Friday, January 6, 2012
Guilty Pleasures, Universal Wisdom
Last night order was reestablished in the cosmos and the celestial choir was singing in praise of the genius of the human species. Last night the fifth magical season of Jersey Shore premiered on MTV.
It was a very long time coming—over six months, in fact. Far too long for me to go without what has become the ultimate guilty pleasure in my life.
Fortunately, our heroes and heroines of the Garden State managed to endure the trauma of having to spend an entire season in an utterly horrible place like Florence, Italy. How they were able to survive all those months without the benefits of proper American-style gyms, tanning salons, and guido hair stylists is anyone’s guess. But survive they did, and now Snooki and the gang are back where they belong—in the great utopia of southern New Jersey.
There was certainly quite a lot of drama in the fourth season of the show: Snooki hooked up with Mike (and Vinny?) and was witnessed in flagrante delicto by Mike’s best bro “The Unit” (How do they come up with theses names, anyway?). Naturally, Snooki wanted to keep all this dirt from her dim-witted Jersey boyfriend back home, Jionni, and the rest of her housemates. But Mike—drawn as ever to conflict—made it a point to share the gory details of their “smooching” to anyone who would listen (immense conflict ensued). Meanwhile, Mike got into a brawl with muscle-bound Ronnie, who himself continued to abuse his long-suffering former girlfriend, Samantha. Not wanting to be left out of the limelight, Deena embraced the “love that dare not mention its name” in an attempt to show that she was at least as much fun as her pal Snooki. While all this went on, Vinny and Paulie continued their long-standing “bromance,” but had much more difficulty hooking up with non-“grenades” than they did back at home.
The fifth season of the show certainly didn’t disappoint this Jersey Shore fanatic. Vinny cried, Jwoww philosophized, Ronnie showed off his muscles, and Mike—aka “The Situation”—continued to plot, scheme, and generally make himself despised by the rest of the cast. The guys meanwhile settled right back into their usual ritual of GTL (gyms, tanning, and laundry), had their hair cut in proper guido style, and immediately went cruising for willing Jersey girls in GTF (grenade free America).
The plot-twist in the season premiere had to do with Mike egging on The Unit to inform Jionni about Snooki’s infidelities overseas, while at the same time trying to convince Snooki that he was over his addiction to drama. Vinny meanwhile is feeling blue because he misses his chubby Italian momma, but fortunately has his best bro, Pauly, to look out for him. The depth of the relationship that these two have is indicated by the fact that Pauly is willing to forget about hooking up for an entire evening to minister emotionally to his friend. As he so aptly puts it, “Bros before hoes.” Of course, this doesn’t stop Pauly from acquiescing to Ryder’s carnal invitation, although, once again he views this in a moral framework: “Ryder's looking good tonight, but she already had sex with Vinny. And I'm not really cool with Vinny's sloppy seconds, so I don't really know what to do with her. But, I don't want to be rude.” Let’s just say that he quickly gets over his reticence about going where so many other men have gone before.
All in a day’s work!
What accounts for the popularity of Jersey Shore? It can’t just be the tackiness and vulgarity of the stars, because there are an infinate number of reality shows featuring even more perverse individuals (ever watch any of the Real Housewives shows?). I also don’t think that Americans are hooked on the show because, as some have suggested, it is a kind of morality play, where we all look forward to seeing vicious behavior ultimately punished. As anyone who has ever seen the show knows, bad behavior on Jersey Shore is never really punished. If it were, then Snooki would be dying of cirrhosis of the liver and The Situation would have been murdered by one of his housemates long ago.
No, I think that we watch the show because it actually reflects American values and ideals in a way that no other show ever has. As Bill Maher once put it, there are only three main problems with Americans: we’re lazy, selfish, and stupid. And nowhere else on television are these three qualities better exemplified than on Jersey Shore.
Here’s a little test to prove my point: imagine that you could have a life that involved working only a few hours per week in a job for which you could never be fired. The rest of your time would be spent tanning, working out, eating, drinking, and hooking up with (mostly) attractive people. You could behave anyway you want, break any cultural taboos you feel like, act on all your most base impulses if you desire, and no one would hold it against you (not for very long anyway). Best of all, you would be paid a ridiculous amount of money for all of this, so you could continue to live this way for the rest of your life, if you wanted to.
What American wouldn’t jump at an offer like this?
All this talk we keep hearing about family values and Christian ideals from right-wing politicians and pundits is just that—talk. When we look at the way Americans actually live, the values are virtually the same as you’d find on Jersey Shore. A little less extreme, perhaps, but basically the same. In those “red” states, where people keep talking about wanting to return to traditional morality, there is just as much promiscuity, whoring, drug use, alcoholism, adultery, abortion, and the like, as there is in the “blue” states. Actually, data shows that inhabitants of the red states in the Bible Belt partake of these immoral pleasures to an even greater degree than their so-called decadent counterparts on the coasts.
So much for decent Christian values!
So, I think that we watch Jersey Shore primarily because it offers a confirmation of our own American ethos: pursue pleasure as often as you can, get rich quickly, think only about yourself, and don’t ever worry about the consequences of your actions. We watch the show and we feel better about how vacuous and immoral our own lives are. As bad as we may be in terms of our own lives, at least we’re not a Snooki, Deena, or Mike (aka The Situation).
And that’s gotta count for something, doesn’t it?