Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jersey Girls and Boys

Maybe I should be insulted and angered by MTV's reality show Jersey Shore and its portrayal of Italo-Americans in the full flower of their youth, cavorting and sharing a summer house in Seaside Heights, N.J. Vinnie, Nicole (Snooki), Mike (the "Situation"), Sammi (Sweetheart), Jenni (JWoww), Angelina, Ronnie and DJ Pauly D are billed as eight of the "hottest, tannest, craziest Guidos" ever by MTV. By the way, they say that the descriptor "Guido" is a compliment. I guess we live in quite different 'hoods kids.

But I feel a little like Dolly Parton when asked if she was offended by dumb blonde jokes. She retorted sweetly, "I'm not offended. First of all because I'm not dumb; and, secondly I'm not blonde."

I feel the same way. It's not my lifestyle being ridiculed here nor have I ever been like these kids despite our shared heritage. These are not the people I grew up with although I do definitely recognize the types.

I empathize a bit with the Snookis and the JWowws because I would not have wanted a camera constantly trained on me at that age recording every stupid thing I ever said or did and then have the media and general public say humiliating things about my appearance, clothes and the way I spoke.

Some would argue that these people deserve everything they get as they appear to be unfathomably dumb, shallow, opportunistic, vain, ignorant of Italian culture and unpleasant to be around. I can't even begin to describe what transpires on the show (you can easily look up episodes on youtube or MTV if you like).

But I will say, based on the episode I saw and a perusal of their antics on-line, that there's a lot of tanning, preening and prepping for the club scene, flashing one's crotch on the dance floor (a Snooki specialty), getting your hair cut, picking up girls or guys, physical and verbal fights with other club patrons (including an infamous scene with Snooki being punched in the face by a guy), swearing, bickering amongst the friends and generally making a jackass of oneself.

I'm more inclined to blame the people responsible for putting it on the air such as, oh say, Tony Di Santo, MTV's President of Programming. I'm guessing with his last name that Di Santo is a brother. Or ... check out the preponderance of names ending with vowels in key senior roles on the show in the end credits.

Where is their responsibility in all this, in exploiting less sophisticated, uneducated kids who would otherwise have no place on TV except for the laughs they provide for non-Italians? These kids think they are cool and sharp and beautiful and probably did not suspect that they would be viewed with such derision and contempt. I don't think they could have foreseen the firestorm of criticism they seem to have ignited within the Italian community, especially in the U.S.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I don't think that these eight individuals will evolve or change in any substantial way during the course of the series. They will have no arc of evolution in behavior or feelings. I don't think that they will grow to see that there is more to life than clubbing, getting smashed or laid and that it is unacceptable to physically attack other Jersey kids in the streets like a pack of rabid dogs. I don't see that happening.

And someone (I ain't saying who) is making a great deal of money reinforcing these negative stereotypes and encouraging this behavior for the camera.

Tony Di Santo - your mamma must be sooo proud.

1 comment:

Shorty said...

Okay, okay, I could almost get it if these were the only Italian Americans around. First of all, these are a bunch of kids out on a beach having their brand of fun. I admit, I enjoy watching Reality Shows - the interplay among various eccentric personalities, the ups and downs of relationships, and the way the characters develop. Many people think this is inane, call me a little out there, but I enjoy them.

Now, the question: Does anyone on earth REALLY think that they could possibly be representing all Italians????

Pleez! Give a person a little credit for having some semblance of a brain. Italians are NOT new to America. We do know Italians in every walk of life from business to entertainment to public safety to teachers. Oh, that reminds me, one of my favorite teachers was a guy named Figliolino! That memory pokes a hole in the balloon of prejudice which was building from my intense and profound Jersey Shore exposure.

I happen to be a fan of Ray Romano, his former show, and even his new show. I didn’t think Ray’s parents represented all Italian American parents, but I might have been wrong. Last week an Italian-American (he might have had a New Jersey accent, even) was giving him counsel. They were drinking, vandalizing, philosophizing, and – you get the picture. Poor Ray, I don’t think he meant to contribute to the problem. I think he just thought he was producing a funny show. But I think the character being portrayed was - yup “stereotypical”. This leads me into painful depths of thought. I was shocked to think----maybe – just maybe------- Mr.Di Santo might have thought the same thing. Might he have thought that he was green lighting (not producing or directing) a Reality Series about some interesting characters hanging out for the summer on the Jersey Shore? (That just might have been the "Situation", anyway.) Just guessing.

I know I’m talking too much now, but what about this?? Frankie Valli was a stand up bad boy, along with his fellow singers, as portrayed in "Jersey Boys". In fact, I think “The Four Seasons” as a group is perhaps a huge stereotype in and of itself. Never mind what they were in real life. They definitely should have cleaned up that act! Oh yeah, but that’s okay, cuz you don’t seem to be upset with them, or maybe you are, I don't know. I hope the producer of Jersey Boys isn't Italian, or Lord help him deal with media outcry - oh, no media outcry there, is there??

Jersey Shore people DO hang out with each other, AND they are proud of their heritage. Or are they proud of the stereotype? And if they are truly proud of their heritage AND hang out together, they should behave differently, not like they really behave. You know – to avoid a stereotype.