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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Living the dream on the juiced up shores of Jersey

Here’s the skinny: I think I speak for the majority of twenty-somethings with a taste for the pastiche when I say that MTV’s monumental series, “Jersey Shore,” is the most addictive program to hit basic cable since the advent of Bravo’s realo-fashion monopoly (think “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.”) So I like many of you irony-clad Dream Livers out there, was glued to the TV for each episode of this paradoxical program, even on a second or third go around. But as an aspiring critic of the mass media which I consume, I’m finding it difficult to make sense out of this television experience.

Was it ok for me to watch Ronnie unabashedly engender stereotypes of the violent Italian meat-head again and again, or should I have boycotted such unconscionable performances from the start? Or on the flip side, am I the one to blame for ironically taking sadistic and classist pleasure in Snookie’s charming witticisms like her preference for “gorilla juicehead” men? Despite spending so many of my social-life hours dedicated to etymological discussions of “grenade,” “creeping” or “GTL,” I still haven’t been able to say one way or the other whether “Jersey Shore” is straight ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for its portrayals and pitfalls. Hopefully after some trudging through the muck of whatever it is that that beach bound experience was, we can figure out something definitive. Do summer lovin’ and dream livin’ go hand and hand, or is the Seaside boardwalk simply no place for living the dream?

First, I will take as a given that most of us already enjoy watching different sorts of reality TV, whether or not we know how to explain it. But to give you a more direct sense of the show’s commercial success, “Jersey Shore” has still done all right by MTV, even with understandable boycotts from major Italian American organizations like UNICO. According to the LA Times, the season finale had some 4.8 million viewers, which was almost triple the numbers from its premier. With such a remarkable surge in viewer turn over the span of only two months, it’s no wonder that I found myself spending more and more of my time doing amateur anthropology. But was the pleasure I took in watching these young men and women party, bicker, and work on their tans based solely on a comparative politics to make me feel better for being so Bourgie? Or do Mike the Situation’s abs and Paulie’s invincible hair really do something for us that is more than just a trip to a virtual human zoo?

While I cannot make any identificatory remarks on behalf of Italian Americans per se, I can note that along with the long-forgotten Angelina and the boyishly charming Vinny, I too am a native resident of Staten Island. Because of this (un)fortunate coincidence, I feel privy to comment on a cultural milieu that until only recently was not exceptional or novel for me, but entirely the norm. This is not to suggest that my life growing up was all Cadillac tattoos or Cranberry & Vodkas, but only that where I come from the word “guido” is an all too popular expression. But like many Italian Americans rightly proclaimed in their protest of the show, the “Jersey Shore” lifestyle isn’t any consolidated example of what it really means to do Italian American-ness. How could you ever capture the essence of an ethnic identity in one historical moment, and why would you even want to? But with these preliminary ethnographical limitations being set, what then is so especially compelling about a house full of troglodytic reifications of objectionable cultural stereotypes that trumps the popularity of other demographic day-in-the-life reality series (who the f*ck even remembers that bullsh*t “Laguna Beach”)?

It’s their god damn sincerity. Unlike past television experiences, the “Jersey Shore” cast doesn’t seem to be faking their commitment to the dream they are living in their summer share at the shore. One gets the feeling that Snookie would genuinely be that scrunched up orange terror even without the exhaustive camera work. “Paulie D is a DJ six nights a week,” and that’s just who he’s been since before we knew him. I’m sure that the Seaside housemates are pleased with their newfound celebrity status, but the real winners in television are the advertisers and marketing agencies running the commercials which we try not to watch. So what other glory do the housemates have than to be entirely unapologetic for their re-appropriation of what was once just a passionate slur?

I say rejoice in the pleasures of this media jaunt, while still noting any of your careful concerns. Yes, Sammy is a manipulative brat, and sure JWoww has no excuse for resorting to violence. But does that make any of them terrible people, and who are we even to judge? We would be no better than Mike with his trash talk if we were to completely reject all the housemates after all that we’ve been through. So why not accept that it’s ok to be filled with a complex mix of guilt, euphoria and disdain? The “Jersey Shore” housemates seem just fine unabashedly being who it is that they are to the best of their abilities, even if it means the occasional slip up. If only we were all so lucky and brave. Maybe then, we’d be living the dream.
Not satisfied? Deal with it.

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