Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fascist Fun at NBC

You've no doubt heard about that odious new celebrity war games show called "Stars Earn Stripes" and how a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners and others are urging NBC to can it. Not only does it glamorize war and glorify assault weapons and rake in millions in corporate profits -- it mightily disrespects the real troops in the field, most of whom make a barely-living wage and put their lives and psyches on the line far away from the Hollywood lights. It ignores the millions of innocent civilians who've lost their lives in the name of our freedom-imposing imperialism.

I wanted to see this show for myself. Trust me -- the reviews were right. Despite the explosions and rapid gunfire and fake drownings, it was as boring and stilted as can be. The host, Wesley Clark, is a washed-up retired general who once ran for president, and I can see why he didn't get too far in politics. He recites his rote lines like Mitt Romney on Valium. The guy has all the enthusiasm of a slug, yet the D-List stars pretend to be afraid of him and gratuitously call him "Sir!" like they were real grunts. And the female drill sergeant is played by a former Dancing With the Stars hostess whose job is to stand around and bark sexy directions in her skintight olive drab tee shirt.

The indoor set in which the stars get their orders and lectures is pretty cheesy too. It's rigged up as a command center deep in the bowels of some top secret Special Ops bunker. There's a wall of what looks like GPS and satellite coordinates, but when you look at it closely, it's just one big flashy ad for one of the show's sponsors: LifeLock. That's a company which purports to protect you from identity theft. Which is a joke, given that the corporate security state is stealing your information and spying on you every single day. (Google "Stratfor", or see this on the growing TrapWire scandal, or this on how our future movements can be predicted)

Speaking of sponsors... the only reason I watched the two-hour premiere was to find out exactly which corporate giants are paying millions and millions of dollars to shill their products and bring this obscene travesty into the living rooms of America. So there I sat, notebook in hand. And I filled three pages, noting every single spot. My count was about 80 commercials*, (not including the dozens of ads for NBC's own shows and fall line-up) some mere seconds long, some repeats, in only two hours. NBC is making a fortune. I don't know how they're paying their actors, but they're giving only a measly $100,000 to the first responder or military charity of the winner's choice.)

The biggest advertiser of the evening (by about a dozen commercials) was Ford, and they were selling a lot of macho trucks to tie in with the show. The ads blend in seamlessly with the violent narrative. First you see six-figure military Humvees, then you see scenes of more affordable Ford trucks. The commercials inexplicably have civilian vehicles careening through roadside explosions and dodging incendiary devices of unknown origin. Oh, and Walmart ran three ads. Two of them were for its big fat juicy red-meat steaks and the other one greed-washed an alleged entrepreneurial program for disabled veterans. This phony patriotism, of course, absolves them from having to pay their employees a living wage and health benefits.

Have You Driven a Ford Lately?
 "Stars Earn Stripes" is obviously trying to cash in on the Olympics afterglow, and Olympic profits, and continue the Olympics audience share, because it presents itself as an Olympics of War. In lieu of the eternal torch, we see  fake soldiers torching houses with rocket grenade launchers. In lieu of Michael Phelps, we get reality show stars rapelling into a lake from one of the many surplus military helicopters, some actors even pretending to drown from the weight of all their high-tech weaponry. Olympic skier Picabo Street is one of the contestants. So is a WWE girl wrestler, courtesy of GOP senatorial candidate Linda McMahon. Iron Man skimobile racer Todd Palin, macho husband of the half-governor, looks to be a shoo-in for top prize.

Upcoming NBC appearances by this summer's medalists on various  shows were advertised as well. In between sniper practice and rocket grenade launches last night, for instance, we learned that Michelle Obama is teaming up with Gold Medal gymnast Gabby Douglas to go on Jimmy Fallon. (Michelle's Nobel Laureate husband, by the way, was not among those signing the protest letter to NBC.)

You can read that letter here.

