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Saturday, April 24, 2010

So this is the Situation regarding Jersey Shore

Feature from today's Irish Examiner

When it comes to reality TV these days, it takes something special to leave viewers open-mouthed and at a loss for words, but MTV’s latest fly-on-the-wall docuseries Jersey Shore has more than accomplished that feat. Arriving on this side of the world at a time when the only signs of life coming from the reality format can be attributed to the final spasms of rigor mortis, Jersey Shore has managed to strike a chord to become the most talked-about reality breakthrough hit since The Hills – albeit for mostly the wrong reasons.

For the uninitiated (episode three just aired on MTV last weekend), Jersey Shore focuses on the jaw-dropping, yet morbidly compelling car-crash summer shenanigans of a group of eight young Italian-American guys and dolls with egos as big as their pecs and intellects as miniscule as their thongs living, working and sleeping together in the popular New Jersey resort of Seaside Heights.

This octet all proudly proclaim themselves to be ‘guidos’ and ‘guidettes’, which are class-based slang-terms to describe certain Italian-Americans that are embraced by the witless Jersey Shore gang to mean tanned, muscled, heavily-hair-gelled, fashion-savvy, lady-killing, high-fiving studs, and the orange-skinned, fake nail-sporting, hair-extension-sprouting gals who so willingly throw themselves at them.

However, the ‘guido’ term has long been fiercely denounced as a lazy ethnic slur by the majority of Americans of Italian descent. Indeed MTV kicked off a sandstorm of controversy when the show started lasted summer: several Italian-American organisations condemned the show, while Dominos Pizza pulled its advertising in protest.

The real-life residents of Jersey Shore have also slammed the show, and the region’s representatives have been at pains to point out that the people depicted in the programme represent the seasonal workers who come to the area, and not the ones who live there full-time. Elsewhere, Christian groups are speaking out against the debauched lifestyle portrayed in the show, and cancer groups are calling for the show to be cancelled for what it deems as its reckless encouragement of tanning booths.

So who’s who on Jersey Shore, and what is it about them that has so captured – and repulsed - the popular imagination? The hulking lunks of guys are made up of Pauly D, “a born and raised guido”, a self-styled womanizing DJ with a shelf-load of hair gel products and a tanning booth in his apartment.

Then there’s mama’s boy Vinny, who considers himself a genuine guido and a class above the others because he has a college degree. Fret not, however, as he assures viewers that he can fist-pump with the best of them. Next up is Ronnie who has come to the shore determined not to fall in love, saying that, ‘Jersey Shore is all about getting laid: just take your shirt off and they come to you like a fly to sh*t’ (incidentally, Ronnie is now working on a tell-all book entitled Never Fall in Love at the Jersey Shore).

The last male charmer is Mike, who goes by the nickname ‘The Situation’, referring to his insanely defined six-pack stomach abs that he says makes him look like Rambo when he removes his shirt.

Meanwhile, the “ladies” consist of Sammi, the ‘Sweetheart’ who lives life by a store of empowering statements that would make The Simpsons’ talking Malibu Stacy doll proud. For instance: “The smaller the shorts the better because all the guidos like them”.

Jenni, known affectionately as ‘JWoww’, describes herself as a “preying mantis that will rip the head off a guy once I have sex with him”. Elsewhere, Angelina tells us in the first episode that she has a boyfriend but that if he doesn’t trust her to behave herself at the Shore, then she’ll dump him. Last, and certainly not least, there’s pint-sized Nicole, aka ‘Snooki’, a self-proclaimed loudmouth so obnoxious that even her charmless housemates have trouble accepting her.

What’s the appeal of such a monstrous motley crew one might ask? The answer, it seems, is that they have no appeal. There’s nobody to root for. Each participant is more vile, and vain, and foul-mouthed than the next.

Jersey Shore channels the nastiest, most unpleasant elements of cruelty-and-humiliation-driven formats like I’m A Celebrity and The X Factor, and amps it up several notches. There isn’t even any fake heart or attempts to win our sympathy. We as viewers get to feel better (and not a little dirty) by watching these eight clowns at their worst (which is also, apparently, their best).

Scoff if you must – and most TV critics have - but Jersey Shore is doing serious business for MTV. Some 5m viewers tuned in for its season finale in the US. Last week The New York Times reported that the music channel has sold the show to 30 countries, and is the subject of a massive global advertising campaign trading on the show’s ability to entertain and appall in equal measure. A second season has been ordered, this time to be set in South Beach, Miami, with all the cast returning except Angelina.

As a measure of how the show is gaining traction despite or perhaps because of its controversies, the cast members were recently greeted with huge affection in an LA nightclub by non other than half-Italian actor Leonardo diCaprio. Love it and/or hate it, it looks like Jersey Shore is going to be holidaying around here for some time yet.

*Jersey Shore, MTV, Sunday 9pm

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