I’m not a person who proudly professes ignorance of a younger generation’s cultural personalities. You run a pop-culture site, and it pays to at least have a passing familiarity with the celebrities (or “reality celebrities”) and the shows that dominate the conversation in certain generational circles. You should at least indulge in something before you pass judgment. So, I’m not going to crack out the proudly obstinate geriatic punchline to the joke no one asked for, namely: “What’s a Snooki?” I know what a Snooki is. It’s the fourth horseman of the apocalypse disguised as a chattering orange traffic cone.
I get the appeal of “Jersey Shore.” I really do. Back in my day (*shoots self*), we had a guy named Puck on “The Real World.” He was an asshole. An obnoxious, overbearing, attention-seeking, reality-show fame whore. And as I recall, he’s the only thing I remember about “Real World: San Francisco.” That may have been one of the last “Real World” cycles I watched before I decided to actually live in the real world, but it seems to me — in the glimpses of MTV reality television I catch now and again — that Puck became something of the prototype for the future of that network. I think Puck would probably seem tame by today’s standards, but it’s clear that — over the years — MTV’s casting one-up-manship has evolved from having one Puck in a reality-show household to nothing but Pucks. And when the “Real World” house could no longer contain that much Puck, they traveled to Jersey, they found the vapid, muscle-bound, overly-bronzed, instant-gratification obsessed Italian-American versions of Puck, and they stocked a new house full of them. The result is “Jersey Shore.”
I’d like very much to give the younger generation the benefit of the doubt where it concerns “Jersey Shore,” and the ratings that the show produces (It’s second-season debut was watched by 5.3 million people, compared to the 2.9 million that watched the third-season debut of “Mad Men.”) I want to believe that the majority of those who tune in each week to “Jersey Shore,” watch it ironically. That no one actually has any respect for the cast members; that everyone who watches realizes these people are a joke, subhuman troglodytic “Guido” stereotypes come to life (a brief search over on Twitter, unfortunately, doesn’t exactly inspire hope). I watched “The Real World,” and I watched “Beavis and Butthead,” and “Remote Control” and “Daria” and I managed to hang on to three or four brain cells and not turn into a homicidal psychopath. And while we may blame the younger generation for the show’s popularity, surely we must know that the real blame falls on those of my generation, who are responsible for creating this shit. It’s all part of a cultural de-evolution cycle.
In the episode I submitted myself to — the second-season opener — “Jersey Shore” also demonstrates more than almost any other show I’ve ever seen the true Idiocracization of our culture. The cast members — each of whom has an imbecilic pet name, like “Snooki” or “The Situation” — are like something out of a “MADtv” sketch comedy about Italian Americans. They drink; they “creep”; they fuck; and they talk shit about each other behind one another’s backs, and the terrible cruel irony is that they all like to talk about how “dumb” or “brainless” the other members of the household are, which is kind of like Forrest Gump mocking Lennie Small. They’re animals, given shots of Jägermeister, and left out in the wild to hump until somebody gets stuck together and the water hose has to be retrieved.
But that’s funny, right? Ironic funny? Because I’d really like to believe that, when Snooki claims that Obama raised the taxes on tanning because he doesn’t need it that people are laughing at that, and not shaking their head in empathy. And that, when she claims that eating a fried pickle was a life-changing experience, the 5.3 million people watching it snorted derisively instead of running out to experience fried pickles. That she would make fun of Southern stereotypes is the height of irony, right? And the people who watch “Jersey Shore,” understand irony beyond the Alannis Morisette song they hear on classic fucking radio. Right? “I feel like a pilgrim from the 20s,” she says when forced to hand-wash a pair of shorts. And I know that the target audience understands that she says that because she’s both entitled and dumb, right?
Because I really want to give the benefit of the doubt. I do. I don’t want to believe that anyone watches “Jersey Shore” in earnestness. That tweets like, “Whoever think that girl Snooki look good is trippn that’s an ugly lil troll boy,I like watchn theses Jersey Shore fist pumpn fruit cakes lol” or “Layin here on the kouch, fan blastin, watchin Jersey Shore, wit “Fatty” layin on top of me knocked the fuck out! She so pretty tho :) ilher” are themselves a second level of meta-irony, self-reflexively commenting on the fatuousness of this television program via witty-sarcastic 140 character messages that Jonathan Swift would be proud of (“Such efficient satire!”) That they’re all just falling down the Inception rabbit hole, like increasingly grotesque matryoshka dolls caricaturing the the figure outside of it.
Because my terrible fear is that that’s not quite the case, that it’s not a dream, and that we’re going to continue opening up one nesting doll after another, until there’s only one remaining. And that final babushka will look like Snooki.
God help us all.