In the Terminator franchise, the moment in time that the hero seeks to undo is the moment that Skynet becomes “self aware”, when technology suddenly makes the leap into having a consciousness of its subservience to mankind and decides to stage a slave rebellion. I fear that my television fun will soon be ruined as Snooki 2.0 suddenly learns words like “cache” and avoids the burnt umber spray tan setting, opting instead for something that looks like it could actually be produced by exposure to sunlight. We are reaching the terrifying moment where Jersey Shore understands itself.
It’s true that, as the New Yorker notes, the pleasure derived from Jersey Shore is tainted with anthropological condescension, but that seems far more sensible to me that ironic adulation. Of course, we want to part the bushes and peer into the world of “Guidos and Guidettes” who string one clubbing night to another, skirmish in violent turf wars, and wring dramatic tensions from hooking up. Honestly, at their age, I can’t say that I did much more than go to concerts and classes, do harder drugs, and have casual sex, the only difference being that I had a reading list.
Frankly, I’m glad that Pauly D doesn’t talk about Foucault and listen to the Fall. These kids are brash, directionless thrill seekers. Most people in their 20s are mistake factories, prone to perpetually misread the significance of life events, their place in the cosmos, and the stability and veracity of their choices and feelings. (Whereas people in their 30s understand that they are repeating the mistakes of their 20s.) The Jersey Shore kids simply represent a very specific subgenre of a more general category: partiers.
TMZ has chronicled the Jersey Shore cast as they negotiate for more Season Two cash, beat the beat at swank parties, and do parodies of themselves where they reveal, Warner-brother’s frog style, that beneath the blackouts and seductive hot tubbing, lies untold intellect and angst. These parodies only highlight the cruelty and compromised position of the viewer by making objects of derision act like it’s all fun and games, though secretly we know that the cast really believe that they are in possession of some unquantifiable “star power” remainder after the punchline. “Fame, fame, fickle fame. It can play hideous tricks on the brain.”
If the Jersey Shore crew develop critical distance from their personalities, they will be merely bad actors in poorly written roles. That distance is what makes Keeping up with the Kardashians so awful and Jersey Shore comparatively brisk, rowdy and natural. The Kardashians stage their lives on camera with the clear hope that colonoscopic exposure will at some point randomly produce shameless revenue streams. They are opportunistic practitioners of Fame first, reason for fame forthcoming (or not). Whereas the Jersey Shore cast became phenomena by accident; the Kardashians are accidents of a very dull phenomena. (see also Tinsley Mortimer, Julia Allison, etc.)
It’s no surprise that once these reality shows become job interviews for the participants, they quickly become hard work to watch. Once “the Situation” can see that we’re laughing at his insecurity and the passively homoerotic competitiveness of his body regimen, he performs “the Situation” to be archly in on the joke. The fact that he recent judged the abdominals of other men in a Florida nightclub to determine whose were the most “situationed” pole vaults directly over funny and into that awkward marketing space occupied by Subway’s Jared and the manically peppy Progressive insurance lady. Some cultural appearances work best as spent fuel.
Even recent wardrobe changes (dressed in sleek, pricey black) as the Jersey Shore crew invaded Los Angeles (itself a sure sign that the thrill is gone), indicate their willingness to up market what was once defiantly down scale. The Jersey Shore crew was funny to watch precisely because they were clueless, immature, completely inoculated from the cosmopolitan virtues and cutting edge knowing of that certain city only a few miles north. They were the Garbage Pail Kids of reality television and very soon I fear I will miss loving to hate them. Some things should never be “meta” and stupid youth is surely one of them.