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Dancing with the Scarred


I’ve been thinking of marketing a concept in the genre that’s all the rage—Reality Television. My primary objective is to enlighten the public, however if financial success is a byproduct, I won’t complain.

This I know: engaging the masses requires much more than the presentation of truth. Truth must be veiled in entertainment, the latter a lure to hold attention until the truth, finally, is grasped through (gasp) an epiphany. And, yes, I do believe I’ve come up with something that delivers both.

Here’s the idea: I’m imagining a show whose contestants are troops who’ve returned from AfPak-Iraq. My production crew could go to any military hospital’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) ward to seek competitors for the series. I’m talking Dancing with the Scarred. We’d have Hollywood types work with the young men and women to teach them some dance moves and create fabuloso costumes.

Obviously, I could cut costs if I don’t have to employ an expensive panel of semi-celeb judges. Who needs these “experts”? I could bring back the applause meter. Anyone remember Queen for a Day, featuring women who told and sold their sad swelling of jeremiads? After all the revelations of dearth, the television audience clapped for the person living the worst nightmare. Of course, misery is subjective, and evaluating it is a subjective endeavor. But the applause meter always settled differences and registered the winner who, then, was crowned “Queen.” Lavished with gifts, she cried and, of course, her emotions were accompanied by a torrent of tears from those who watched.

TBI, also, could be an acronym for To Be Involved. This is where the viewers, actually, engage emotionally. To be involved in the reality of war. You know, to, finally, GET it. This is the truth part, that element much more difficult to achieve. The TBI troops are falling all over the dance floor, struggling with a few “dance” steps while hooked up to mobile medical equipment. The live audience and home viewers watch intently and feel their complacency erode as empathy enters their hearts.

Add a few “before” shots. Of the contestants. For more poignancy. Video footage from a wedding or playing with their children prior to deployment. Juxtapose this with the new REALITY.

Don’t you think I’m on to something? I know I said money making isn’t the primary goal, but I could, possibly, bank enough to move to a more peaceful country—if I can find a place that US imperialism hasn’t exploited, isn’t in the process of exploiting, or isn’t planning to exploit.

The major objective, though, is not my escape, but rendering null and void escapism. Because my creation might (?) compel viewers to do something to prevent the progression of tragic homecomings. To stop more explanations like this: “Yes, Daddy’s coming back but he won’t be able to toss that football with you, ever again.” Or: “No, Mommy won’t be driving you to after-school activities. Mommy won’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car.”

The possibilities, of course, are almost endless; ideas are tumbling in my head. Post-traumatic stress disorder. How about a show whose contestants react to a loud noise? Like a car’s backfire. They’d be told they’re taking part in something to inform the public about the never-ending damage to a troop’s psyche, but while sitting there under the spotlight, in front of a live audience, and, of course, all those watching from home, they’d hear a BOOM, simulated explosives. Just think about it—the veterans would be scrambling to reach for an imaginary AK-47 or M16 as sweat rolls down their faces and their armpits spew liquid fear. Close-up, please! This one could be called Bring ‘Em On, to re-popularize a G. Bush motto. Better still, Bring ‘Em On TV.

Also, consider homeless veterans. There has to be a time slot for a show called American Idle.

Whaddayathink? Do I have a winner that could elicit some necessary attention from the La-Z-Boy dwellers so they’ll get their lazy-boy and girl asses into the reality of what is being done in their names?

Egad, more ideas are knocking against my skull. If I had a few wealthy investors, I could import some AfPak-Iraqi children for several different series. Some of the babies born with birth defects because of the weapons we’ve used. I could call this one Who Wants to Stare at a Child with a Depleted Cranium. And a show about children who’ve seen their parents explode. This would be Who Wants to Parent a War Orphan. Oh, and the amputees. This one is easy: The Smallest Loser.

But wait. Hmm, I sound like a pitchwoman. And, perhaps, I am. Because I should pitch this idea as a movie about contemporary culture and the worship of Reality Television. My film would present the examples I’ve just described. But, unlike other war movies, mine wouldn’t exalt invasion and occupation. Instead, it would emphasize the effects of war on the survivors.

I can see the opening scene. A family, in their gas-slurping SUV, heading out on vacation and arguing over which Reality show to watch on the television, mounted for the kids. The ending could pose a problem, though. Will those who see the consequence of war demand its end? Or will they say, “The contestant pool will diminish if we call for troops out now?”

I think I know the answer.

Any filmmakers and screenwriters interested? Sean Penn? James Cameron? Alex Rivera? I must admit to having a small crush on Larry David. But if I could interest Kathryn Ann Bigelow and Mark Boal, the team who brought us “The Hurt Locker,” well, wow—even though their Academy Award winner glorifies the horrifying.

Please, somebody, contact me, via email–especially you, Larry.

Missy Beattie moved from Manhattan to Baltimore in 2007. Her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Johnson Comley, was killed in Iraq in 2005. Contact her at:




Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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