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Monday, February 25, 2002

WARtertainment Reality Television

by Clinton Fein

Celebrity soldiers leopard crawl through fields peppered with real landmines, our cameras affixed to their helmets. As their limbs explode, bloodied flesh shoots through your television and hits you in the face. Interactivity has never been so much fun or so damn real. Stay tuned. In our season premiere, primed to garner the highest ratings ever for any reality TV show in a prime time slot, we’ve installed surveillance cameras in gas chambers used to torture enemies. As prisoners of war choke to death (don’t worry, they’re terrorists anyway) real gas fills your living room. (It’s really a harmless gas -- Gentle Gentile Jew Juice -- that smells the same as the deadly Zyklon B gas they’re choking on, but is actually quite safe). Doses are kid friendly too, so the whole family can watch and play together. It seems like yesterday when all we had was Persian Gulf Live on CNN. That was the Space Invaders of War TV! WARtertainment has never been this good.

America is the stupidest superpower on the face of the earth. Granted, it’s the only one left, but as Americans writhe in an unrequited love fest with George W. Bush, the most draconian of laws and policies are being slipped past us all in the name of terrorism. And the latest revelation to demonstrate just how far this is all going, is the distasteful teaming up of ABC, the Pentagon and a couple of Hollywood twerps to produce a reality war television show imaginatively titled “Profiles from the Front Line”.

They are not alone. According to entertainment writer Josh Grossberg, Daily Variety reports that VH1 has tapped documentary producer R.J. Cutler (The War Room) for its own war-based reality show that will tell the stories of Operation Enduring Freedom military personnel through video diaries.

The network is said to have already recruited 90 soldiers, given them each video cameras and “ordered them to record their day-to-day activities for the benefit of American audiences back home”.

Already USA Network's “Combat Missions” allows contestants take part in simulated warfare. Promoting the show as “one of the most grueling physical and mental competitions ever staged, “Combat Missions” pits squads of “elite military and law enforcement professionals against one another.” CBS’s own military-based reality series “American Fighter Pilots” will air next month.

Yes, September 11 was horrific. And Bush henchmen kind of want to keep it fresh so they can use tax dollars to promote loveless marriages and drill for oil in Alaska by simply evoking it, but we’re talking reality now. Reality is that it’s tired. It’s last year. This is America. We want bigger and better. We want entire fleets to attack whole cities.

The corporate controlled media pawns are still whoring their over-produced angst to the ever-willing populace who are too caught up in NASCAR and ice-skating peccadilloes to recognize how little freedom they have left. Terrorism is the best thing that happened to George W. Bush since the Supreme Court elected him President.

While real men and women are fighting and dying in this war on terrorism, pseudo macho, testosterone-lite, screen queens like Arnold Shwarzenegger and Mel Gibson are playing firefighters and soldiers. Mel Gibson sees the men at war and sensitively ponders “his own boys” in the campy trailer for “We Were Soldiers,” when the closest brush with danger he’s probably ever encountered was getting soap in his eyes filming shampoo commercials. Arnold, who began his career hanging out with scantily clad men with big muscles and small penises in gyms for just a little too long to be considered healthy, is convincing farting, beer-bellied low lives wallowing in mediocrity that, behind the make-up, he’s some super American hero on a mission to get the bad guys (who need be just be a shade or two darker than Michael Jackson) in “Collateral Damage”.

Gym-toned, Dr. Atkins-lean, air brushed, waxed, trimmed and liposucked Vicodin addicts used to play servicemembers, CIA and FBI agents in high tech, high budget movies while the men they were emulating were dying. Now servicemembers will play themselves, taking orders from directors and producers of bad propaganda movies in addition to the inexperienced former coke addict with a drinking problem who is in turn listening to the advice of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney offering on-the-fly war strategies that are as well planned as the hospitality suites at Hotel Guantanamo. And America wonders why the military is crashing helicopters into the sea and massacring local villagers who have been misidentified as the enemy.

