Frank Rich: Pentagon reality show has ‘a snuff movie quality’
Inspired by the success of The Hurt Locker, the G4 network has announced a “groundbreaking” new reality show to be called Bomb Patrol Afghanistan.
“G4 will go beyond the fiction,” the network boasted in its announcement, “to bring you Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan, a new series about the real life soldiers who put their lives on the line every day as members of an Explosive Ordinance [sic] Disposal unit stationed in one of the most hostile environments in the world.”
The announcement is already generating outrage, especially since the network admits there is a possibility it might show casualties on screen.
“Certainly, the prospect of those American casualties is what they think is going to make people tune in,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow complained on Wednesday. “It is already what they are marketing about the show.”
What makes the proposal particularly unsettling is that G4 is primarily devoted to coverage of video games and related amusements. “While ‘Bomb Patrol’ is on brand for G4, it also represents a bit of a departure,” Hollywood Reporter commented. “The show squarely appeals to the networkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s young male demographic, combining technology and good old-fashioned blowing stuff up. Yet the serious tone and life-and-death stakes is new for the network best known for such lighter fare as ‘Attack of the Show’ and ‘Ninja Warrior.’Ã¢â‚¬Â
The anticipation of genuine life-and-death situations being presented as entertainment is what has aroused the most opposition. A retired Army EOD officer, who now works for the federal government, told Military.com, “I’ve had friends killed over there. [The show is] like entertainment. I know why the Navy is doing it — for recruiting.”
“Remember, the US Navy has given this the green light,” Maddow remarked. “Maybe the thinking is that if you can’t keep the American people supporting the nine-year war in Afghanistan, at least if you let in the right camera crews, then killing American soldiers over there can make for some good home front entertainment.”
Maddow turned to New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who recalled that “when the Afghanistan War began, they did exactly the same thing. They made a deal with ABC … to do a reality show from the Afghanistan War. … It was a much more popular war then, because it was in the aftermath of 9/11, and the show still bombed.”
“I think the government really doesn’t understand show business,” Rich continued. “No part of it, and certainly not the Pentagon. So it’s sort of desperate, it’s almost poignant. And I feel sorry for the men and women who are going to be portrayed in a kind of — it has a snuff movie quality that’s depressing.”
Maddow also asked Rich about his recent column suggesting that the latest publicity tour by General Petraeus to drum up support for the war was largely ignored because “everyone was too busy yelling about the mosque.”
“What’s bizarre about it,” Rich replied, “is that the people who are demonstrating against the so-called ‘mosque’ are probably supporters of the war in Afghanistan — and yet, they’re completely undermining it, not only because they’re giving al Qaeda the story line it wants for propaganda … but also because we’re fighting as allies with a Muslim nation, Afghanistan.
“It’s really defeating for Petraeus,” Rich concluded. “It drowned him out, and it also undermines his whole strategy and the whole argument for pursuing this war further. … I think the country is tuned out of the whole region.”
This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Aug. 25 2010.