Part 1: Preamble
Well, brother, the CABS ARE HERE. The cabs are truly here.
You know I can’t start talking about Jersey Shore without talking about where I was in December 2009 when Jersey Shore originally aired.
Let me set the cultural and personal scenes of what the end of 2009 looked like for me and, I think, for most of us. The U.S. was a year into the Great Recession, almost a year into Obama’s presidency, and 6 years into the American War in Iraq. Everything sucked. I’m saying that with my full chest. Everything sucked. Everything was expensive for the time, and it seemed like nothing was worth the money you spent on it. Politics were wild because even though Obama’s election brought a lot of people hope, he and his supporters were ultimately powerless to do anything because of the Republican controlled legislative branch of our government. Swine flu was a thing we had to think about. For some reason, coverage of Somali pirates was stressing everyone out and it just seemed like weird international news stories like that were causing discord all the time. Things were strange.
I know people probably have whiplash right now because it sounds like I’m talking about this very moment we’re in but stay with me, this was 2009. I will say that it didn’t exactly suck like it does right now. There was definitely more of a feeling of hope in the air back then and a lot less concern about misinformation and the way social media is slowly rotting our brains from the inside out, but the day-to-day was rough if you didn’t have money or come from a family with money and I didn’t have money and I don’t come from a family that has money.
In December 2009, I was finishing the first half of my last year in college. And I was miserable about it. I thought I’d be ready for grad school but I was too burned out. During that time, I was taking 18 credits a semester and working two jobs. One as an editor and writer at my university’s newspaper — which was a paying gig, miraculously. And another at Whole Foods in the smoothie, juice, and coffee bar. I was doing Food Not Bombs every week, and I was involved in other organizing activities. On top of that, I was wildly social. My friends and I went out all the time and drank A LOT, as most people in college do. Even if we had to be up early the next day, we stayed up late and just did what we had to do to make it through. Most of my days were packed beyond measure. It’s a time in my life that I look back at and wonder where the energy came from because I truly have no idea. I guess that’s just the power of being 21 years old.
I knew what I wanted to do after college but I didn’t have the actual capital or financial support of my family to do it. I’m sure this will not be shocking to anyone but I wanted to be an investigative journalist. I want to work on hard stories, expose the harsh realities of the world we live in, fight for change that way. But in 2008 and 2009, like right now, we had this big purging of media and publishing jobs and I was too scared to take the chance freelancing until someone hired me full time. So, that wasn’t an option on the table for me. I had to recalibrate and I didn’t want to. The thought of graduating stressed me the hell out (actually, I ended up crying for about 3 hours on my graduation day). I was always looking for distractions, and a lot of my friends were, too.
I don’t remember how we heard about it because none of us really watched TV like that but watching Jersey Shore became this thing my friends and I did together. I was the only person with MTV (because the partner I was living with at the time insisted we have an actual cable package instead of me torrenting anything and everything), so it was decided pretty quickly that we’d be meeting at my house every Thursday — sorry, I mean, every JERZday — to watch the new episodes of the show. Usually, someone would grab a bunch of beers, we’d order food or grab one of those Taco Bell party packs, and then we’d settle in to watch what ludicrous antics the gang is getting into that week.
None of us were big reality TV show fans, though reality TV was really gaining popularity throughout the mid and late aughts. A lot of times, we weren’t even sure WHY we were watching it. There was just something about being able to watch these 8, then 7, then 8 again 20-something year old guidos and guidettes that took hold of us. As far as distractions go, this was the perfect one. My life and my friends’ lives were often difficult and chaotic for reasons outside of our control. On Jersey Shore, the forces were almost always within the cast members’ power to control.
They went out and got sloppy as hell, got into fights at bars and on the boardwalk, trashed the houses they were living that belonged to their bosses, brought home weird strangers who just wanted to fuck them because they were on TV, a couple of them slept with each other, one of them developed a drug habit off screen that impacted his work on screen, and they were always getting in trouble at their jobs. Meanwhile, since they only spent a few weeks in the summer filming each season, they still had lives back home they had to attend to. So, they also juggled romantic relationships with people from back home with varying degrees of success and messiness. It didn’t feel REAL necessarily but it did feel like a slice of life. This was how some people lived — they had less responsibility than us or cared less about those responsibilities than we did and they acted accordingly. Young people truly just being young and being paid to do so. What a concept.
