Thursday, February 04, 2010

Jersey Shore?

I’ve been asked more frequently than I would expect about the reality TV show that’s going into a second season, “Jersey Shore”. People ask me about it because—follow me closely here—I’m from New Jersey. Unlike the entire cast of the show, except for one person.

I have to confess that I’ve never seen Jersey Shore. The clips and descriptions I’ve seen of the show thus far would probably give me acid-like flashbacks to my teenage years at the Seaside Heights boardwalk. These would be decidedly unpleasant flashbacks. From what I can see, the so-called “guido/guidette” culture has only changed in the sense that the girls now have flat hair. Just add the “Heat Miser” look, and you could have had this show in 1985.

Seaside Heights itself has always been a bit of a sleaze pit, even though families frequently bring their kids to the boardwalk there to play games and go on the rides. We went there almost every summer when I was a kid. We didn’t stay in Seaside Heights—we stayed in nearby Lavallette—but at least one or two nights during the vacation week were spent at Seaside. The whole guido/guidette culture sprung up sometime in the mid-Eighties; before that, the boardwalk was populated by young men who looked like they were trying out for the Charles Manson lookalike contest. Whether the later development is an improvement or not is debatable.

Let’s talk for a minute about that culture. Apparently there are many Italian Americans who are irate over the rather non-PC term “guido”, annoyed not only at the term, but at the people associated with it. It’s hard to blame them. I’ve seen Italian men and women from Italy, and they are usually so outrageously attractive, there should be an international law against being allowed to be that attractive. The “guido/guidette” look is not attractive. It involves bad hair, fake orange tans, too much gold jewelry, ridiculous clothes, and day-glo nails for the ladies. The personalities and attitudes of “guidos” tends to be more in line with the commonly held notion of “douchebags”. It’s a very chauvinistic attitude.

I think I’m more surprised that Italian Americans are now irate about the whole “guido” idea. It’s not like it’s exactly a new thing—it’s been around for at least 25 years. And—many “guidos” are not even Italian. Asking a show to be taken off the air for the stereotype—well, like anything forbidden, that will likely only create more demand. Personally, I’m more annoyed that this is a look and attitude associated with New Jersey. NEW JERSEY PEOPLE DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS. There are some areas and towns where this look is popular, but it’s hardly a Jersey-only phenomenon. Similarly, people tend to think of New Jersey as a toxic waste dump, based on their experience of landing in Newark Airport. NEWARK IS ALSO NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF NEW JERSEY. (Also, Newark Airport is not representative of Newark.) In fact, the industria of East Jersey is hardly representative of the state as a whole. It may surprise you to know that most of the state is farmland and forests. I live out in the Northwest, and I get to see cows, goats, and horses on my commute to work. New Jersey becomes more industrial as it approaches both New York City and Philadelphia, and the north and central parts of the state are very suburban, as they are popular places to live within commuting distance of the city.

But Seaside Heights is not all “guido”, either, though that does seem to be a popular hangout for that crowd. There is an equally large goth population, biker population, and...just average families. Even in recent years I’ve been down to visit Seaside Heights, but usually during the day; the night life is more than I can stomach. Of course, now that this show is so popular, I’m betting that there will be many more tourists to Seaside Heights. While this is good for local business there, it’s not very good for me—I don’t find those kinds of crowds enjoyable. I think I’m going to start visiting Cape May instead.

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