Reality Bites: Stars Earn Stripes
Being called a "star" in this country used to be something of a rarefied honor. We reserved the term for our most celebrated actors, musicians and sports heroes. Once upon a time, we even allowed non-traditional celebrities like astronauts into the category. Whatever your thoughts on how deserving they were of adulation, they were few in number, and therefore easy to contain.
"But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason." -- Ernest Hemingway
Times change. We still have our top tier of beautiful people -- the Will Smiths and Katy Perrys and Derek Jeters -- who are now referred to as "A-listers:" instantly recognizable and infinitely marketable. Problem is, there are other tiers as well, and the bubonic plague of celebrity worship in this country means even those in the bottom rungs are somehow able to find ways to jockey for our attention.
Combine that with the military fetishism that's been a hallmark of our society since the first Gulf War, take away any semblance of the gut-churning terror and futility of actual combat, and you've got Stars Earn Stripes.
The premise of the show reminds me of when my friends and I used to don oddments of camouflage clothing and take mock-up M-16s into the woods behind our houses and play war. Now imagine that with fitness trainers and a major network budget. Eight "celebrities" are paired with eight honest-to-Ares soldiers and law enforcement types to compete in a series of missions for various charities (that's how you cancel out the accusations of glorifying war, I guess) . In the Mark Burnett host role (he's one of the producers, BTW) is General Wesley Clark. You may remember him from such Presidential campaigns as 2004 (where he eventually dropped out and endorsed John Kerry). And just who are these contestants (bear in mind I caught the third episode, after Biggest Loser trainer Dolvett Quince and actor Terry Crews already got the boot)?
There's Dean Cain, star of TV's Lois & Clark and a staggering number of terrible straight-to-DVD films in the subsequent 15 years; Eve Torres, a two-time winner of pro wrestling's "WWE Divas Championship" (at least we know she's no stranger to fake combat); female boxer (and daughter of another fighter you may have heard of) Laila Ali; Nick Lachey, the boy band singer a decade removed from his heyday (and co-star of Rise: Blood Hunter!); Olympic gold medal skier Picabo Street; and finally Todd Palin, who -- in addition to being the husband of the biggest political punch-line of the last decade -- has won something called the Tesoro Iron Dog snowmobile championship four times. Frankly, if that race doesn't include a re-creation of the scene in Die Hard 2 where McLane jumps a Yamaha Apex over evil Special Forces guys lighting him up with machine guns, it's a total farce.
Call me "First Dude" to my face.
The mission this week is to secure a landing zone and then use an M2 "Mongoose" .50 calibre machine gun to blow up an "enemy ammunition bunker."
[What would happen if Marion "Cobra" Cobretti was forced to use a "Mongoose?" Would it alter space-time enough to trigger the discovery of the Higgs boson? Must contact the folks at the LHC.]
The remaining six celebs are paired up into teams: Cain/Torres, Palin/Street, and Lachey/Ali. Torres and Green Beret Grady Powell appear to be the ones to beat, having won the first week with Torres earning immunity the next week in a shootout (she shoots "like a boss," as Powell says). One almost detects a hint of affection between the two, and wouldn't NBC love that shit?