Did any of you have the fortitude to sit through NBC's new, erroneously labeled a reality show, "Stars Earn Stripes"? If you did, you would have seen the most chaotic, violent, sleazy, reprehensible program this viewer (who could only stomach half a show) has yet encountered on television. And, that speaks volumes inasmuch as so much of TV is chaotic, violent, sleazy and reprehensible.
But, this one takes the cake, because in addition to all those qualities, it was a recruitment commercial in disguise and a resounding slap in the face to all those engaged in and victimized by our current wars in Afghanistan and God knows where else.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark hosted this show, commanding a motley crew of third-rate "celebrities" including Laila Ali (anti-war hero Mohammad Ali's daughter) and Sara's husband, Todd Palin (how he earned the title of celebrity is a mystery). The "celebrities" were pitted against some ex-armed forces and police personnel in a contest in which they had to perform simulated military maneuvers such as killing enemies and blowing up ships using LIVE AMMUNITION. War as fun and games.
The performers all extolled their actions as showing them what it was really like to be in battle. A somewhat immodest claim given that there were no bullets or bombs aimed back at them. Gen. Clark looked pathetic giving orders to shoot and kill to the phony combatants -- to think I supported him for President in 2004 because he represented himself as being against war. And, here he was strutting around in what appeared to be a fifth-rate Hollywood piece of propaganda to seduce young people into seeing war as a game and joining up in what would likely ultimately result in their being maimed or worse.
Well, we in the anti-war movement didn't like it one bit. Luckily, we were forewarned by the endless stream of commercials NBC ran for the show during the Olympic broadcasts and thus had a little heads up to prepare to counteract it, even, we hoped, get it canceled.
A New Jersey mother of a son deployed in Afghanistan who was a member of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) contacted a New York City MFSO member expressing her alarm about the proposed program. From there, overnight in a flash, a number of peace groups organized a protest campaign at NBC headquarters in 30 Rockefeller Center to begin on the same day as the show's debut, Aug.13. It was amazing how quickly practically every anti-war organization in New York City came together for this action, a rarity in an often-splintered movement where every group tends to go its own way.
At the same time, David Swanson writer and head of Roots Action and the web site, War Is a Crime, began a petition to NBC, as follows:
Your entertainment show "Stars Earn Stripes" treats war as 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."
The petition swiftly went viral, obtaining over 18,000 signatures by the first broadcast and by the fourth and last, over 50,000. See starsearnstripes.org.
A further pressure was created when Jody Willliams, a Nobel Peace Laureate, received an email from the NYC chapter of Code Pink announcing the scheduled protest for Aug. 13. She notified other Peace Laureates, and nine of them, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, immediately sent a strongly-worded letter to NBC demanding cancellation of the show. In part, the letter read :
"We call upon NBC to stop airing this program that pays homage to no one, and is a massive disservice to those who live and die in armed conflict and suffer its consequences long after the guns of war fall silent."
The presence of Tutu's name on the letter sparked a world-wide publicity blitz as thousands of media and press outlets picked up the story.
On Aug. 13, the day of the first broadcast of "Stars Earn Stripes," approximately 70 of the City's peacenicks were outside NBC's studios with signs, barriers and their own anti-war songs continuously sung by the Raging Grannies.
Raging Grannies singing at protest at NBC Aug. 13 photo by Brigitte AFP
In the three subsequent protests through our final one on Sept. 3 when the last segment was broadcast, we gave the huge petition to an NBC official, had highly compelling street theatre and a model of a drone one-fifth its actual size. We chanted "War Is Not a Game Show" and handed out fliers to people passing by. We did all this under the watchful eyes of at least six security personnel standing nearby. At one point, during the third protest, they tried to barricade us, but one of the protest leaders, Barbara Harris of both Code Pink and the Granny Peace Brigade, succeeded in talking them out of it.
I guess we were pretty effective, because before the fourth airing, NBC announced that it would be the last one. Our protests, David Swanson's petition, and the Nobel Peace Prize winners' letter combined to do the trick. Wow, united citizen action CAN work!
Perhaps this will serve as a deterrent to other producers contemplating Rah Rah Let's Play War shows. More remotely, perhaps it's the beginning of a renewed, hopefully more effective era of opposition to the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere?