This is not the article I wanted to write. When I set out to write a review of MTV’s controversial new reality show Jersey Shore, I had a pretty good idea of how it was going to go. I was going to write my standard (dare I say “trademark?”), long-winded rant which would combine obscure references, big words, and level one swears to express my deep displeasure with the show’s public displays of douchebaggery.
It seemed pretty straightforward. The show is a vocal proponent of self-ascribed nicknames, the state of New Jersey, and Italian-Americans engaging in non-mob activities. I had (and have) no interest in any of those things, and was confident in my ability to heap scorn on Jersey Whore.
But that was before I watched my first episode.
Fifteen minutes into “researching” my article, a strange thing began happening to me. It’s the same thing that happened to John Smith in Pocahontas. And the main character in Avatar. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I fell in love with that which I set out to destroy.
Since last Monday, I have watched all eight episodes of Jersey Shore and several of the “After Hours” Q&A sessions with cast members. During the course of my research, I was forced to modify my article’s thesis. It now reads: Yo, Tila Tequila, I’m really happy for you and I’ma let you finish, but Jersey Shore is the best reality show of all time. OF ALL TIME!
I know. Calling a show the best reality show of all time is a bit like calling the Phoenix Mercury the best team in the WNBA. It’s not saying much and it’s still not real television. But it is something. Love it or hate it, reality television speaks to our culture. Since the debut of The Real World in 1992, reality television has been increasing in both airtime and, more importantly, influence. From The Bachelor to The Hills to The View, reality TV is everywhere.
So it is no small thing when I say, with complete sincerity, that the eight juiced-up, fake-baked, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, hard-fighting, STD-collecting, toilet bowl-hugging Guidos in the Jersey Shore house represent the pinnacle of all that reality TV aspires to be.
Don’t misunderstand me. The stars of the show are every bit the self-absorbed, inarticulate, non-contributing zeroes you imagine they are. The Italian-American organizations who criticize the show as “the biggest step backward for Italian-Americans since the birth of John Bon Jovi” are exactly right. The cast members suck to a degree that is both impressive and remarkably consistent. As an example, here is one exchange which is particularly illustrative of the lifestyles and IQs we’re dealing with.
(Sami “Sweetheart” and Ronnie are debriefing after their first night of promiscuous sex)
- Sami: Yeah, I had sex. I mean, of course you’re gonna have sex if you like somebody. Um, hello! It’s natural!
- Ronnie: We smooshed. (fist pumps)
They are, without exception, terrible people. And that is precisely the point. The laws of reality TV dictate that every show must have a “token toolshed.” For a reality show to survive it needs a guy/girl/trannie who will stir the pot, say offensive things, get someone pregnant, OD on NyQuil, and generally move the plot forward. To effectively fill this role, a cast member must lack morals, restraint, basic human decency, and – most importantly – anything resembling self-awareness.
With Jersey Shore, MTV has for the first time stocked a reality show exclusively with token toolsheds. Every guy is “that guy.” Every girl is “OMG…ho bag!!!!” It’s as if the producers only accepted applications from society’s Douchebag Elite (i.e. DJs, club promoters, assistant managers of fitness clubs, amateur models, and Ed Hardy enthusiasts.) This makes for a fairly predictable storyline (i.e. posture, argue, drink, fist fight, hook-up, pass out, repeat), but it also makes for brilliant reality television.
As I have said before, reality television is not here to celebrate America’s best and brightest. That’s what the Country Music Awards are for. Reality television is for shining a spotlight on all that is base, freakish, and dysfunctional in America. We watch families disintegrate and coeds get alcohol poisoning and we can’t help but feel better about ourselves. It’s the feel-good genre of the 21st century! With the help of reality television, even the worst parent, the most irresponsible drunk, the most promiscuous cheerleader, and the most fist-pumpingest frat boy can point at someone else and say, “well, at least I’m not THAT bad.”
The problem is, as America accelerates its slippery slide to Sodom, the reality television machine has had to scramble to keep pace. As real life douchebags strut out of the closet and into Armani Exchange in ever-increasing numbers, the reality show douchebags must rise to an even higher (or sink to an even lower) level.
In that respect, Jersey Shore may have saved reality television. Vinny, Ronnie, Snooki, Sweetheart, Jolie, Pauly D, JWoww, and The Situation are the new gold standard by which all future television toolsheds will be judged. These eight have advanced the limits of douchebaggery to heights never before thought possible, and I refuse to believe any actual person will ever equal them. Or maybe I just don’t want to.
I take comfort in their accomplishment. I sleep more soundly at night. Or at least I hope I do. The Jersey Shore season finale is tomorrow night and, judging from the previews, it’s going be an emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually draining hour of television. Trust me, you do NOT want to miss it.
(In other, unrelated MTV news, I had my first “I have lost all connection with young people” moment last week. While innocently watching Jersey Shore, I was treated to a public service announcement featuring an apparently nude girl standing in an empty gym and holding a large poster over her lady parts. The girl stared at the ground in shame while a voiceover intoned, “If someone pressures you to send revealing photos, you can say no. Because there’s a thin line between him and the rest of the world.” For the first, but assuredly not the last, time permit me to inquire, “Is THAT what kids are doing these days?”)