Roots Action is starting a petition drive against the show. They're also questioning how much of our taxpayer money is going into this extravaganza. What is the cost to us of the weapons, the helicopters, the couture, the hummers, the human simulacra getting shot up? This is where fascism comes into play. This is where the government hacks, the politicians, the corporations, the entertainment industry, the defense contractors and the military all come together to gin up some patriotic propaganda. From Roots Action:

While 57% of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, weapons makers can't seem to get enough of our tax dollars. In the spirit of transferring veterans' care to the realm of private charity, "Stars Earn Stripes" will give prize money each week to "military-based charities" in order to "send a message." We have our own message that we will be delivering to NBC: Don't lie to us.
One of NBC’s corporate parents, General Electric, takes war very seriously, but not as human tragedy -- rather, as financial profit. (GE is a big weapons manufacturer.) A retired general hosting a war-o-tainment show is another step in the normalization of permanent war.
We do know that the Pentagon cooperated with NBC in producing the series, because one Special Operative was recruited on the very same day he retired from active duty. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles Green Beret Grady Powell, whose family always knew he was destined to become a star: 

When his five-year hitch was up, his plan was to "travel the world not getting shot at." But on his last day in the Army, a job placement officer told him, "Hey, Grady. Hollywood called."
Casting agents were recruiting for "Stars Earn Stripes," a reality-competition series from Mark Burnett ("Survivor") and Dick Wolf ("Law & Order") making its debut at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC....
At first, Powell wasn't enthusiastic. "We've all seen reality TV and know what it does," he said last week in an interview in Los Angeles, before NBC introduced the series to TV critics meeting there. "I didn't want to be involved in putting a bad face on the military."
"Coming into this, I thought it was going to be the same old corny military show where they’ve got the obstacle courses and BB guns or little soft toy guns, water guns and whatnot. That was the furthest thing from 'Stars Earn Stripes.' We’re jumping out of helicopters. There are people crying. Might see me cry. There’s explosions everywhere. There’s dirt in your eyes."
Powell was used to seeing stars from all those real-life explosive events he was in. Now he has different stars in his eyes. War isn't Hell when it has dollar signs written all over it. For the heartless greedheads and their sponsors at NBC, it is pure heaven.

And in case you're still having doubts that, in the words of Chris Hedges,"war is the force that gives us meaning", do watch this video rant from the inimitable Lee Camp.

* List of "Stars Earn Stripes" Sponsors:
  • Ford
  • Walmart
  • Capitol One
  • Samsung
  • JC Penney
  • Lowe's (home improvement)
  • Kraft Foods
  • Staples (a Mitt Romney creation!)
  • Verizon
  • Macy's
  • University of Phoenix
  • Toyota
  • Nissan (luxury Infiniti)
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Jeep
  • TJ Maxx
  • Olive Garden
  • T-Mobil
  • L'Oreal
  • LifeLock
  • SE Johnson ("A Family Company")
  • Kohl's
  • Mazda
  • Geico
  • JM Smucker (Folgers coffee)
  • Ikea
  • Met Life
  • Pizza Hut
  • Scott Brands
  • KFC
  • CBS Films ("The Words" movie)
  • Brita
  • Procter and Gamble (included ads for Jif peanut butter and Swiffer)
  • Lionsgate ("The Expendables II" movie)
  • TD Bank
  • Doctor Pepper
  • Raymour & Flanigan
  • PepsiCo (Mountain Dew)
  • Caesar Dog Food
  • Jason Mraz & The Ban
  • Biotene (Buchanan Group)
  • Ore-Ida


Anne Lavoie said...

I have noticed that even PBS has been getting in on the war promotion act, including programs on high tech weaponry and such, compliments of their corporate sponsors. Lockheed-Martin is becoming quite a major sponsor of PBS programs.

When people question or deny that violence in the media promotes violence in real life, they should ask themselves why corporations spend so many billions on advertising if frequent exposure to ideas and products doesn't work.

Tightening up gun laws isn't going to do much to lessen violence when it's in our veins. The pushers - those greedy, evil, war-profiteering and violence-promoting corporations - have made violence the drug of choice, and Americans are hooked.

Pearl said...

Practically every current TV or movie theatre presentation these days seems
to dwell on violence, gore, gross explicit sexual situations which seem to be necessary to keep viewers and cover up an empty script. They all start with warnings about what we are about to see which, of course, entices many young people to watch.
As for dancing, the most garish presentations with the least clothes
possible seem to represent this lost art form.

We are living in a disturbed cult of unhealthy presentations of what life is all about in the regular media. Good theatre, the finer arts, remain
isolated for those who have the money, time and desire to be enriched. and inspired. This does not encourage the talented to contribute their best for consumption and is a continuing dumbing down of what passes for culture in our society.

Fine orchestras and other cultural events are going begging for money to
continue to exist contrary to the practice of subsidy support in many
European countries.

We are a country in decline in almost every area and this latest bit of poison, Stars Earn Stripes is a sick way of enticing people (mostly the young) into theatres to make money for their sponsors. I hope a wave of objections by the public will put a crimp on this latest project.

