Monday, February 1, 2010
Caught the show for the first time this past weekend. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's about a bunch of twenty-somethings of Italian descent who rent a beach house on the Jersey shore and act like dumb college kids on spring break for the entire summer.
The show is pretty much everything everybody says it is. I understand why various Italian-American groups are objecting to the way it "portrays" Italians. I understand, but on the other hand I don't think they have any real basis for complaint. This is not a fictional portrayal. These kids are not delivering lines that some anti-Italian screenwriter has put into their mouths. They're just acting like themselves, with a camera crew nearby. No one is forcing them to do anything they don't want to do.
The episode I saw was actually a reunion show, with a few flashbacks to the summer shows. The cast members seemed inordinately pleased with themselves. At one point the interviewer asked Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino (above, kneeling) if, when it came to girls, he was more interested in quality or quantity. He replied, "Hey, you gotta go through a lot of weeds to get to the flowers." He then grinned with a look that plainly said, "I am the Michelangelo of one liners." The line was neither original nor witty, but that didn't stop Sorrentino from radiating pride. And so it was, with the entire cast, for the entire show.
Twenty years ago, Italians -- like the Irish -- seemed to pride themselves on not being intimidated by blacks the way Anglos and Jews are. Now they -- or the cast members of Jersey Shore, at least -- seem to want to be black. There was a definite black inflection to their voices, their postures, and their attitudes. In another milieu they would be referred to as "wiggers."
The guys in the cast are unquestionably on steroids, which have allowed a bunch of natural runts to parade around as if their muscles were really theirs, and not just store bought. It's enough to make one hope that their testicles shrivel completely and that after they stop juicing they grow breasts. (Notice how I cleverly said "one hope" and not "me hope" -- otherwise I might sound nasty.)
The situation is a little reminiscent of an earlier post (http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2009/10/whats-with-these-mob-guys.html) about how the Gotti crew had obviously been juicing. It's as if a certain segment of Italian-American culture fosters an unrealistic sense of what masculinity requires, and all these men feel the need to pump themselves up to bodybuilder proportions.
Jersey Shore also reminded me of Growing up Gotti. The kids have the same look and the same attitudes, even if the Jersey kids are a tad less spoiled.
That and the steroids made me wonder if some of the Jersey kids were Mob offspring.
I've known plenty of Italian-Americans myself and none have ever acted like this group; but it's this group that seems to command all the attention.
Addendum, 2/15/10: Just happened to catch a little of Godfather II on TV last night, including a couple of the scenes with Robert DeNiro as the young Vito Corleone. I understand that this is a fictional portrayal, but one can't help but be moved by the dignity of the young Corleone. Mario Puzo reportedly based this character on Carlo Gambino, the capo who originally united the Five Families back in the 1940's, and who was by all accounts, in his own way, a great man, even if a criminal. From Gambino to Sorrentino, in just three generations. Carlo has got to be turning over in his grave.