House of the Rising Sun Lamp: Jersey Shore UNCENSORED: Season One

The youth whom I was concerned for regarding this program are not the network’s audience, as I thought, but its stars. Most seem aware that there is a direct relationship between outrageous behavior and screen time.

“Are you dying to be social / is this how you hang out?

Smokin’ and drinkin’ and coming home stinkin’…

Waking up drunk feeling that you are stuck

In a rut that will never be filled

The truth of the matter / it even gets sadder

And someday it definitely will.”

-- The Singing Mechanic, “Dying to Be Social”

Jersey Shore is a docusoap/reality series from MTV that dresses up the network’s Real World format with crude emphases on ethnic (mostly Italian) stereotypes and an excess of bad behavior. On the show, eight individuals in their 20s live and work -- but mostly party -- together during the summer in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. There is no denying the show’s impact on the American media and popular culture, as the series, its cast and controversies have been covered by NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and featured on countless websites and several product tie-ins. The first season of the show, which was shot in August 2009 and aired the following winter, was a monster hit that caught the attention of a larger segment of the population than most MTV programs and set ratings records for the cable network.

How to explain the popularity of such a program? On one hand, the show seems to be part of a New Jersey-themed television trend, joined by The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Jerseylicious, Jersey Couture, and Cake Boss -- certainly a different caliber than their high-achieving godfather The Sopranos. Perhaps it's Jersey Shore’s vacation conceit which allows viewers to fully embrace the escapist nature of the program. When viewed in this way, the show is not so much a “guilty” pleasure as an “earned” one. Arriving on DVD less than a year after going into production, Jersey Shore UNCENSORED: Season One is timed to excite loyal viewers and generate new ones for the second season, which is just beginning to air.

DVD: Jersey Shore UNCENSORED: Season One

TV Show: Jersey Shore

Director: Brad Kreisberg

Cast: Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Paul "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio, Jenni "JWoww" Farley

Year: 2010

Rated: N/A

Release Date: 2010-07-20

Distributor: Paramount

Image: to watching Jersey Shore for the first time on this DVD set, I only knew the series through the incessant news coverage it received over the past year. The show’s characters lacked context. They always seemed to be performing. One of them appeared to me in an inescapable Baskin-Robbins pop-up advertisement. Yet to watch the entire first season in a commercial-free, largely uncensored format is to experience certain kinds of media and cultural shifts that involve role playing, insecurity, and the modern state of masculinity and femininity.

I suspected that MTV had, over the years, decided to deliver raunchier content to an increasingly younger viewership. That dissonance is disturbing, but thinking about its moral consequences in an abstract manner is entirely different from experiencing them more or less directly. In other words, before watching Jersey Shore, I was somewhat concerned about the effect of MTV on the priorities and values of its impressionable audience. After sitting through hours of the series, it occurs to me that the youth about whom I was concerned are no longer the network’s audience, but instead its stars. Most of them seem to be aware that there is a direct relationship between outrageous behavior and screen time.

The cast of Jersey Shore consists of Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola, Paul "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio, Jenni "JWoww" Farley, Vinny Guadagnino, and briefly, Angelina "Jolie" Pivarnick. Almost all of them are foulmouthed, cartoonishly tanned, and garishly dressed and made-up. There is no doubt that most of them were cast into specific roles -- versions of themselves that were attractive to a calculating, savvy staff at MTV. I suppose the application of nicknames such as “The Situation”, “Snooki”, etc., helps to inoculate against their actual selves being exposed too deeply. However, the insistence on characterization and performance are unfortunate, since the show is only truly fascinating when the actual accidentally rises to the surface from beneath the artificial.

Jersey Shore is indeed worth watching, mostly for its tensions and contradictions. There's a rather obvious disparity between the scale of the series and the dramatic stakes it tries to create. To the network’s credit, MTV does not attempt to hide the fact that the entire series covers only one month in these characters’ lives. Yet the show loses credibility when that straightforwardness about the length of production is combined with the way the characters are asked to talk about their relationships.

In “confessional” addresses directly to the camera and in conversation amongst themselves, they apply overly emotional language about falling in love and the strength and intensity of their bonds with one another. For example, the love story arc between “The Situation” and “Sweetheart” occurs entirely within the first two days they know each other (a fact that they repeatedly acknowledge), yet throughout the series their past relationship is presented as meaningful and consequential, providing much of the conflict between “The Situation” and Ronnie, who eventually “falls in love” with “Sweetheart”.

Another interesting tension within the series is the clash between traditional family/“Italian” values and the excessive behavior of the characters. These nods to tradition are fleeting, such as the saying of grace before meals and the display of strong bonds with parents and siblings during family visits. Yet the hint of a wholesome foundation does not carry over into their nightly, debauched visits to a club called Karma. There's no small degree of irony in the name of this featured setting, as the show is almost exclusively devoted to the chronicling of bad decisions by characters who consistently underestimate negative consequences.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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