The military spouse community is abuzz with news that CBS is seeking out military widows for a new dating reality show. Emails similar to this one have been sent to dozens of milspouse bloggers:
My name is [redacted], and I am a Casting Associate with the production company Magical Elves in Los Angeles. We are currently casting a new documentary style relationship series for CBS, and while researching, I stumbled upon The Widow's Peek through Widow's Christian Place.
Our show is entitled "Three" and it is a series that chronicles three different woman as they search for love. I assure you I would not be reaching out if I thought this show would in any way trivialize or exploit anyone's situation, but rather, we are interested in featuring the journey of a widow in the hopes of inspiring women who also find themselves in a similar position. I have had the pleasure of seeing the first season of the original show (from Israel) and I can say with much confidence that this show is unlike anything a US audience has seen. It does not follow the conventions we are used to seeing in a "reality" show.
I understand that this is presumptuous, and I assure you I mean no disrespect, but I did want to reach out to inquire if you may be interested in learning more about the show and passing along our casting notice to your fellow widow community.
Details can be found at www.cbsdatingshow.com. I would love the opportunity to tell you more about the project. I can be reached at [redacted]. If you personally know someone that you think would be great for an amazing experience as this please have the email me with their contact information, a recent photo and a short paragraph about them.
I thank you for your time.
Turns out, not everyone they've contacted is a widow. And several of the widows are in relationships, or not seeking one--all facts clearly and openly stated on their blogs. In fact, the person who received that specific email does not run either of the blogs mentioned, and is not a widow. One widow posted in a forum in which she replied that she wasn't interested and asked not to be contacted again. She was then badgered with two subsequent emails. Reports are that neither of these situations is unique.
The overwhelming response from the milspouse blogging community has not been favorable, to put it mildly. We're at once a diverse group and a uniform one, a worldwide community made up of less than 1% of the American population. And we are fiercely protective of our own. When one of our spouses becomes a Gold Star spouse, we all hurt.
And when we feel like they're being exploited or harassed, we circle the wagons.
Gold Star wives and husbands are a special group -- members of a club to which they never asked to belong. When someone gets that knock at the door, nothing is ever the same. But I've watched woman after woman rise up and go on to create a future for themselves and their families to honor their fallen loved one and positively impact the world around them.
A notable example is Taryn Davis, one of CNN's Heroes of 2011. Taryn lost her husband in 2007 to a roadside bomb. She then founded American Widow Project in order to reach out to today's military widows. According to AWP, there are an estimated 3,200 military widows in America. To date, her organization has helped hundreds of widows--including a friend of mine--find support, remember their husbands and build relationships in a community with others walking down the same path.
It's obvious that the casting associates are not really doing their homework. For Gold Star widows, the last thing they need is someone trying to profit off of their tragic situation. For the military wives that have been contacted erroneously, I can only imagine receiving such a proposition is akin to feeling someone walk across your own grave; we don't need to be reminded that "sending our husbands to work" overseas carries with it the very real possibility that they may not come back. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising to hear that assurances that our Gold Star heroes wouldn't be "trivialized or exploited" were received with skepticism. After all, Reality TV is famous for respecting the dignity of sensitive situations, right? And if there was ever a sensitive situation, it is that of a Gold Star family. That's not to say civilian families don't suffer horrible loss. But few communities see the same concentration of casualties outside of the military.
Another consideration is that military widow relationships can be controversial. While I can't imagine begrudging a Gold Star widow a new chance at happiness, there are those who cast judgment when a widow decides to open her heart to a chance to be loved again. People on the outside can view it as abandoning her fallen soldier, selfishly trying to live a "normal" life as though he never existed. Anyone who knows a Gold Star widow knows how far that is from the truth. But the millions of Americans who don't personally know a Gold Star widow, some of whom are predisposed to viewing the military community with hostility, are ripe for manipulation by a mainstream three-letter network TV show.
Word spread and blog posts were written warning others that such emails may be coming, and that the casting associates were not likely to accept "no" as an answer. The twitter campaign #istandwithmilwidows launched to raise awareness that the military community does not approve of our widows being preyed upon so someone else can make a buck. I only hope that if one of our incredible Gold Star widows does choose to participate, she is given the chance to honestly represent her fallen soldier and her fellow widows as the brave and inspirational heroes they are.
I agree with Jacey Eckert on SpouseBUZZ: "When you are a military widow, your new love relationship is crowded. It’s crowded by people who knew and loved your first husband. It’s crowded by memory. It’s crowded by a national audience curious about war widows. I don’t want to be part of that crowd telling military widows how to live. I want to take a big respectful step backwards."
The manner in which our widows have been pursued and harassed is unacceptable. Considering such insensitivity has been displayed in this preliminary stage of production, it's not unreasonable for people to question whether the narrative that will be edited together for television will respect the military community and the actual widow(s) involved.
Photo: American Widow Project