We ended up watching all six seasons this way. Of course, we missed a few JERZdays because our lives were happening all around us, too, but it was a ritual we tried to hang on to and we were mostly successful at that.
I will say, though…I don’t think I fully realized what a revolutionary cultural force Jersey Shore was back then. I knew it was watched and beloved by many people because I was having conversations about it at my jobs and at school, but I don’t think I knew the full extent of its powers until I started doing research for this episode. Even John McCain tweeted at Snooki in 2010 saying
There’s a lot of material examining the show beyond the ridiculous behaviors of the cast members and we should get into some of that. Before we get there, though, let’s start with two basic things.
Part 2: What was/is Jersey Shore?
As I’ve already said, Jersey Shore is a reality TV show that follows mostly 7 cast members as they hang out, work at a t-shirt shop, get wasted, fuck, and grow up in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The development of the show rested on casting young people with a particular kind of personality and subcultural performance that I’ll get into more detail about later. MTV put out a casting call for young Italian-American “guidos” and “guidettes” and the whole idea was that they were supposed to be representative this particular side of New York/New Jersey Italian-American culture that has always kind of been around — I always think of John Travolta’s character Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever as a good example of this — but gained a little more visibility and prominence in the 1990s. The Jersey Shore kids were the new generation of this and really played into several cultural stereotypes. In fact, I like to think of them as the Italian-American cultural stereotype for the new millennium. Where our parents grew up watching mafiosos bash people’s heads in on TV, we had these beautiful freaks.
The gag was that none of them were actually from Seaside Heights or any of the towns near the Jersey Shore. Actually, only one of the permanent cast members is from New Jersey. The rest are from various places in New York, and one of them is from Rhode Island (just like your family, brother!). This caused a lot of random drama on the show…some of you JERZheads might remember people in Seaside Heights constantly trying to fight with the guys. But ultimately, to me, it doesn’t matter that much since the subculture they were representative of was the same from Philadelphia to New Haven to Miami.
Like I said before, the permanent cast of the original six seasons of Jersey Shore had 7 members:
Paul DelVecchio “DJ Pauly D”
Mike Sorrentino “The Situation”
Nicole Polizzi “Snooki” (not Italian, actually Chilean)
Jennifer Farley “Jwoww”
Samantha Giancola “Sammi Sweetheart”
Angelina Pivarnick was on the first two seasons of the Shore, but she was kicked out of the house by the Shore Store manager, Danny, after she was fired. Danny owned the house they lived in for the summer, so it was a requirement of staying in the house that they had to work at the Shore Store. If they didn’t fulfill this obligation, Danny had the power to fire them and evict them from the house. Angelina did have one really great line that we’ll talk about later.
An old friend of Snooki’s named Deena Cortese then ended up joining the cast for the second half of the show’s running, so season 3 - 6. Deena was a pain in the ass most of the time but I was a prominent Deena defender because during her first appearance on the show, she described herself to the cast as a “walking holiday” and a “blast in a glass” which I never forgot and never stopped laughing about. To this day.
As I said before, four of the show’s seasons (season 1, 3, 5, and 6) were filmed in Seaside Heights with the crew living at Danny’s house and working at the Shore Store. The second season was filmed on South Beach, with the crew living in this giant 12 bedroom mansion on Pine Tree Drive and working at Lecca Lecca (a gelato place) on Collins Avenue. And the fourth season (arguably the best season for just ridiculous Italian-American stuff) was filmed in Florence, Italy with them living in a large ass apartment just steps away from the Piazza Del Duomo and working at a pizza place, of course, called Pizzeria O’Vesuvio.
I can’t stress this enough that this show was truly about nothing but their summer lives. That’s it. Maybe that makes it sound less appealing but I assure watching 20-something year old guidos and guidettes living their lives in the mid-aughts was entertaining as fuck.
A lot of shit went down in these seasons. A lot. But I don’t want to jump to the highlights just yet.
Part 3: We Need To Talk About Some Italian-American Stuff
Even though I get more shit for being Italian-American than I do for being a faggot, I am bravely traversing these waters to give everyone a better understanding of just what the hell was going on with the cast of Jersey Shore.
