“I thought Haverford girls were supposed to be classy.” That’s one I’d never heard before. This is a direct transcript of my response (thank you Facebook chat): “We are… but we have to find somewhere to put all that repressed trashy energy. In my case: J-Shore, Dance Moms, The A-List. Primarily. Project Runway, but that’s not trashy. You’ve just now uncovered my darkest secrets.” Of course, these are dark secrets that I publish regularly on this blog. At any rate, to conclude this lengthy opening anecdote, my interlocutor responds thusly: “Wow, you’re a stereotype.”
(All capitalization and punctuation added after the fact.)
Disregarding my friend’s unfortunate use of the word “girls,” I’d like to address his criticism. First of all, let’s consider the word “stereotype” because… like… what does that even mean? For the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s referring to the pseudo-intellectual type who relishes the chance to watch a show like Jersey Shore to validate her own intelligence via juxtaposition. This chick watches J-Shore every week and talks a lot of smack, while secretly envying the 24/7 party that comes with the Guido lifestyle. That’s why we love most reality stars, right? They’re stupid. They do stupid shit. We would never do shit that stupid.
Sure, I’ve never denied I relish a good dose of intellectual schadenfreude every now and then; maybe that’s even why I started watching J-Shore, but it’s not why I’ve kept watching. So why do I? How can I? Jersey Shore, more than any other reality series I’ve ever seen, has real narrative momentum. Like the best soaps operas, it takes emotional twists and turns: enemies become friends, and friends enemies. Sex and love entangle dangerously.
Okay, wait. This description definitely isn’t helping my case. I’ve just turned myself into a soap-opera-addicted housewife (another undesirable stereotype, amirite?). But here’s what’s fascinating about Jersey Shore’s story arc: it’s artificial. It’s imposed after the fact. No matter how much coaching takes place behind the scenes to ensure that explosive fights really EXPLODE, no one can coach shrapnel. And, really, some of this stuff you just can’t make up. What the editors do is weave it together into a coherent (and cohesive) image.
So, in this artificially constructed reality of Jersey Shore, society revolves around sex. (Oh wait…) Sex leads to fights which lead to more sex which occasionally leads to dinner. Aside from the stupid things that reality stars say and do, the real reason I’m expected not to enjoy a show like Jersey Shore, I think, is the heteronormative, patriarchic ideals that create a person like Snooki or Ronnie (and the fact that I include the words “heteronormative” and “patriarchic” in my blogging vocabulary). Here’s the thing about the women on Jersey Shore: they aren’t the chicken-parm-baking traditional “wifeys” Vinny and Pauly D dream of. They seem useless, which should also infuriate a woman like me. They don’t actually do anything aside from fuck and fight, or at least they appear not to.
And now we get to why this season is already so good: the women are finally at peace with each other. Jenny and Snooki have started seriously working out. Like, seriously. Deena and Sammi cooked dinner in episode 2. Every single one of the women on Jersey Shore hides her secret competency. (Lest we forget: last season Snooki and Jenny managed to change Jenny’s locks themselves.) It’s at this point that our beloved editors have successfully managed to turn Jersey Shore into a bizarre allegory of female camaraderie and entrepreneurial success.
In earlier seasons, the women were really competing for screen time and infamy. Their personas were unclear. Call this the beginning of their careers, their entry-level cat-fighting (sometimes literally), but now that everyone has climbed the corporate ladder, now that the branding is clear and everyone can claim a multi-million dollar paycheck PER EPISODE, the fighting can stop. Our women can stop focusing so much on their careers and prove how well-rounded they truly are.
The idea of Jersey Shore as cultural allegory is indeed full of rich possibilities… and the more you commit to an idea the more hilarious it becomes. I’ve always been one for a good thought experiment, and that, friends, is really why I like to watch J-Shore.
P.S. I’ve decided to live-tweet all of my subsequent viewings of J-Shore and my other reality staples and then publish a weekly digest on here. Just to keep you abreast of all of my most recent reality-TV-related musings.