MTV’s reality show The Jersey Shore has always had its critics. It is simple to write a scathing treatise about the unintellectual cast members who have their immature antics recorded, broadcasting the cast's Hedonism to the entertainment-hungry masses; its fans are seen as enablers or, worse, glorifying the boardwalk life. Recently, I was berated by a few family members for my enjoyment of The Jersey Shore. They cited the somewhat popular meme "every time you watch Jersey Shore, a book dies," as though the two cannot coexist.
Enjoying the show as much for its entertaining mindlessness as for its cultural and anthropological facets I am not ashamed of watching and enjoying every season to date. Arguments against the popular MTV show range from "it's trashy/embarrassing/ridiculous" to "I can't believe how much money they make to look like idiots; it should be a crime!" to "I just can't watch it."
Regardless of your opinion, I think that there are lessons to be learned from the eccentric cast members. Firstly, as I mentioned, it is anthropologically interesting. As an Italian-American who's family immigrated to the northeastern United States and who's ancestral migration patterns and lifestyle up until about a generation ago closely resemble that of most cast members, I cannot relate to those humans at all, and I am not alone. The cast seem to have a very unique vernacular and social mores. What I would classify as outrageous and baffling is viewed as socially acceptable (even expected!) by them and their peers. How did they come to their current sets of beliefs and values in so few generations?
A strategy that amplifies my love of The Jersey Shore is that I have never gone into the show expecting something profound or enlightening. The show seems to be especially designed to shock and entertain the viewer. Many people have difficult, emotional, thought-intensive jobs, as I myself do. Often, the last thing that we want is come home and watch a documentary on metaphysics or delve into a 12-part series on existentialism. Really, what we want is to sit back, turn our brains off, and enjoy watching people deal with what seem, to us, like insignificant problems. If they are doing that in a silly and shocking way, the greater our chances that we focus on them and not our own issues.
Another argument against the show comes from Italian-American activists: That the cast members are not representative of the Italian-American community and the word "guido/guidette" is an extremely offensive slur. First of all, they have never claimed to represent the more than 18 million people who claim Italian ancestry and it is preposterous to assert that a group of eight people (of any background or heritage) can represent so many. If anything, I would say it’s interesting to get a view of Italian-Americans that does not include mob-involvement or organized crime activities. And on that note, I would like to point out that I haven't ever heard such outrage over critically-acclaimed media darlings such as The Sopranos or The Godfather series.
Also, they use the word "guido/guidette" in an empowering, self-aware sense, unifying in a subculture that is only tangentially rooted in Italian heritage. New York State Senator Joe Vitale remarked that using the "g-word" was on par with the "n-word." Not only is this an inaccurate comparison, but I have yet to come across anyone, much less a senator, who would upbraid a group of rappers who excessively use "the n-word."
The argument that the cast makes too much money is completely inane. Disagreement perhaps based in jealousy or in the lack of true "skill" required to perform their job does nothing to change that fact that millions of people are tuning in every week and advertisers are paying top dollar. Most importantly, I find it unlikely that those who disagree with the exorbitant salaries would be so noble as to turn down a similar opportunity. Also, their salaries pale in comparison to others' who exploit innocent people or piddle away public funds. CEOs who ignore safety regulations for profit, exploitation of child labor, environmental violations, book cooking, of which there are many examples, do a lot more damage and implicate more people than The Jersey Shore.
The Jersey Shore, like most things, is an opt in service. If you don't like it, don't opt in. And if you are looking to increase discourse on a particular social ill, then I suggest that you reassess your priorities.
Photo Credit: Humajasmine