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t give a shit if people make fun of Italians or Italian-Americans. We’re white and we’re ridiculous and to some extent, we deserve it. But I do think something people need to understand about Italian-Americans is that our journey towards acceptance in this country hasn’t been easy. I’m not even sure if I would say we're “fully accepted.” Mostly, I would say our whiteness protects us and gives us a lot of power and as we all know, whiteness is more powerful than anything else in the U.S. and since we can hide behind it, it’s become easy for Italian-Americans to assimilate so deeply into American culture that they forget they were once not welcome here. I think it’s interesting that people THINK they know a lot about Italian-American culture because they watched The Godfather and The Sopranos and Jersey Shore or have been to Little Italy in NYC or whatever. Y’all know our food and our mannerisms and some of the details about our existence here in the U.S. and assume that is what we are. And to some degree it is who we are.
This is not an episode about the mafia so I won’t get too deep into it but the mafia was and is a very real thing. A thing started and maintained out of the necessity to survive and take some power back. I, once again, don’t have the time to talk about Italian politics and the eventual unification of Italy and fascism in Italy fully in this episode but suffice it to say that prior to the 19th century, there was a big income and class divide between northern and southern Italy and the mafia was a response to that. It became equally important to Southern Italian immigrants in the U.S. because as soon as they got over here, white Americans treated them like absolute garbage. Anti-immigrant sentiment was common, accepted, and excused here in the 19th and 20th centuries (and still is!), so anyone coming here was seen as a threat to the “American way of life”. Italians weren’t allowed to apply for jobs or for housing, they were often discriminated against based on the color of their skin or the texture of their hair, and were even oppressed in more severe ways through gang violence against them. SOME of them responded to that by turning to organized crime, and then that response was demonized and caricatured for the next century by broader American culture.
Eventually, we know that Italian-Americans traded their otherness for whiteness the minute they were able to. (Actually, this is very closely related to why many Italian-Americans are so insistent that Columbus Day stay a holiday here.) They assimilated quickly, especially to the supremacy part of it all, but Italian-Americans, like my own family, have always kind of existed on the fringes of whiteness and there has mostly been a singular vision of who we are and what we do because of the stereotypical representations of our lives.
Enter Jersey Shore. I can almost guarantee that most people outside of Eastern seaboard Italian American culture had no idea what a guido or guidette was before 2009. Of course, guidos and guidettes are overblown caricatures in the same way the mafioso is but they’re also a very real subculture of Italian-Americans. The guido and guidette caricature was created by young people trying to stake their claim in a culture that was seemingly being defined for them by people who were not like them. It was an attempt to create something outside of what people expected. In Donald Tricarico’s paper titled “Guido: An Italian American Youth Style,” he writes, “Guido neither embraces traditional Italian culture nor repudiates ethnicity in identifying with American culture. Rather, it reconciles ethnic Italian ancestry with popular American culture by elaborating a youth style that is an interplay of ethnicity and youth cultural meanings.” What does this mean? It means simply that guidos and guidettes have taken some of the cultural characteristics of Italian-Americans — strict gender roles, macho man behavior, loudness, etc. — and amped them the fuck up because that’s what American culture does…it makes everything seem bigger than it is. It’s a performance of all our worst cultural traits with a fake orange tan and a musclehead exterior. That’s what MTV was looking for when they were casting Jersey Shore — people who exemplified this kind of lifestyle and that’s exactly what they found.
Sara Troyani writes in her piece ““Guido” Culture: The Destabilization of Italian-American Identity on Jersey Shore”: “what distinguishes the depiction of Italian-American identity on Jersey Shore and merits further consideration are the ways in which its stereotyping of Italian Americans may assume a didactic function and support the idea of a more fluid and dynamic Italian-American culture. Jersey Shore disrupts the notion of a unitary and stable Italian-American culture by illustrating that the Italian American identity of the cast is not fixed or established, but rather, resembling the late-capitalist youth identities discussed by Rattansi and Phoenix, “always in process, always in a relative state of formation.”” So while the Jersey Shore cast was mostly made up of cast members who had varying levels of Italian ancestry (and one who wasn’t Italian at all), it provided a necessary break in that singular vision I mentioned before, and actually provided a deeper look at the identity politics and differences that make up an ethnic/cultural group. What’s even more fascinating about it is that it was distinctly YOUTH-LED and maintained. When you think about it like that, you can view it the same way we view other youth-created and dominated subcultures: a way to exist and make sense of a fractured and broken society that wants us all to perform a specific function when we really don’t want to.
