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A Docusoap, of Sorts

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A more constant contradiction of such values in the show is in the way the men treat women. Although mothers and sisters are idealized, most other women receive no respect. All of the men on the show proudly “creep” down the boardwalk looking for girls to “smoosh”. “The Situation”, who insufferably shows off his abdominal muscles by lifting his shirt, states clearly that he expects women to obey him and cater to what he wants, when he wants it. He calls “JWoww” a “whore” and “trash”. He insinuates that “Snooki” is fat. Throughout all of this, he declares his supremacy as a ladies’ man.

At no point, however, is it evident that he understands a single thing about women. Beyond making out in the hot tub with a rotating series of featured extras/girls from the boardwalk, “The Situation” is patently unsuccessful at “scoring” with women. No matter how many times the show tries to position him as an irresistible lothario, the impression he leaves is that of an intensely desperate and insecure man.

Of the ladies, “Sweetheart” seems to exhibit a similar sort of insecurity, although she exercises it within a “serious” relationship with Ronnie rather than random “hook-ups”. “Sweetheart” expects Ronnie to be unhealthily devoted to her, to the point that he is not allowed to talk with other females when they are at a dance club, yet she reciprocates no such exclusive devotion to him.

With only a couple of exceptions competition, anxiety and insecurity are the foremost impulses and emotions of Jersey Shore. Beyond the brazen double standards of “The Situation” and “Sweetheart”, there are characters such as “Snooki”, the show’s breakout star, who admits she needs to be the center of attention. She is a sympathetic character largely because she is honest about her need to be loved and difficulty finding acceptance. She deeply regrets her drunken behavior on the first night in the house.

Later, after a drunken lout punches her in a bar, she says that her roommates’ rallying convinces her that they love her. Distressingly, she seems grateful for the act of violence that resulted in this reassuring emotional reaction from her fellow cast members.

Finally, although the series spends an inordinate amount of time building up romantic and/or sexual relationships that are ultimately meaningless and go nowhere dramatically, the show does (perhaps unintentionally) reveal something significant about the evolution of gender roles, even if the cast isn’t entirely emblematic of youth culture. By far, the most eye-opening aspect of the series is its almost total renegotiation of masculinity. “The Situation”, “DJ Pauly D”, Ronnie, and (to a lesser extent) Vinny bond by tanning together, getting their hair done together, dancing to house music together, and discussing fashion and makeup tips together. That they are supposedly doing all of this in service of finding female companions is surprising to say the least.

On the other hand, “Snooki” and “JWoww” are just as content to “creep” the boardwalk side by side, objectifying “juiceheads” (their chosen, steroid-fueled masculine type) with far more confidence and certainty than their male counterparts. “JWoww” is, for me, the most interesting cast member, in part because she stays away from the camera and interviews for long periods of time. Although she parties hard like everyone else on the show, she also stands out as more intelligent and self-possessed. She says she’s in control, and I believe her.

Jersey Shore UNCENSORED: Season One presents all nine episodes of the season and a generous set of special features, including commentaries, deleted scenes, a program called Before the Shore that tries to reinforce the cast members as being authentic “Guidos” and “Guidettes”, and a humorous makeover segment with Michael Cera made during the promotion of his film Youth in Revolt.

Also included is an ineptly edited, terribly acted reunion special that aired on MTV. The style of the special, and its manipulation of events and characters, pushes these eight individuals well beyond their status as real people selected to play themselves in a docusoap and into the realm of fiction. In doing so, MTV appears to consciously remove all traces of actuality. This is a shame, since the first season is at its best when reality intrudes on the contrived situation.

Associate Professor of Film and Video Studies at George Mason University.

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