By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
Three weeks in, Jersey Shore has played out exactly as you expected: the gang of eight Italian-Americans gathers at the hot tub to sip some wine and reflect upon their heritage and culture, including a unanimous vote to use their newfound platform to protest the depiction of the Italian justice system during the Amanda Knox case.
In terms of presentation, there’s little separating Jersey from MTV’s other “reality” offerings: the cast members are, at any given moment, clueless, conniving, crass, or crunk. Last week’s episode spent almost 10 minutes following Nicole (aka “Shnooki” or “The Princess of Poughkeepsie”) as she debated leaving the house after one night because she embarrassed herself by drunkenly making out with numerous housemates. And not surprisingly, almost all of the roommates complained about having to work at a nearby t-shirt shop until (gasp!) 9pm, despite it being a condition of their living in the usual gauche bachelor/ette pad. The musical score hammers the “appropriate” mood into the viewer’s head while we watch each of these people act out and lash out in a manner befitting sex-crazed buffoons.
But this show really is different for a couple of reasons. First, of course, is the monocultural makeup of the cast and their glibness in the use of the term Guido and Guidette. Each of them is well aware they’re playing into a stereotype but doesn’t care. It would be nice to imagine that they’re trying to reclaim the word, but, as all but one is presented as lacking any ambition (Vinny is shown as a college graduate), that’s a stretch.
That relentless self-identification has apparently reached into the group’s lovelife: all of the girls loudly declare their preference for a Guido, and when three of the male roommates bring some (presumably) non-Italian women back to the house, the women are referred to as “whores” by one of the female roommates.
The show has also generated different feedback than its’ fellow trashy-chic offerings. One self-identified Italian and New Jersey native (all but one of the cast members is from New York) posted this on the show’s site:
… We are real people, we aren’t brainless juice head cookie cutters of some sub culture group, ie guidos. And the girls are classy, not trashy. We get tan the right way, from the sun. We’re proud of our state and we do not appreciate being represented from classless trashy people who only come for just the summer. You make us ALL look bad for the rest of the country to see.
On an anecdotal note, two friends of mine from the area independently commented to me that the show does hew close to reality in one respect: the annual summer migration to the Seaside area by a number of college-age Italian-Americans, which backs up some of the reactions in a Chicago Sun-Times story:
First of all, if any one plans on coming to the Jersey shore for the summer, Seaside is NOT the place to go. It is nicknamed “Sleazeside” for a reason. However, it is a party spot if your like 18-21. If you are going to bother to come here, Cape May is beautiful and Wildwood has the best boardwalk. SO SO SO SO different from what MTV is portraying on this show and def worth your time.
As the show has attracted not only popular flack, but protests from organized Italian-American groups, MTV has defended Jersey by referring to it it as a documentarian effort covering “rites of passage.” Which is, of course, complete hogwash: the network’s True Life series doesn’t boast a theme song by LMFAO. And it’s hard to reconcile that series, or even MADE, with a show that would include footage of a young woman being punched in the face by a man – not to mention showing that scene as part of a promotional trailer. Is MTV suggesting male-on-female violence is a vacation ritual?
As unsettling as the show can be at times, all the attention Jersey is garnering for MTV makes you wonder if the network will take the next step, and revamp Dave Chappelle’s “Mad Real Show” as an actual show. After all, he saw this coming years ago.