Part 4: Best Jersey Shore Moments and Quotes
It feels almost impossible to make a list of the best moments because I honestly don’t think there is a single dud episode in any of the six seasons. They all have SOMETHING that is hilarious or ridiculous or embarrassing and they’re all worth watching. But I’ve made a top ten list of moments here, brother, and we can talk about them all a little bit.
10. Nearly every “Ron Stahp” moment — “Ron Stahp” was like THE Jersey Shore line for most of the 6 seasons. It’s what Sammi would say every time they got in a fight and Ronnie started becoming a lunatic. I will say that the worst Ronnie and Sammi moment for me was when Ronnie threw all her shit out on the patio and they were just yelling obscenities at one another and the rest of the cast is just like clueless on what to do. This isn’t funny because of Ronnie and Sammi, it’s funny because everyone else was acting dumb about it.
9. Sorry, this is going to Ronnie again — the famous “That’s one shot, kid” moment where he punched a guy out with one punch and then got arrested for it.
8. So the actual writing of the infamous Jersey Shore note is definitely higher up on my list, but the moment where Jwoww and Sammi beat the shit out of each other over it is going here. These two are just hitting each other with the boys trying to break them up and Sammi delivers the line: “Don’t ever fucking hit me again. I don’t fuck around.” And it’s like…sweety, she was trying to tell you your boyfriend is an asshole!!
7. The Atlantic City episode. This is just an insane episode of reality television. The TONE is all over the place. There’s like confrontations happening between the cast members, there’s cast members confessing shit about their lives to one another (like Snooki telling other cast members she used to have an eating disorder), Mike is trying to fuck with everyone for no reason…it’s chaos. And they make complete fools of themselves in various places in Atlantic City.
6. This is not a GOOD thing, but it is a wild thing. In season 1, Snooki gets punched by this random ass Seaside dude because she was trying to stand up for her friends and cast members at the club (the random dude was stealing their drinks). Initially, some of the cast is like…not very attentive to Snooki because they’re drunk and shit but then the next day especially, people really rally around Snooki and it kind of brings them closer together. I don’t know…you can see friendships being solidified in this episode and I think that’s kind of cool.
5. Jwoww and Pauly D hook up. There’s not a lot to say about this, it’s just a fucking ridiculous moment because there’s cameras in the room so we get to hear what they’re saying to one another and they both drop bangers. First, Pauly D says, “the party’s in Pauly D’s pants tonight” and then a little later, Jwoww says, “You have your penis pierced. I love it.”
4. Mike rams his head into a wall during a fight and then has to wear a neck brace for a while because him and Ronnie get in a fight. Mostly, the fight is about how everyone is sick and tired of Ronnie and Sammi’s shit but for some reason, Mike freaks the fuck out and then knocks himself out.
3. The Gym, Tan, Laundry episode. Come on! It’s a classic! These fuckin’ idiots…
2. Snooki gets arrested for public intoxication but before that she’s running on the boardwalk on the beach yelling “where’s the beach?” as if it’s not directly right next to her. Then she resists arrest!!
The NOTE. It sucks that this is the most obvious answer but it’s just so good. Trying to be good friends, Snooki and Jwoww write a note for Sammi describing some of Ronnie’s very non-boyfriend-like behaviors the night before. They go to an internet cafe to do it because they have no computer at the house and don’t want her to be able to suspect their handwriting. The note says:
Just incredible writing right there.
Best Quotes in no particular order:
“Cab are HERE” obviously
“It’s T-Shirt Time”
Deena’s best line: “People should go to school at the bar”
"Hurricane Situation is headed for Snooki Island"
Iconic Jwoww line: “'You can stay and get your a** beat or you can stay and get your f*cking a** beat'”
Pauly D: “If that b*tch still plays laser tag, she's too young for you, bro.”
