldiers is something worth commending and reminding the American people of. I could understand and am sympathetic to the idea that graphic depictions of war aren’t necessarily needed, but after decades of violent war movies, a fairly sanitized reality show premised not on depicting death but on soldiers’ skills and sacrifice is — forgive the metaphor — the hill that Desmond Tutu wants to die on? If you object to “war as entertainment” why this program and why now? And if you want to promote peace great. But decrying relatively anodyne facsimiles of war in the belief that this will rewire human nature so as to prevent armed conflict is out of touch with, well, reality.

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  1. Profile Photo Coolidge

    Has promise. I don’t have a problem that it’s not real combat; the stars volunteered and know they are being kept safe. Real boot camp is relatively safe compared with real combat.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Inactive

    My first reaction is that trivializing war is only a difference in degree from trivializing marriage, which has been a staple of game shows and reality shows for a long time.

    Besides, the same argument can be made against paintball.

    And if occasionally, some real ammunition is used, and a worthless celebrity is removed from public nuisance … I can’t say that’s really a bad thing.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive

    I’ve maintained from the get-go that the only real “reality” TV is live sports.  But this show seemed a hybrid between Hollywood’s notion of “reality” and real reality as seen on shows that follow an aircraft carrier during a full deployment or that show what it takes to become a Green Beret or a Marine or in the Special Forces, etc. (e.g. those History Channel et al documentaries).

    So I watched last night, and very quickly decided I don’t need the contrived nature of a Hollywood production (Eve Torres is gorgeous, but that’s it) to understand and appreciate the sacrifice and commitment and toughness of our fighting forces.

    History Channel et al do that genre just fine.

    Sorry, Wesley Clark.  You’re fired.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member

    I agree that the show seems more patriotic than “war-glorifying.” But I seem to recall that this isn’t the first show of this type.

    A decade ago there was a show called “Boot Camp,” which sounds very similar. And very recently there was another one — I forget the name — on, I think, either the History Channel or the Discovery Channel which featured three contestants going up against each other every week. I thought they’d given it a military/special forces angle, too.

    So . . . my question is, did these “nine Nobel Peace Laureates” protest these other shows? Y’know, for consistency’s sake? Has something in our culture changed since Boot Camp?

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Inactive

    I don’t know if I’d throw support behind this show just yet. “Stars Earn Stripes” is affiliated with a hollywood-sponsored campaign of ridiculousness called “Got Your 6.” Begun by Obama operative Greg Propper, it’s supported by some of the biggest libs in Hollywood, including Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker (a red flag that its motivation is pure political pandering). Of course one only need read the “6 Pillars” to realize that this campaign is dripping with condescension and ignorance. I shared them with my husband (a Veteran of OIF/OEF), and we got a good laugh. My favorites are the following:

    Got Your 6 will provide tools, platforms, and resources that Americans can use to feel more comfortable with military and veteran culture.

    Because Veterans make everyone so uncomfortable!?

    Got Your 6 will change the conversation in America, so that our returning veterans are not seen as liabilities, but as assets.

    I’m just so relieved that Sarah Jessica doesn’t think my husband’s a liability anymore. I’ll rest better, for sure! And check the Strategic Partners of GotYour6 – Where are the VFW and American Legion?

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Inactive

    I worked with someone in the defense industry who was on Clark’s staff when they were in the Army.  His observation was that Gen. Clark had one overriding goal in any situation – how do I advance the career of Wes Clark.  That should tell you all you need to know.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    Point One:  Wesley Clark isn’t my idea of a real warrior.  He was an excellent army bureaucrat–his presidential campaign was a train wreck.

    Point Two:  There’s not a single thing wrong with a reality show that illustrates military tactics, weapons, and war games.  The idea that war is not entertainment is demonstrably absurd.  Let’s see:  Saving Private Ryan, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Sargeant York, and on and on ad nauseum.  No one wants to get killed in a war, but check out the war history sections of a Barnes and Noble.  It interests and intrigues us–and in many ways brings out the best of our men and women.

    While Archbishop Tutu is condemning shows, why do shows like The Batchelor get a pass?  Its producer was quoted once as a saying there’s not a lot of sex on the show.  He went on to say that the average Bachelor has sex with only two or three contestants.  The Bachelor has, I believe, produced two marriages, one of which has already ended.  

    So playing war games is an offense to our spiritual leaders–promoting premarital sex and cohabitation gets a pass.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Inactive

    Burnett produced a show way back in 2002 called Combat Missions that was very interesting.  It involved no Hollywood stars but rather current or former members of Navy SEALS, Delta, Rangers, Marine Recon, CIA Special Ops, and police SWAT.  Of course this was on in the first year after the 9/11 attacks so the audience was more Hoorah than now.  One of the contestants, Scott Helvenston, later went to work for Blackwater and was slaughtered and mutilated at the bridge in Fallujah.  That’s about as “reality” as it gets.

