‘Jersey Shore’: Shoring up stereotypes
Guest Commentary by Ryan Hughes
For all of its excesses and hedonist delights, you would think that the maxim for MTV’s newest series, “Jersey Shore,” would be carpe diem, but no. Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino, one of the show’s most prominent cast members, coined a new adage that will certainly define a generation: GTL (an acronym for Gym, Tanning, Laundry). Words to live by indeed.
When “Jersey Shore” first premiered in December, I was delighted. Finally, here was a show that didn’t focus on the frivolity of life in southern California and instead focused on the frivolity of life at Seaside Heights. I was excited to see how MTV’s lenses of truth would capture the great migration of the mid-Atlantic states to the vast watering hole of the Jersey Shore. After all, most Conestoga students share fond memories of summers spent there. This is where we played in the surf as children. This is where we walked on the boardwalk as teens. This is where we got our first crush, shared our first kiss and went on our first date. The Jersey Shore played an integral role in our development, and MTV took notice.
But about ten minutes into the first episode, I could already tell that this study into human nature was seriously flawed. In an attempt to create the authentic experience, the show creators lumped together eight self-professed “guidos and guidettes,” gave them all jobs at a T-shirt store, put them in a nice summer share and let the cameras roll. But only one of the cast members was from New Jersey, and none were from Pennsylvania.
That couldn’t be right. Above all, the Jersey Shore is a menagerie of beachgoers, a melting pot (if solely for the summer heat and humidity) if you will. The cast further garnered significant criticism for its use of the term “guido.” Italian-American interest groups found the word to be derogative and found the show to be filled with stereotypes and generalizations.
I wasn’t too pleased either. For those of us not blessed with the natural ability to turn a shade of burnt sienna, the guido stereotype can be hurtful and embarrassing. Nonetheless, the cast members of “Jersey Shore” fully embrace the title guido; they wear it with pride, they wear it like a coveted sash. But is the term guido a slur or does it perhaps capture the zeitgeist of a nation changed? Perhaps the word transcends race, lineage or nationality. After all, thanks to advancements in self-tanning technology, we can all embrace our inner guidos.
Still, the cast of the show represents a very limited view of the real-life experience. Most of the action (or inaction, rather) takes place at the nightclubs that dot along the Shore. The cast is rarely seen at the beach or even during waking hours for that matter. Although, to be fair, at the age of 21, some of us may be doing the very same.
While this study of human nature was certainly flawed, the show definitely had its own redeeming qualities. Over the course of the first season, “Jersey Shore” tackled light subjects like romance (Ronnie: “Don’t fall in love at the Jersey Shore”), self-indulgence (Snooki: “When I say I’m ready to go wild, I’m gonna go wild”) and mixology (Angelina: “I’m a bartender. I do, like, great things”).
Ultimately, “Jersey Shore” captured my heart. Whether it was Snooki’s one-handed back flip or Vinny’s sage-like musings that finally did me in, I might never know. The show certainly earned its fair share of flak but in the end, it delivered what it promised: eight episodes of low-budget, lowbrow entertainment from MTV.
So this summer, throw off your J. Crew sweaters and put on some Ed Hardy, turn off the Liszt and turn up the House music, wash off the SPF 70 and lather on some self-tanner. And don’t forget: GTL, baby. Or not.
Printed originally on p. 8 of The Spoke’s Feb. 23, 2010 edition.