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Monday, February 1, 2010

Jersey Shore

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 ( 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.


Anonymous said...

I've never seen the show, just heard some scuttlebutt about it. Being from Italian descent it makes me sad to see where the kids have gone. We were taught the values of hard work and to be honest. There was also a great sense of pride in my upbringing about being an American and how great this country was. The show is probably just another example of how much the morals and values in this country have degraded.

Mad Dog

John Craig said...

Tom --
Your comment has just prompted me to add another line at the end of the post: "I've known plenty of Italian-Americans and none have ever acted like this group; but it's this group that attracts all the attention."

But I guess it would be boring to show a bunch of nice, middle class, hard-working, responsible people going about their lives on a daily basis. It's much more entertaining to watch the Gotti kids or the Jersey Shore kids preen and strut and party.

Anonymous said...

These shows prompt me to ask the question "Who watches this s**t???". (I exclude of course those involved in sociological research.) The sad thing about the media is that, on a collective basis, we get what we want and probably deserve. Oh well, at least reality pap hasn't taken over completely and we can still watch "The Good Wife".

John Craig said...

Me!! (Among other people.) Evidently the ratings for the show have been quite high.

I actually find this kind of stuff interesting. My son tells me that a lot of kids at his high school watch it. When I asked what his classmates think of the cast, if they admire them or look down on them, he says they look down on them and make fun of them at school.

I do too, but if I examine my feelings honestly, I have to admit that at a certain level I envy the Jersey Shore types as well. What could be better than to be 25 and have your biggest concern in life be whom you're going to score with next? I don't think I'd want to be them in 25 years, and I wouldn't want to trade IQ's with them, but I'm quite certain they had more fun this past summer than I did.

Anonymous said...

It's good to better understand the demographic of JS - teens (who will watch anything, except CNBC and cable news) and sad old voyeurs with too much time on their hands. ;)
Now give me a re-run of "Hello Dolly" any day.

John Craig said...

Guy, I'm afraid you know me all too well.

The Sad Old Voyeur

Anonymous said...

The loud, showy, macho subculture you describe is to some extent a subset of young working class (and plenty of non-working class and non-young) men across all races and ethnicities, with maybe only Asians underrepresented. The loud, trashy types I've known have come from all groups. There were plenty of drunk, pseudo-macho Anglo-Saxon guys at the fancy college I went to, for example. And no shortage of ethnically diverse college-educated loudmouths here in New York City. Not to pick on Hispanics in particular but check out the Puerto Rican Day parade here in New York City if you think the guys on Jersey Shore are bad. Steroid use is estimated to be very high (you might know the figures but I remember something like a 15% of h.s. boys) among high school students and again that's across kids from many races and ethnicities and it's not just to get a leg up in sports.

Naturally a tv reality show like this one is going to want to highlight the most outrageous behavior--for example, certain characters on everything from The Real World to bachelor shows, Real Housewives shows, etc. By the way, many "reality shows" are partly scripted so it's entirely possible, if not likely, that on Jersey Shore some of the situations are contrived and some of the lines were put in their mouths by writers.

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
You make a lot of valid points. I agree that trashiness and faux machismo know no ethnic bounds (though the percentages may vary among ethnicities). And yes, steroid use is much more common than most people think. (I've read that even h.s. girls have been known to take them as a way to get rid of fat.) And you're right, producers do try to encourage certain types of behavior among their reality show casts. But that said, there does seem to be a certain subculture among lower middle class New York area Italians who come from areas where the Mob is still strong which the Jersey Shore cast seems to epitomize. And it does have a distinctly Italianate flavor. I'm not saying it's any worse than similar subcultures. If you told me about a young man who drove around in a pickup truck and shot animals for sport (not for eating) and lived in a trailer park and was a meth addict, I would guess that he was Anglo -- because that's the flavor of his particular activities. In any case, my point is that the Jersey Shore cast is real, and we can't say they're the figment of some Hollywood scriptwriter's imagination. And as I said in an earlier comment, as much as I enjoy looking down on them, at a certain level I have to admit I'm also jealous of them.