    This new show has as a contestant one Todd Palin btw.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Inactive

    I come up short on both ends.  I never watch reality tv.  If I watch tv it is to learn something that I did not know before, or to be entertained.  Reality tv is not entertaining for me so I don’t watch it. 

    I also had the impression that Wesley Clark’s primary occupation was looking in a mirror, or perhaps smiling in a mirror.  That could be the wrong impression.  I have never met the man, just saw him playing a general on tv.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Member

    I am with Desmond Tutu on this one and his career has been a nobel one, no pun intended. As you know, He founded and ran the Truth and Reconciliation commissions which were also shown on South African TV. The premise was that people who had killed could come forward and tell their stories and find redemption. It was not about skin colour either as the killers of an American Albright scholarship girl testified and apologized to her parents. That was reality TV.

    So Tutu spent years of his life watching soldiers talk about their missions and how it got out of hand. There were horrific photos but Desmond had these killers meet the mothers of the dead and talk about what went wrong with unlawful military force. It was extraordinary.

    I do enjoy some reality shows but if the long term consequence is more business smarts, survival ability or weddings that is fine. I am OK to showcase the military in a reality show and what it takes, but if they would also build in some compassion and thoughtful reflecting by real soldiers and the terrible decisions they have had to make. Death is a final reality.

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    Archbishop Tutu would give The Bachelor a pass with its multiple sex partners, because polygamy is the norm in South Afruca. President Zuma has 6 wives.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Inactive

    If those 9 Nobel Laureates wished to protest the ultimate “Reality Show” distortion of truth then where was the combined outrage when President Obama received the once illustrious prize each of them have rightly earned.

    I seems to me their condemnation may be correct, but not for the reasons they proclaim, but for the very reason they should have spoken out when the president received his Nobel prize.

    They should have spoken out then, because awarding him a prize for accomplishing nothing diminished not only their respective prizes but all those who have proceeded them. 

    Hollywood seeks not to glorify and promote the military through this show but promote itself by exploiting the military, all the while holding it in contempt as many in that business do.

    This show, if successful, will not promote the true heroes in our military, but will lead to interview after interview of the “courageous” actors who participated, who will no doubt patronizingly pay homage to those who serve and provide the freedom in which they can earn their treasure, take and give it to politicians who will work to gut the military.

    The Nobel Prize and the Military’s honor will both remained diminished.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Inactive
    Karen: Got Your 6 will provide tools, platforms, and resources that Americans can use to feel more comfortable with military and veteran culture.

    Thanks for the link Karen. What a bunch of liberal klap-trap. All it sounds like to me is there way of co-opting the military to make another illustrious segment of our society government dependent. 

    After reading their mission statement the only ones who need “adjustment” are those who can’t seem to adjust to all the uncomfortableness that anyone who is courageous and self reliant, especially the military, cause these people. 

    Their aim is not to make society more comfortable with the veteran or military culture (what the hell is that anyway) but to re-make the military so they will think and act like them.

    As you stated, who is and who is not included makes it all very transparent.

    My best to you and your husband for his service.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Contributor

    “If there are two things that I am unequivocally not a fan of, reality television and Gen. Wesley Clark have to be near the top of the list.”

    May I just say, Mark, that that’s the best opening sentence I’ve read in weeks and weeks?

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member

    Maybe they don’t want us to compare and contrast with the left’s idea of warriors: Whale Warriors. Check it out sometime and wonder at the level of competency lefty warriors think is adequate to fight for a cause that they believe is finally worth fighting for: innocent whales. It’s  hilarious, a bit like the Keystone Kops in camo.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Inactive
    Mark Hemingway: Nine Nobel Peace Laureates… out of touch with, well, reality.

    See? Your post could have been quite a bit shorter. ;-)

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Thatcher

    I watched it – the only really entertaining thing about it was watching Todd Palin wipe the floor with the other celebrity contestants, to the serious admiration of the military members of the show, and to the obvious discomfort of the show itself.

    But it was typical network pablum- they spent more time on glitzy graphics, back stories of the celebrities, and other fluff than on what the people were actually doing.  And all the smash-cuts and shaky-cam work made it painful to watch.

    If you want to see better reality TV along the same lines, I recommend ‘Top Shot’ on the History Channel.   Less filler, more shooting, fewer hosts and annoying voice-overs.

    • #17
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