Needless to say, many vulnerable viewers can be encouraged to think and act out in violent ways as a result which will be played out in the news before long.

Several organizations have started sending out petitions regarding this latest war game monstrosity, such as Veterans for Peace, etc. and I hope they will get many signers.

Denis Neville said...

Disgusting! Where is the ruthless truth of war? War is not a game.

“War is just a racket. And war is the most profitable racket in the world! A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.” - Smedley Butler

A “warfare and fame” reality show of “bad ass operatives” and celebrities playing war games is just another sleazy racket.

“None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.” – Mark Twain

The War Prayer by Mark Twain:

"Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

Our national religion: military worship.

"God bless America!"

Do we really believe that God prefers Americans to other people? What kind of God would check the nationality status of people before responding to prayers?

Jim said...

Normalizing war keeps thousands employed and out of the country. When natural disaster strikes, hire campaign-donor mercenaries. War is peace.

James F Traynor said...

'Soylent Green' is going to become a documentary.

Valerie said...

First the "First Interview" with the lovebirds, Mittens and Ryan, and now this. There is a reason we watch so little T.V. these days. To someone living outside the U.S. living a simple, unmaterialistic lifestyle, what is going on in America really DOES seem like Wonderland. The thing I hate is that this is such a backhanded slap in the face to the REAL soldiers. Speaking of REAL soldiers and what war is REALLY like for them, Bill Moyers has a great interview with author and Vietam vet, Karl Marlantes. http://billmoyers.com/segment/karl-marlantes-on-what-its-like-to-go-to-war/

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Thanks, Karen, for covering the television wargasm of "Stars Earn Stripes".

I recently finished reading Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death". (A hearty thanks to Denis Neville for recommending it here at Sardonicky several months ago). While I would agree with nearly everything that Postman said in that book regarding the effective trivialization by television of the important, and its broader effects on modes of thought, I found myself strongly disagreeing with his general view that the purely "entertainment" sector of television wasn't particularly worrisome.

To the contrary, I think that over the course of several decades, and accelerating since 9/11, the "mindless entertainment" portion of television has been an equal partner with the pseudo-serious side of television with regard to undermining critical thought and opinion amongst the broad public. The inadequacies of the "serious" side of television such as "news" coverage may well have had more of a negative impact on factual knowledge, comprehension, and critical thought, while the "entertainment" side may have been more instrumental in producing false visceral opinions, but both have interacted to produce the general decline. Seriously incomplete or even false factual knowledge blends with deficiencies of critical thought blends with manipulated opinion to produce a grand "Knowledge" not just illusory but also patently dangerous.

And I think that the negative impact of the "mindless entertainment" segment is particularly pronounced with regard to public acceptance of governmental and corporate violation of fundamental civil liberties, as well as the expansion of militarism. (Valerie and I both remarked on that here some months ago). Millions watched "24", and came away with the absolute conviction that torture in the name of righteousness was ultimately good. Watch "Person of Interest", and "know" deep down that data mining safeguards the public, so don't object. Watch many cop shows, "know" that terrible criminal dangers lurk all around, and "understand" that the Bill of Rights is a terrible impediment to effective law enforcement and therefore also to the public's safety. And now, watch "Stars Earn Stripes", "know" that all of our military actions are always noble, and by the way, be sure to contact your elected representatives and tell them not to permit sequestration of military funding! Leni Riefenstahl would be proud.

Zee said...

I am not a pacifist, and I subscribe to the opinion that there are times that wars--principally defensive ones--are justifiable, indeed, even just. Nevertheless, I agree with Gen. Smedley Butler that many wars are, indeed, “rackets,” plotted and executed for the gain of a select few at huge cost to the many.

And though I try to heed Eisenhower’s words of warning regarding the “military-industrial complex,” I also believe in a strong national defense as the greatest deterrent to becoming involved in needless wars:

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” --George Washington


But war should never be glorified, even if the cause is generally deemed to be “just.”

In the aftermath of each war, we see the enormous physical and psychological prices exacted from those troops lucky enough to return home alive--often, only barely so. Not to mention the huge burdens inflicted upon the victims’ family and friends as the work begins to try to reassemble shattered lives. No amount of “just-ness” can ever re-pay or repair such incredible sacrifices.

Worse yet, war should never be “normalized,” as @Jim has put it.

