August 3, 2010

My apologies to Jersey Shore.

I don't remember why I originally disregarded Jersey Shore.

It wasn't because I'm opposed to reality programming; I watched the Hawaii season of The Real World and enjoyed it immensely. I'm never been a Survivor/Big Brother/The Amazing Race guy, but that's because I'm not a boring, CBS-watching moron.

And it wasn't because the show propagated negative stereotypes about New Jersey. I know a few people who feel this way, including my beautiful girlfriend, but I subscribe to something Chuck Klosterman wrote (I believe) in Chuck Klosterman IV. He said that only the most simple-minded bigot would indict the Chinese people as a whole for the human-rights violations perpetuated by the Chinese government. He was using it to comment on foreigners that hated America just because George Bush was President, but I think it applies to anyone who judges New Jersey because of eight outrageous personalities.

And anyway, it's 2010. Who in their right mind watches an MTV reality show for anything but entertainment? Who even bothers to imagine those people as representative of cultures, races, creeds, anything? It's the closest thing we have to a human zoo, a group of young people dancing, drinking, and cavorting for our personal pleasure.

But numerous people I respect really seem to enjoy the show, including Michael Cera, Nathan Rabin and Rob Turbovsky. And yes, I just put my friend on a short list with a millionaire movie star and a respected pop culture journalist. Sue me. So when I stumbled upon the Season 2 premiere of Jersey Shore last Saturday night, I decided it was time to give it a shot. (Also, my brother recently got a job filming Season 3 in Seaside Heights, so I figured it was my duty to invest in his work.)

So I jumped right into Season 2. And then I watched the Season 1 premiere on the Internet. And then another...and another. And I love it.

I love The Situation and the way he breaks the fourth wall, a quick glance that's light years more entertaining than John Krasinski's on the American Office. I love Pauly D's ridiculous hair and unabashed personality. I didn't like him at first, but his conviction towards his craft willed me into loving him. I was helpless. I love that, in the last episode I saw, Jwoww wore what looked like professional wrestling trunks to a club. I love that Vinny is the de facto voice of reason, even though he's as detached from reality as the rest of the gang.

I don't love anything about Sammi or Ronnie, but they've served an important purpose so far in Season 1: the couple that stays in. Of course, in the Jersey Shore world, this means they get hammered and go home at 1 AM to have sex, rather than stay out all night trying to pick up strangers and grind to house music. God, they say "house music" like eight times an episode. It's glorious. And, of course, I love the clip of Snooki getting punched in the face. You don't see that every day.

In a way, I envy the Jersey Shore folk. I would never want to be like them; as a friend of mine recently pointed out, I went to a "guido" club last time I was in Atlantic City and I absolutely hated it. But I envy their commitment, the fact that, long before this cast was on TV, they were probably living these same lives and having just as much fun doing it. And now it's their job. Ignorance is truly bliss, and in this case, eight (or seven, when Angelina inevitably bails again) people are making a living and having a ball thanks to a boatload of sweet, sweet ignorance.

People say they're getting famous for nothing, but I disagree. The cast of Jersey Shore didn't so much win the lottery as win a national crossword puzzle championship or ESPN2 spelling bee; they're skilled at what they do. They were born for this. Born to fist pump at a shitty Seaside Heights club, born to hit on every single girl that passes by, born to inadvertently create catchphrases and throw tantrums. They're the apex of the reality TV phenomenon; we're through the looking glass here, people.

The cast members of Jersey Shore have turned what could have been another ho-hum show, a Real World set in an unexpected locale, into maybe the defining program of the last few years, a phenomenon that will dissected by pop-culture pundits as long as those people live and breathe. I've seen countless people throw Jersey Shore parties and compare themselves to the characters, but they always focus on the drinking, the outfits, the location, the quotable lines. It's the whole package that matters; the collection of personalities, the setting, the sex-is-OK age in which we live. I've been to the Jersey Shore a million times; I'm going back next weekend. Getting drunk there is the same as getting drunk anywhere else, but not when you watch this show. That's a stroke of genius; that's perfection personified.

MTV gets this; they didn't try and replace the cast members when they held out for more money. They paid them, and the show went on. The message was, "Kids, don't try this at home." It cannot be recreated. I know that, down the line, there has to be an endpoint. These people doing the same thing every week can't be entertaining forever, right? Probably not, but for now, I see no reason to look away. I'm officially ensnared.

No comments: