I know I should feel a deep sense of shame, but I don’t. I haven’t watched MTV in years. None of their self-celebratory awards shows tempted me even a little, and the rest of their “reality” programming made me wonder what I’d ever seen in the network in the first place.
But then came Jersey Shore. I figured anything that got so many people so upset had to be worth checking out. Within the first 15 minutes of the first episode, I was hooked.
See, I’d spent some of my formative years on the Jersey Shore, visiting my grandparents’ weekend home when I was a kid, and spending a week there for two straight summers with high school friends. Maybe we were too wrapped up in being skate punks looking for girls at the time, but the stuff that went on at the Jersey Shore on MTV didn’t seem at all familiar to me. I’d like to pretend it was this societal disparity that caused me to continue tuning in, but the truth is much less savory.
See, I wasn’t tuning in because I was looking for a sense of familiarity (or unfamiliarity) at all. I became a Jersey Shore junkie because it was such a glorious train wreck. I was won over by the Situation’s charisma, by Vinnie’s inability to recognize that women’s liberation was an actual thing that actually happened. I couldn’t look away as J-Woww and Ronnie hurtled toward psychotic oblivion in some unspoken competition to see who would commit the most egregious act of sudden, frightening rage. I watched to try and perfect my own version of Sammi Sweetheart’s irritating whine and Snookie’s ham-fisted botching of the English language, or her fellow cast mates’ comical inability to get her nickname right. I couldn’t look away from Pauly D’s magnificent blowout.
MTV knew they had something special on their hands, even as some advertisers kowtowed to public outrage and pulled the plug. The network piled on the programming, doubling up some episodes in an effort to capture the heat while it was still there. Because they knew what it took me slightly longer to figure out: Sooner or later, everyone needs to leave the Jersey Shore.
I was there through every single moment, through the appearances on the Jay Leno Show and in every magazine from Us Weekly to The New Yorker. I watched in delight as three members of the cast ridiculed their own carefully crafted image on Funny or Die (though I wisely managed to avoid the vast majority of the fan made Jersey Shore-themed videos) I was there right up through the phony platitudes at the end of the final phony episode of the show.
But I finally hit my limit. It wasn’t hearing about the absurd amounts of money Pauly D and the Situation were getting to show up at clubs. It wasn’t seeing Snookie staring out at me from the back page of a Korean-language newspaper while I rode the G train back to Brooklyn. Somehow, I was immune to hype overload as I’d never been before.
No, what cured me of my Jersey Shore fixation was the Reunion Show. More specifically, what cured me was the first few minutes of the reunion show, a seemingly innocuous bit of trash-talking not unlike that which I’d seen unfold countless times. Only this time, when the Situation and Ronnie sniped at one another (with Sammie Sweetheart joining in), I wasn’t entertained at all. In fact, I agreed with them. I felt a wave of nausea crash down upon me as I realized the Situation really was kind of a loudmouthed jerk, and that Ronnie really didn’t have a personality to speak of. And as swiftly as a fist-pump on the dance floor, I was cured.
I don’t look back on my time with the Jersey Shore with regret. We had a good time together, not selling t-shirts and not behaving like responsible members of a society. But summer’s over now, and I’m ready to move on.
At least until the uncensored Season One DVD arrives next month.