Let’s have the conversation we’ve been avoiding up until now. Let’s talk about Jersey Shore.
I’m an Italian-American. I’m not from New Jersey, but I was born on Staten Island, which is were 3/8 of the Jersey Shore cast is from. (And yes, I’ve totally vacationed with my family at Seaside Heights.) As you’ve probably heard, many of my ilk, including the National Italian American Foundation and the New Jersey Italian American Legislative Caucus, have been greatly offended by the existence of this show, especially its use of the word “guido.”
I’m not offended by Jersey Shore. Why? Because people like that exist. I’ve met them. No Italian-American organization can deny it. I think everyone would have more of a right to protest–and I would join them–if it were a fictionalized show called “Italian-Americans!” that made everyone behave in that cartoonish way, but it’s an unscripted series and producers are totally within their rights to just let the cameras roll as people willingly make fools of themselves. I’m sure the cast members of the show are playing up the lifestyle TO THE EXTREME, but it’s a reality show, and everyone exaggerates their personalities on a reality show. I’m sure audiences are savvy enough to expect it now, and know that even real guidos aren’t even as intense as the Jersey Shore cast. (There, I said it. I’m also not offended by the word “guido” unless it’s used with hatred, which is not really what I’ve seen on the show.)
In truth, I don’t think I’m being held back at all by the show. I don’t think anyone will extrapolate the cast’s behavior to all Italian-Americans. If I told someone my ethnicity and they responded with some kind of fist pump, I’d probably roll my eyes, but I wouldn’t consider it some kind of prejudice. I’d think it was a lame joke, and it would most likely be meant as one. I doubt any Italian-American will be denied a job because Angelina was too high-maintenance to work her shift at the tee-shirt store. People just don’t think that way. They don’t believe that everyone in New York lives like a Real Housewife, or that the real world is anything at all like The Real World. I certainly don’t believe that all residents of Los Angeles are like the vapid placeholders on The Hills.
And, in the beginning, it was actually kind of novel to see so many Italian-Americans in one show. Think of any reality show: When was the last time the majority of the participants were brunette? I was tickled to see a show full of people who don’t conform to the Bunim/Murry model of beauty (blond, buff, and skinny). Sure, I don’t have a wardrobe full of carefully shredded outfits, but it was kind of a kick to see people who looked a little bit like me on TV. (Curves!)
Sure, I wish there was a way to incorporate more of the positive aspects of Italian-American culture into the show, but I can’t fault the producers for not forcing it in. And I can’t comment at all on whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of New Jersey. Maybe TiFaux Cristin can weigh in?
January 6th, 2010