25 August 2011

Cultural Microcosm: The Strange Exhibition of Jersey Shore

Another Season of Jersey Shore is upon us, folks. Whether you love this show because you identify with the characters, love to mock them or just want to fit in, Shore is here to stay. You may also despise this program for hundreds of plausible reasons. It's an exercise in low entertainment. Still, especially when watching this season take place in Florence, Italy, I found the distinctive culture of the show growing in intrigue. Let's for a moment, examine what makes Jersey tic:

Introducing Pauly D - the only reason to come back next week.

There are plenty of Microcultures in this country. That is, relatively small pockets or groups of people that share a similar outlook on life or general habits and ways of doing things. Miami, Florida culture is going to be very different than Cleveland, Ohio culture. Probably better for basketball playing. Likewise there's distinct Hipster Culture, Tween Culture, even Rugged Lumberjack Culture. It's not often that these people clash with each other, but when they do there may be tension, simply because someone immersed in Twilight Culture may treat people differently than someone immersed in Golden Girls Culture. It's not like one is wrong or better than another, it's just different.

Then there's Jersey Culture. I don't know why MTV picked this pocket of East Coast Trash to create a reality show around, but whatever the reason it clicked and it's now Cable's Highest Rated show. What the hell? There are a handful of these shows like, the Real Housewives of New Jersey or whatever, but Jersey Shore is the big focal point here, providing a model of acting for an entire generation of Television Watchers. Yes, that should scare the shit out of you. The stars of Jersey Shore, whether they realise it or not, are advertising Jersey Culture, even though it's actually an even smaller pocket, they're self-proclaimed Guido Culture - basically twenty-something Italian-Americans (or the brownest equivalent) living in the vicinity of the NYC Metro area. So what do these people appreciate?

Jersey Culture is loud, abrasive and proud. Quick to anger, insult and blow things out of proportion. Fake boobs, fake tans and obsessive behaviour over physical appearances in both males and females typify the experience. What's more interesting than the actual culture though is how for granted its practitioners take it. Watching this show is almost difficult to follow because of how automatic the characters reactions are to seemingly insignificant events. Last week Snooki found out that The Situation has been lying about smushing her two months ago - this automatically means that if her BF Gianni finds out they will break up. This shouldn't make sense to any logical human. Shouldn't Snooki be able to easily say that the Sitch is fabricating the story and shouldn't Gianni trust her enough to believe her? No, because lying, cheating and alcohol are so infused with the Culture that also contains so much judgment, anger and rash decisions that any peaceful solution is aberrant to their lifestyle. Now you're starting to see why MTV chose this group of people.

What's more interesting is how this nearly impenetrable Culture is guarded by its practitioners, at times very aggressively. After being a practitioner of Lumberjack Culture myself, I laugh every time the guys have commented on Vinny's "beard" this season. There is a goal to maintain constant equilibrium. Weekly haircuts and tanning sessions, constant gym access to keep up a perceived perfect appearance. For all its excess and alcohol it is not a risky culture, or one that incorporates difference well at all. It appears very tight-knit and secluded.

It's great that the show has taken seasons outside of the Geographic Jersey Shore in order to fully demonstrate this idea. You'll note that they aren't sightseeing in Florence - they GTL. They have no interest in appreciating other cultures. When in Miami they sought out and engorged themselves on the Clubs and Hotspots that were most like their Jersey hometown. Even in Florence they always have this urge to replicate their own culture rather than accept a new one, even for a short period of time. In Miami Sammi was more obsessed with Ronnie than enjoying the sunshine and location they were visiting. There is no desire to do anything not included in their Jersey-based culture: Physical fitness, copious alcohol consumption, finding as many members of the opposite sex to copulate with and meticulous personal care that makes metrosexuals look like hungry hobos.

Now, this may have something to do with the editing of the show, which no reality show is really factual. It does stand out amidst Reality Programming though in the fact that the same people have returned for Four Seasons now (besides the swap of Deena for Angelina) with no competition involved or goal to achieve. In the end, it really comes off more of a study, like examining how animals behave in a zoo. It's fascinating. It's a peak into a Culture that is so insane, so deviant from the mainstream and yet within the Jersey Culture every action is so automated and performed with such huge confidence that it comes off as more inclusive than it really is. Instead of allowing for any other cultural factors to enter in they relish their own attitudes and personal philosophies, and yet find innumerous ways to disagree and argue with each other despite the Culture's limited sets of available attitudes and personalities to choose from. There is no desire to absorb any other culture because theirs is so egotistical and dominant in their own eyes - they keep attempting to replicate Jersey everywhere instead of soaking in something new.

Jersey Shore comes on MTV 58 minutes from now. Go watch the Exhibition.

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