Who Will It Be?

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I am a native North Dakotan, a professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a YA writer. My first book, The Predicteds, is due out from Sourcebooks Fire in September. I'm represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group. When I'm not writing or teaching writing, I'm an avid reader and an enthusiastic listener of podcasts (especially podcasts about books). I'm a fan of taking long walks on sunny days, browsing through the library on Saturday afternoons, and watching embarrassingly bad TV at any time. My favorite color is lunch.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jersey Shore Is the Perfect Shade of Orange

I admit it: I watch the Jersey Shore and I love it. Even when I hate it.  I’m an MTV fan girl. Watching coming-of-age stories that involve a bunch of clowns GTLing really appeals to me.
As a general rule I’m actually a picky TV watcher. I’ve never seen Survivor or The Amazing Race. Can’t be bothered with The Bachelor or any of the other dating shows.  Or any of the housewives. I’m not interested in the models, chefs, or fashion designers angling for jobs. Don’t even get me started about the plastic surgery shows. It’s gotta be an MTV show.  I like shows about people who are developmentally stunted at adolescence, but who are still young enough that I hold out hope that they’ll reform. Or they won’t. And that’ll be just fine with me. As long as MTV finds a new crop of twenty-somethings who are willing to dye themselves orange and wear bedazzled T-shirts. (“T-shirt time!”)
Apparently, though, there’s some general hand-wringing over whether or not the show encourages young viewers to emulate the bad behavior of the cast. I guess I can see the concern. If I had kids, I might worry if they chose Snooki as their role-model. But I’m not convinced that younger kids who watch this show (do they watch it? could anything I watch be even remotely cool? I doubt it) think that the “characters” on the show are the heroes. I’m pretty sure Snooks and the gang are the butt of the joke. And I’m also pretty sure that viewers get that, even the young impressionable ones.
One hundred years ago, when I was twelve, I wouldn’t have even been interested in this show. I wouldn’t have had time for it. I was too busy listening to Soviet hair bands and thinking about whether or not I should get leg warmers (I didn’t—thank goodness) and making lists of stuff I hated (movies about killer sharks and/or piranhas; peas; windy days) and things I loved (Soviet hair bands). I’m willing to bet that the pre-teens of today have better things to do than tune in to see what The Sitch is up to.  (Spoiler Alert: Nothing. He does nothing. Week after week.)
I’m hopeful that fans of the show recognize that these “characters”—likeable as they sometimes can be—are poster-children for what not to do, especially when your life is being documented by a film crew. (J-Woww has all but ruined her chances for a Supreme Court appointment. Nobody who battles the beat like that will ever be on C-Span.) The Situation is a narcissist with serious sandwich issues. Vinnie is a misogynist with even more serious mommy issues. Snooki has a problem with the booze. Sammi suffers from a common ailment: bad taste in boyfriends. She also has a less common affliction: a strange predilection for petting her own hair. 
Yes, these fools are making a ton of money to act like idiots, but I’m still not convinced that viewers  aspire to be like them. I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to watch and thank our lucky stars that we aren’t passed out in a dog pen like Snooki. I think it’s supposed to make us feel good: even though we aren’t famous and we aren’t rich and we don’t have awesome hair extensions, at least—at least!—our dresses cover our underwear. And we don’t talk about poop on television. We’re klassy that way.
Ronnie is the only “character” who MTV has been too kind to in the editing process: he’s an abusive boyfriend, and nobody should’ve accepted his behavior or excused it. MTV should've addressed emotional and phyiscal abuse in a more direct way. It was a perfect opportunity. Other perfect opportunities for important lessons? Ah, how about the rumored coke and steroid use? Let's remember that these "characters" aren't role models; they're anti-role models. It's okay to point out their flaws. It's the purpose of the whole show! Consider this a memo, MTV.
I admit that the sexism on the show rankles me sometimes. If a grenade is a grenade, then somebody really ought to call out Vinnie: that kid is painfully awkward and completely unaware that no girl--no matter how much he "wifes her up"-- is going to live to do his laundry and make his dinner. Consider this a memo, Vin.
So will I keep watching? Of course. What else would I do while on the treadmill? Do I think this show represents the decline of Western culture. Nah. It’s no worse than Three’s Company. If aliens one day find our cultural artifacts, they’ll be way less impressed with Jack Tripper than The Situation. Do I think the show glamorizes irresponsible sex and alcohol abuse? Nope. I think it does the opposite. If you watch Snooki drunkenly fall face-first in the sand while a crowd of hundreds watches, and you want to be her, then you need to clean your blinged-out sunglasses. These kids are a cautionary tale.  Message taken.

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