As the Pentagon tries in vain to spin its way out of the credibility public relations disaster resulting from leaks from disgruntled factions within concerning a black propaganda campaign of misinformation from the Kafkaesque Office of Strategic Influence, idiots in the media who once would have at least questioned the formulation of certain policies are so busy squealing hysterically over judging at the Olympics and gushing over photogenic athletes that it makes no difference to them what their government or military is really doing.

While a few columnists and editorials are expressing appropriate concern, the more devastating realization made unfortunately clear by these Pentagon leaks, is that reporters and journalists have actually believed every word the Pentagon has been telling them up until now. The occasional columnist is now even preening over his or her heroically brave attempts to finally murmur hints of criticism at the Bush administration nearly six months after September 11, and expect to impress their stupefied audience who is way too busy focusing on arresting children for food fights in high school cafeterias to even notice.

Bush’s social program-slashing, environmental-trashing, constitution-bashing, faith-based agenda is being bulldozed over congress and Americans in the name of terrorism which has become nothing more than a catch all phrase for his administration to do whatever the hell it likes, while all these billions later, America is no closer to finding Osama bin Laden than she was when the war began. All the while America the Duped is cheering him on while the deficit explodes and the largess of the favor people – those who owe him plenty in terms of what it costs to own him now – grows by the second as greedy, bloodstained hands rub together in glee at the notion of defense and infrastructure rebuilding contracts.

Karl Rove, whose greatest contribution to America has been to side with the Boy Scouts in banning homosexuals from joining, is now cozying with Hollywood producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram van Munster -- a ‘pioneer’ whose claim to fame is the television show “Cops” -- to fabricate sanitized war stories. Bruckheimer is responsible for such pyromaniacal, flag-waving propaganda films as Top Gun, Pearl Harbor and more recently Black Hawk Down.

The esteemed Mr. van Munster admitted to trade rag Variety that the reality shows would be devoid of criticism, and would be screened by the Pentagon first. Bruckheimer says the show will be “saluting our military”. Van Munster added that they would not share any footage that may be newsworthy with other news organizations--including ABC News. Of course, all this leaves the intrigued among us wondering whether they would edit out live footage of little children picking up unexploded cluster bombs that look identical to the food packages being dropped by the ever-gracious United States or whether this would be too good for ratings to edit out.

Having been strongly criticized for denying access to journalists, the Pentagon has agreed to give Bruckheimer and van Muster's camera crews unfettered access while soldiers themselves will morph into a combination of fighter, photographer, director and semi-journalist. Any shred of protection a journalist might have benefited from -- the type that might possibly have saved the life of Daniel Pearl -- will become as valuable and useful as an Enron share.

In the 1990 World War II movie “Memphis Belle,” John Lithgow plays Colonel Bruce Derringer who flies to Europe as the crew of the B-17 bomber is poised to fly a hazardous final mission over Germany. His purpose is to create media heroes out of the men upon their return in order to promote the war effort and sell war bonds. The captain of the Memphis Belle played by Matthew Modine is clearly disconcerted and Michael Caton-Jones’ direction makes it scornfully apparent that those fighting wars are not interested in creating photo ops when their lives and the defense of their country is on the line. If this movie was made today, replacing the colonel would be both the Secretary of Defense and Vice President and the ultimate hero would be the crewmember that got the best video shot of the building exploding.

The War Against Terrorism is nothing more than a distraction. A distraction that allows a corrupt administration to capitalize on a tragedy and milk it for every last drop to forward a self serving, narrow minded agenda that begins to make Robert Mugabe look like an attractive alternative.

Reality WARtertainment is the insidious propaganda tool that promotes the cause of terrorism rather than fights it and the manufacturing of the distraction is the strategy that fuels the Bush agenda. The unfortunate reality is that WARtertainment Reality TV will endanger journalists, foment mistrust and unnecessary rivalry among servicemembers, imperil unit cohesion and morale by creating dangerous distractions for soldiers who should be looking out for unfriendly fire rather than focusing on whether the camera angle is optimized, and is incontrovertible evidence for those who think integrity in American media and the United States government is about as ubiquitous as the presence of blacks at the Salt Lake Olympics.


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