Yet à la Orwell’s 1984, perpetual war appears to be the “new normal” for America. No sooner did we--more or less--withdraw from Iraq and set an exit date for Afghanistan, than has “serious” discussion about the “necessity” of military action against Iran begun. (The quotation marks are intended to imply sarcasm here.)

God help us! Just what we need: another war.

With war as the “new normal,” how to lull the public into forgetting the horrors of yesterday’s war, in order to obtain new recruits to fight tomorrow’s ? Well, @Karen and @Pearl and @Fred Drumlevitch have the answer. Propaganda! Which is exactly what the show Stars Earn Stripes and its fictional equivalents are: casualty-free glorification of war as a noble experience in and of itself.

“Ignore the [wounded and permanently disabled men and women] behind the [hospital] curtain! War is glorious, and you will all return home as heroes!”

Sorry, but just or unjust, “War is hell,”* and it is the height of immorality to propagandize it as anything else. NBC should be ashamed of itself.

*William Tecumseh Sherman


New York Crank said...

Don't be so harsh on war. If the Republicans outlaw birth control, war will be the only method of population control we'll have.

Besides, if I may take a minor liberty with the words of Malcolm X, war is as American as apple pie.

Crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Denis Neville said...

Valerie mentioned the excellent Bill Moyers interview with Karl Marlantes on ‘What It’s Like to Go to War.”

Have we forgotten Afghanistan? Neither Obama nor Romney mentions it.

Linda J. Bilmes, “Afghanistan is missing from the campaign,”

“After 11 years, 2,000 American lives, trillions of dollars, and lifelong disabilities for nearly half of the soldiers who have fought there — we are still at war in Afghanistan. Yet if you listen to the election campaign, you would hardly know it.”

“The human and financial toll of the war is debilitating for the United States, if only we would stop to hear it. Last weekend, we lost six more young Americans. Every single day we pay out $328 million for Afghanistan, much of it to ship fuel to remote locations. On average, one active-duty soldier commits suicide each day. Half of all US veterans from this war are claiming disability benefits, racking up trillions of dollars in long-term support costs. Women veterans are suffering disproportionately, with higher rates of unemployment, depression, homelessness, suicide, and divorce.”


The American public instead tunes out the real war in Afghanistan for the TV wargasm of "Stars Earn Stripes." Their minds sufficiently diverted, our politicians make absurd commitments to this deficit-funded war; prop-up Afghanistan’s corrupt government; while creating other dragons for our drones to destroy.

Such much violence and so many futile efforts to make the world look just like us. And at such a terrible cost. That is what is like to go to war!

Zee said...

@Denis and @All

Linda Bilmes is not the only journalist who has noticed that "Afghanistan is missing from the campaign."

Both the human and financial costs of the war in Afghanistan have been enormous.

But for all our efforts, the attempt to turn Afghanistan into something resembling a functioning democracy--or maybe even just a stable government that would refuse to be a haven for terrorists--have probably been futile:


Such a waste!

James F Traynor said...

It's impossible to adequately describe war, it's only possible to give it a name. This tv program is an abomination.

Valerie said...

Excellent conversation on the REAL issue of war! It is indeed missing from the conversation both by politicians and the public in general. I am totally against all the wars the U.S. is involved - protested against every one of them - but I maintain, we should have a mandatory draft where NO ONE is exempt. Unless every family has "skin in the game," we, the public, will have no problem allowing our government to keep these senseless wars going. And while we are at it, every politician from the President to the Congress must have one child in combat and on the front lines. Let them sacrifice their own children and see how quickly they change their tunes and work for peace.

In Australia, the smallest of towns has a small park with a war memorial to WWI. EVERY family was touched and the horror of war and the human cost of war was brought home to ALL Australians. In the interview with Moyers, Marlantes speaks of a young man on his SEVENTH tour of duty! Do we just keep sending these poor souls back until they die or are injured? Or do we wait until they have such terrible mental disabilities from the constant stress and fear? If these wars are worth fighting, why are only a few people fighting and dying?

It is extremely relevant - both from a financial cost perspective and a human cost perspective - that these wars are not being discussed in light of this presidential election campaign. The only reason it isn't, is both candidates are chicken hawks.

falken751 said...

Do you mean that you had to actually watch the show to know it would stink?

Karen Garcia said...

Hi falken751,
I watched it to discover what friendly household corporations are bankrolling the stench, so that I can boycott those products in the future. Unfortunately, I'd just bought a new box of Swiffer replacement pads. And it will really hurt to give up that Infiniti I've had my eye on.