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A Shore Thing

Filed Under: TV Reviews

jerseyshore-450x296To all three readers of Respect Authority, let us extend our deepest apologies. It’s 2010 now, which means a new decade, and a new opportunity to shirk our regular responsibilities in favor of inane blog writing. Consider it my New Year’s resolution. (Well, one of them, third after “Watch less TV” and “Don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t end up watching less TV.”) And there’s no better way to start off a new year of witty commentary and reality television snark than with a missive defending MTV’s now infamous Jersey Shore.

I know, I know, I’m weeks late in commenting on the work of sheer genius that is Jersey Shore, but it took a few episodes’ worth of contemplation to really nail down what it is about JS that’s so damn appealing. It’s not just the fights, or the inane commentary, or the inability of men on this show not to use the word “fresh” at least once an episode. I mean, it is all of those things (as well as the fact that JS has become so pop-culture relevant that even die-hard haters of reality TV wonder if they’re missing out) but also many more. Here, in three points, is my defense of Jersey Shore.

1. “When it’s time to party, we will party hard.”
One of MTV’s biggest mistakes when it came to every season of The Real World after San Diego was the show’s slow trajectory away from bar fights and towards passive-aggressive work arguments, or utterly boring in-house pranks. Although Real World was always a forum for (ahem) real-world issues—homosexuality, religion, war—those issues were, and still are, best brought up in a loud club, after a lot of alcohol. At least for television purposes. While several of the more recent Real World seasons (Brooklyn and now-airing D.C. being the most flagrant examples) have devolved into mind-numbing self-righteous and too often sober discussions of political and social qualms, I have yet to hear anyone on the Jersey Shore discuss something other than clothes, hair, drinking, clubbing or sex. The vast majority of the show’s footage is of the roommates at bars (to the point that I’ve learned the names of said bars) or on their own roof deck, wooing unsuspecting (or totally suspecting) young ladies into their altogether normal hot tub. This is the stuff of great television.

2. “Watch the lioness, as she contemplates her next victim.”
Though MTV has always been a master of stereotypes—in a truly meta moment, one of the cast members of Real World D.C. correctly predicted that the last arriving housemate would be “the gorgeous black man” and lamented the lack of a “gay guy”—putting a group of the same stereotype in one house and watching them exist together is nothing short of genius. While much of reality television is founded on the notion of different people coming together and interacting, JS joins people that could have very easily become friends anyway. Indeed, to watch the crew interact is akin to some anthropological study: the ease with which they communicate in their unique language, the guido rituals (gym, tanning, laundry, in that order) to which most of them subscribe, the almost immediate tribe-like bond they form with one another. Though plenty of attention has been paid to the negative connotation of “guido” and the show’s supposed affirmation of this stereotype, I personally find the culture more interesting than laughable.

3. “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
This, above all, is the reason I watch Jersey Shore: Despite their questionable fashion choices, limited vocabulary and utter devotion to hooking up, the cast of JS is, for the most part, kind of likeable. The show’s most annoying roommates–the much-maligned Situation, whose desperation when it comes to lady-hunting is downright cringeworthy; and Sammi “Sweetheart,” whose “I’m the sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet” opening-credits line pretty much says it all–are still in my view a rung above even the least annoying people on The Real World. More importantly, they actually seem real. Perhaps by virtue of becoming part of a 20+ year institution, MTV has created something of a monster when it comes to Real World casting: the 20-somethings who ultimately make the cut appear on air with such a sense of self-worth (having made it through umpteen rounds of auditions) that they seem to assume their lives are interesting. By contrast, the Jersey Shore group always seem mildly baffled by their own fame: they’re in it for the sex, free booze and VIP club seating, not to be a part of pop culture history. This is something I can respect.

It should come as no surprise that I’m a fairly big Jersey Shore fan – it’s like the orange-juice concentrate of live-in-a-house-together reality programming, with more hooking up and fighting in one episode than other shows manage in a season. But I think Jersey Shore is a little something extra: it doesn’t create characters by putting otherwise mundane people in a tricked-out house and parading them through overpriced bars and faux careers. Instead, MTV found actual characters, put them in a rather mundane house, and let them handle all the parading. To me, that’s pretty—for lack of a better word—fresh.

 
kira

12:40 PM on January 15th, 2010 | 

Posted by kira

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