Pauly D: “You gotta stay 'fresh to death,' I call it. Fresh outfit, fresh haircut, fresh tan. Just stay fresh.”
Sammi: “If you’re not a guido, you can get the fuck out of my face”
Vinny: “You never really see me acting a fool on TV.”
Snooki: “I'm trying to build an empire, because after this, I cannot get a normal job.”
Snooki: “Is there a moon in this country?”
Sammi: “I yanked some bitch's hair for you.”
Part 5: Cultural Relevance
Well, Jersey Shore’s influence is ongoing. The cast still has shows on MTV and they still have huge followings. Nationally and internationally, the Jersey Shore phenomenon sparked the creation of other “Shore” shows. In the U.S., there was Floribama Shore, which is filmed in the Florida panhandle. In Canada, there was Lake Shore, which was filmed in Toronto, Ontario. And in Europe, there’s Geordie Shore, filmed in Newcastle, England, and Warsaw Shore, obviously filmed in Warsaw, Poland.
In just cultural relevance, I think Jersey Shore’s cultural relevance is similar to that of The Jerry Springer Show’s. If you’ll remember, in the aughts and even now, most reality television was and is dominated by the rich and powerful. Before Jersey Shore, on MTV alone, you had Laguna Beach and The Hills, two shows that were centered around the lives of super-rich, upper class young people who had nothing but time and money at their disposal. All the cast members on Jersey Shore came from working and middle class backgrounds with specific ethnic and community ties. It wasn’t a look at how the majority of the rest of America lived but it also kind of was. Where all of these shows were giving audiences a glimpse into glamorous excess, Jersey Shore offered something different. It offered a look at what it was like to be 20-something, unsure of what you want to do, and unsure of how to get it. In a lot of ways, the Jersey Shore cast was just like us: they were working and middle class kids who were inheriting a post-recession America, a place where they wouldn’t be able to get all the things they wanted unless they…did something like go on Jersey Shore.
In article written on Jersey Shore in 2010 by Dana Vachon called “Poof! The Hills defined the boom; Jersey Shore, the bust,” Vachon writes about Jersey Shore in juxtaposition to The Hills, essentially defending it for some of the same reasons I mentioned before. He writes,
“American television has long stood in for American education. TV “shows” us how to live, how to survive in an office and a family, how to train our dogs and cook our food. How to successfully date, marry, and disarm nuclear devices. Cultural Gospel holds that Jersey Shore became a hit as a triumph of vulgarity. This is wrong. Jersey Shore’s success has rather to do with the offering of lessons in remedial humanity and is best understood in juxtaposition to [The Hills]. [...] We were watching Jersey Shore, filled with the sort of people we’d deny ever knowing pre-Bernie Madoff (lifeworn bikini models, drivers of Clinton-era Hondas, Ronnie Magro) but couldn’t get enough of post-.The cast, having apparently sat out the prosperity, were powerfully able to show the rest of us how to go on living now that it was over. Critics called them shallow, vain, depraved. They were all these things. But it was their miraculously intact humanity that most affected us; “I am the Kim Kardashian of Staten Island, baby,” said Angelina Pivarnick, carrying trashbags as luggage, demonstrating self-esteem divorced from wealth; “I can never go out without my hair extensions,” said Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola, the show’s great beauty, camera close on said hair-extensions, subverting the very artifice of glamour on which The Hills existed. She was adolescent, needy, took forever to get ready. And for all of his Neanderthalisms, he experienced sex with Sammi not as some air-brushed cliché pushed from the offices of Teen Vogue or Vivid Video but an awesome human wonder to be met with childlike awe. “Yeah,” he said of their consummation. “We smooshed.” Beneath their tans and gel, the cast of Jersey Shore showed us how to be good to ourselves and one another. Mainly they fought for, not with each other; “We stood together as a family,” reflected DJ Pauly D in the finale, invoking civilization’s very core. And in watching we recovered something of the past. We left the wreckage of the false and paranoid era and like stroke victims relearned to be alive on the planet.”
Maybe this is why my friends and I liked it so much. These people weren’t that different from us when it really came down to it. They just handled being the heirs to a crumbling world way differently than we did. And that was interesting to us.