It seems that there’s no U.S. reality show format that hasn’t made it to Israel and then made it in Israel - Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Voice, The Biggest Loser, Beauty and the Geek - the list goes on and on. You name the show, we’ve imported it, and it’s been a big hit. Of course, after these shows become hugely popular and dominate all water-cooler conversation, there is endless public hand-wringing about Americanization and deterioration of Israeli culture. But high ratings overcome high mindedness every time. In short, what works over there tends to work here.
Until now. Stars Earn Stripes is a new program, created by reality mogul Mark Burnett, that I guarantee will never show up on Israel television screens. The NBC show was heavily promoted, presumably on the assumption that the same people who like to see athletes train for high-level competition are also interested in seeing military recruits trained for high-level combat, even when the so-called recruits are D-list celebrities, and the level of combat is somewhat questionable.
The show reflects an attempt to combine action and reality genres, celebrities are trained by real military men - former members of elite units in the Army, Navy, Marines, and police force .to acquire military skills in preparation for competing against each other executing fake military missions. They compete, of course, for money, that will go to various charities that benefit military families and veterans. To give it an extra credibility boost, the senior military figure on the show is General Wesley Clark, who served in both the military and in the Pentagon for 34 years, after which he made an unsuccessful run for the presidential nomination.
Stars Earn Stripes has already garnered criticism - and the accompanying free publicity - through a variety of protests against the way in which it glamorizes war and violence. The protests include a petition signed by nine Nobel Peace Prize winners, among them South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Even some military veterans aren’t big fans of the show, either, with several of them trashing it in a group discussion in The Huffington Post.
Amy Fairweather, the director of policy for a veteran’s organization charged that the show was ‘trivializing war’ in an interview with Radar Online, saying: "I was speechless when I first saw this. People have to realize that war is not a game. The real warriors who go out there and come home from war don’t win a reality prize. They live with the consequences of being exposed to the dangerous elements they survived."
To mitigate the criticism, the show attempts to deflect negative criticism by presenting itself as a tribute to the military, and reminding the public of what those who fight for their country go through, and sending a message about the importance of national service.
The reason the show wouldn’t fly in Israel has nothing to do with any local commitment to political correctness or good taste.
Stars Earn Stripes has little to offer us because most of its selling points are elements that Israelis already have in spades.
Celebrities in uniform? In Israel, with the universal draft for all 18-year-olds, pretty much every celebrity has been in uniform, with some young actors and models who are lucky enough to succeed before age 18, serving and performing simultaneously.
Televised drama in which things get blown up and soldiers shoot at each other? Insurgency? Danger? Come on. Israelis get their fill of that stuff on the evening news - we’ve got our own little long-running reality drama called the Middle East, which is plenty dramatic and scary enough. When the news is over, we expect our primetime shows to help us escape violence and strife, not deepen our familiarity with it. We want our reality stars wearing bikinis on a desert island or running around China with backpacks or singing their hearts out for the judges - but learning to use a machine gun or choke a combatant using Krav Maga? No thanks.
Israelis would be likely to hate the show - the only reason I could see some of them tuning in and being entertained would be to ridicule the ignorance of the celebrities, and probably their veteran military trainers as well - some Israeli macho types view their army stint as instantly qualifying them as experts - even if their service mainly involved filing papers or stocking the supply closets.
At the same time, some of the concerns that the U.S. critics are voicing about the show are irrelevant. The primary concern of those who are bashing the show is, after all, the way in which the show glorifies violence and minimizes its consequences for the combatants. Most Israelis are too familiar with the consequences and aftermath of those dramatic eye-catching explosions to every harbor any illusions that it is glamorous in any way. They know all too well that armed conflict - even the most justified and noble battles - are profoundly unpleasant, and to be avoided if at all possible.
When war is your reality, it’s difficult for reality television like Stars Earn Stripes to sell you a bill of goods.
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