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In Defense of The Jersey Shore (And Why It’ll Help Your Writing)

Jessica Digiacinto / Tuesday, October 5, 2010 View Comments

Jersey-Shore-cast-photoThe Jersey Shore.  It’s one of the most popular shows on TV right now, has single-handedly made MTV relevant again and is constantly in the news – so why won’t anyone admit they watch it?

Not only will no one over the age of 17 admit they watch it, but ragging on the guidos and guidettes that make this show so successful has become a national pastime. A recent article in Vanity Fair is a prime example:

“…which is more than can be said for MTV’s Jersey Shore, a cynical slumming exercise whose carefully chosen cast of lower primates with limited vocabularies would seem to get the last laugh by becoming famous for accomplishing nothing, the new American Dream…”

Okay, so James Wolcott hates The Jersey Shore. Or at least he thinks he does.  The reason I’m not sure he actually hates Snooki and the gang is because his description of the show is hardly its reality.   In fact, I’d like to wager that most people who turn their noses up at MTV’s newest sensation (Wolcott included) haven’t really watched it.  Because if they had…they’d realize the “cast of lower primates with limited vocabularies” are actually just a bunch of people who aren’t afraid of being exactly who they are.

I know, I know.  You and my brother (who won’t even stay in the room if the show is on…even though – you guessed it – he’s never sat through an episode) are rolling your eyes.  You can’t believe I’m legitimately defending people who spend 70 percent of their time on camera fighting, drinking and hooking up.  But I am.

Let’s be honest: a lot of the behavior on The Jersey Shore could be labeled as Questionable At Best, but Wolcott’s  “lower primates” blast makes me think he may just have a thing against guys who wear a lot of hair gel.  The cast of TJS make no excuses for their actions, nor do they take themselves too seriously. Anyone who misses that aspect of the show hasn’t really been watching it.  When uber-male Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino shrugs his shoulders at the camera after his almost hook-up with a transsexual is caught on tape for the whole world to see, it’s clear that this guy isn’t hiding anything.  He’s not proud of his behavior, but he’s not denying it either – which is more truth than you’ll get out of a lot of 20-something frat dudes.

If you’re a writer, and you’re looking to create real characters who stay likable while committing morally questionable actions, look no further than The Jersey Shore.  These people can literally beat the hell out of each other one minute, and then sit down to a home cooked family meal the next.  They’ll call each other the worst names in the book, and then take care of each other while they’re vomiting up about fifty shots of Cuervo.  I’m not saying we should teach our kids to follow the Golden Guido Rule, I’m simply pointing out that despite their laughable nicknames and vulgar tongues, TJS castmates are fabulous studies in people living freely, fully, and without apology.

The kids aren’t cliches; they’re three-dimensional versions of a type.  You’ve got to look beyond the GTL to see the humor and individuality, which, for any budding writer, is the best kind of character challenge – how do I make this common archetype into a living, breathing person?

Of course, no matter what I write, there are still going to be people who hate everything TJS is about.  They won’t take a minute to consider why the show is so popular, and even if they do, they’ll just chalk it up to awful societal values.  They’ll cut me off in horror when I suggest using the show as a fiction writing tool.  That’s fine.  Even Jesus couldn’t convert ‘em all.

I do have hope, however, that this piece could somehow make other smart, articulate artists feel free to stand up and admit they enjoy a healthy serving of Guido along with their 60 Minutes and NPR.  There’s nothing wrong with loving yourself some leopard print and spiky hair; in fact, it might just help you improve your craft.

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  • Anonymous Guido Fan

    I am an artist and I am standing up, as requested. YES, I love this show. And YES, it informs my writing. And YES, I’m not from Jersey.

  • http://www.yingleyangle.com/ Paulo Campos

    I’ve been mulling over how to write about JS on my own site & couldn’t agree more.

    The only thing I’d add is that I think its editors play a large part in constructing a narrative that never carries on a particular drama too long (eg. the aftermath of this season’s JWOWW Attack came to an end just when it got tiring they cut to a trip to the beach). Its a good example of effective scene pacing.

    On the other hand, the trajectory of Angelina’s story this season is as good an example of how to execute a longer plot trajectory. All the Sammi Sweetheart & Ronnie nonsense turned out to be a subplot in comparison with whatever Angelina was trying to do.

    If you didn’t read the New York Times Magazine’s profile of Snooki, take a look. Another example of JS loathing (with some really cruel lines): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/fashion/25Snooki.html.

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  • http://amyinferno.blogspot.com/ Amy

    hm… didn`t know this is so big in the States, I saw commercials for it, didn`t like, didn`t watch.
    then again, a long time ago, I hated anime so much I had to watch it out of hatred and ended up liking it, watching it, reading it, writing it, wanting to learn japanese. :D so it might be you hate what attracts you too much or isn`t recognized as “likable” in your culture.

    on people being who they are… I doubt it. the camera changes reality, you know it is watching and you change your behavior accordingly.

    “The cast of TJS make no excuses for their actions, nor do they take themselves too seriously. ” they probably enact things that are envisioned by themselves as things that socially acceptable or prominent people do.

    I`m not trying to designate the cast as “primitive”, it`s the way most people in most cases act in those situations, I`ve filmed people numerous times, the camera is an extra cast member if you ask me. ;)

  • Jessica Digiacinto

    I’m sure the camera informs a lot of their actions…just like it informs all of OUR actions (just check out Facebook to see millions upon millions of “posed” candid pictures), but I just can’t understand why so many journalists think it’s perfectly okay to just RIP these people to shreds in such cruel ways.

    Isn’t there some kind of psychology behind a deep, personal abhorrence of something? If you hate someone, it’s usually because they remind you of you? Isn’t that what smart scientists say?

    All I’m saying is: Give Guidos a Chance.

  • Elle

    I have no shame. I too watch the show and don’t understand why some writers love ripping this show and it’s cast to shreds? I’m guessing it pays to just be who you are and do what it is you do best. These kids have made money simply by partying. What more I can say.

  • http://biglucks.com/biglucks.com/wake-up-wake-up-5/ Wake Up, Wake Up | Big Lucks

    [...] Thank you, Jessica Digiacinto, for helping me sleep at [...]

  • Anonymous

    I found this entire article to be quite ridiculous. I have seen Jersey Shore, and can find nothing good about it. I disagree with everything you said. Especially the part about the characters being likable.

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