After one particularly entertaining episode of Jersey Shore, I entered the following as my Facebook status update:
“Every week I think Jersey Shore can’t get any better. Then…yup.”
My friends responded in one of two ways: 1. Supportive and enthusiastic Likes or quotes from the show; 2. Pleas to stop and condolences on my loss of good taste.
My friends’ approval or disapproval of my enjoying Jersey Shore is a microcosm of the show’s general effect on its audience. It stirs either glee or hatred. Or, if not glee or hatred, at least it stirs a “great show” vs. “terrible show” contrast. Those who call it a “terrible show” would probably use one of the following arguments:
- The characters are douche bags. And douche bags inspire revulsion among non-douche bags. Why are these characters douche bags? They are (arguably) arrogant without justification. Shallow, self-centered and irresponsible. Other words potentially used to describe these characters are lame, stupid, tool etc.
- The characters promote stereotypes. Instead of providing a healthy antithesis to the idea that Italian Americans are patriotic, like Italian food, and talk with regional accents, these characters exhibit each of these characteristics. They also enjoy drinking alcohol, dancing, staying up late, and enjoying questionably responsible sexual interaction. Which, far as I can see, is not a stereotype attached to Italian Americans, but is true of a large majority of Americans under the age of 25.
Either argument leads to a greater argument between highbrow and lowbrow entertainment. And, whether purging all lowbrow entertainment is needed; or, conversely, that enjoying a diverse crop of highbrow and lowbrow “stuff” is actually a more modern look at art and media.
MTV has been the proprietor of much lowbrow entertainment in the last decade. The dismantling of The Real World is particularly disappointing. The Real World: San Francisco (1994) was one of my earliest, sincere, TV-based learning experiences. Enlightening entertainment. Since then, I’ve watched the show rely primarily on conflict (arguing) and sex to make it go. With the exception of a few characters and situations, the show has become boring and predictable. However, I’ve also turned from a 12-year-old into a 27-year-old since I first met Pedro, Puck, Judd, Pam, Mohammed, Cory, Rachel and Jo.
Perhaps, those who would characterize the Jersey Shore cast as “douche bags” is the same crowd who would call it another product of MTV’s tits-and-screaming, lowbrow model. I disagree—to an extent. I don’t consider Jersey Shore particularly “highbrow,” if that term is even relevant anymore. But, I don’t give MTV the credit. Because, I imagine, they knew as little about the people they were casting as the audience did; which is why the show was so successful.
First, there was shock. People unaccustomed to the grooming habits, accents, attire, language, recreation…of these characters (which is to say, people of a certain ilk in New York, New Jersey, New England) smiled and watched while Pauly D did his hair; mused at the Ca-Flaggy (a New Jersey silhouette inside an Italian flag inside a Cadillac logo) adorning the wall; mocked the nicknames and sayings. Then, as everyone settled in, grew comfortable with the world of The Shore and its rules, they felt free to enjoy the show’s honest-to-god entertainment value. Only those who objected to Jersey Shore’s apparent lowbrow appeal chose to ignore what made it different. And ultimately, what made it good.
Considering its presence within social and viral media venues, Jersey Shore will surely be dissected in an academic fashion, attempting to unearth its modern pop-philosophical implications, if not merely its vast appeal. I’m going to do that too, but hopefully these observations are simpler and more concrete than otherwise.
- It’s funny: Comedy of any sort doesn’t proclaim a moral stance. If it makes you laugh, its moral stance is automatically positive, regardless of the message or content. The idea that this show is allegedly based in reality; that it is different from a fictitious narrative is irrelevant to how funny it can be. It acts in unison with shows like The Office or Arrested Development in which the characters are embellished, and the situations stem from that embellishment. Could you write Jersey Shore?
- They are a unit: What makes this cast different from the myriad casts of previous shows (MTV or otherwise) is that they are a functioning entity. They are tight and protective. This is bi-product of their distinct backgrounds. And, yes, families with Italian roots are certainly among them. I’ve seen first-hand (via a long lasting relationship with my girlfriend, a Long Island native, and her family) the rare bonds of community and fraternity that exist in those circles. Angelina was the only potential monkey-wrench in that unity—and, miraculously, she chose to leave the show early on.
- They are what you are not: Say what you will about The Situation, Ronnie, Vinny, Pauly D, Snookie, Sam and J-Woww, but they do things you do not. Good things. Things that take character, and balls. Things that, I’m afraid, many deem unnecessary or dated in modern America; yet, things you want to emulate. When The Situation and Pauly D heard that Ronnie had been in a fight on the boardwalk, tell me you didn’t envy them as they slipped on their sneakers and ran out of the house
In the end, it’s the swagger of Jersey Shore that turns people off. But it’s only a turn-off to those who have no swagger; or, perhaps, with a swagger that calls itself something else. Something like “good taste,” which is just another name for “artistic authority” or maybe, “highbrow fixation.”