Jersey Shore

I grew up in a majority Italian-American community (we Jews were a somewhat distant second). Italians were so prevalent, I didn't even really recognize them as a distinct ethnic group. Names like Romano and Scala were, to me, like Smith and Jones.

So it was a total surprise to me, on becoming an adult and on gaining an New Jersey Italian husband (who did spend summers "down the shore") and gaining an Italian name and moving out of a majority Italian area, just how much trafficking in silly stereotypes about Italians there is. (Almost none of which, incidentally, apply to my husband. Trying to picture him as boisterous and boomingly affectionate, or full of joie de vivre and love of simple pleasures, or gelling his hair and buffing his Camaro, or uneducated, or blowing his stack every two minutes, or connected to organized crime in some way, is a rather a challenge to the imagination. He is, however, a very good cook.)

Not only is this silly stereotyping common, it's thought to be innocuous. People say things to Italians about Italians that they would NEVER say to a Jew about Jews.

Which brings me to the show Jersey Shore. The whole point of the show is to follow some twenty-somethings around and laugh at them as the fit every negative Italian-American stereotype. They are deliberately choosing people and moments that suit that very purpose and editing it together. I frankly can't imagine a reality show about Jews whose very point was to deliberately showcase, say, pushiness or graspingness. Or a reality show about blacks which sought to hold up examples of every white's worst stereotype.

Italian-Americans have protested, mostly about the use of the word "guido" (which I think is a non-issue, but that's beside the point). But I've read plenty of people who think that because the Italian-Americans depicted are allowing themselves to be filmed, this is all okay. It's just a depiction of "reality." Case in point. The author, apparently at least 1/4 Italian herself, says:
This isn't "The Sopranos," where a screenwriter and a director sat down and decided they wanted to portray Italian-Americans as marauding morons who pray to the holy trinity of spaghetti, strippers and silencers...We Italian-Americans ought to be thanking the network for shining a spotlight on a small but real subset of the culture. One that we should recoil from - and raise our kids to be nothing like.
Actually, I think this is much worse than the Sopranos, which is my favorite TV show of all time. That show was complex and nuanced and psychologically rich. Jersey Shore is, to put it mildly, not.

Just because Italians agree to let themselves be filmed this way seems an odd sort of imprimatur of ethnic sensitivity, as if the presence of Stepin Fetchit made his depictions not racist.

I don't want to be a humorless but-won't-anyone-think-of-the-children type. But can anyone tell me why this should be different from other ethnic depictions?


  1. While I cannot confirm that your husband is a very good cook, in that I do not think he's ever actually cooked for me, I can at least vouch for his excellent skills as a sous chef.

    And I totally blame him for that horse head I found in my bed that one time.

  2. The funny thing is all of my Italian-American friends from Jersey watch this show and think it is hilarious. I've never seen it so I have no idea.
    I think you are kind of missing the point why it is so popular with NJ Italians, they all know people who are just like this and find it funny. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood as well, and have Italian cousins, lived in Bergen county for years and spent my summers at the Jersey shore.
    A little know secret is that people who live in Jersey think Jersey is hilarious. We love to mock and bust on each other.

    OK, I am sure the show is garbage but it isn't offensive in the way you think.

    by the way, I lived in North Caldwell where Tony Sopranos house was, the opening shot up the hill there is the hill outside of my old apartment (and yes, there are a few apartments in North Caldwell)


  3. Charo, my husband's from Maplewood. And, for the record, couldn't care less about the show. So I'll regroup and rethink!

  4. > People say things to Italians about Italians
    > that they would NEVER say to a Jew about
    > Jews.

    > The funny thing is all of my Italian-American
    > friends from Jersey watch this show and
    > think it is hilarious.

    Slight tangent: I've never met a person of Irish descent who has been particularly offended by Notre Dame's "The Fighting Irish", or looked askance at people who think they can drink a lot.

    The Irish- & Italian-Americans seem to have more of a tradition of thumbing their stereotypes back at the larger culture by embracing the ridiculousness of it than by claiming offense.