Jersey Shore: Does Reality TV Promote Stereotypes?

BlogHer Original Post

I had no real interest in watching MTV's Jersey Shore until three different people on three different occasions told me to watch. They all loved it, saying that it was essentially a delicious trainwreck that I had to see for myself.

So a few weeks ago I turned on MTV Canada and caught a few episodes. I found it boring, didn't understand what the storyline was and why these people were on TV. Okay, yes, all the characters looked kinda strange - I remember young Italian and Portuguese boys shaving their sideburns off and then gelling their hair up so it suck up in the air....about a decade ago, so I was somewhat confused as to why anyone in this day and age would still wear that horrible hairstyle.The girls just looked trashy. Not modern trashy, like it was somewhat fashionable, but like low-class prostitutes.

(Photo: MTV/Scott Gries)

Apparently the reality show about 8 twentysomethings who have been transplanted to the Jersey Shore to work at a tacky T-shirt store and essentially make fools of themselves, has caused a firestorm. UNICO, an Italian-American group and both Italian and non-Italians who live around the area are outraged and have asked MTV to remove the show. Targeting one character, "Snooki," UNICO National's Jenny DiMino says this:

"(UNICO) was actually formed in1922 to defend Italian Americans against discrimination and defamation ... UNICO's stance, against defamatory labels and reprehensible behavior that exposes negative stereotypes of Italian Americans in 'Jersey Shore' and by MTV, is a necessity. Your behavior, not only on the 'show' but in how you carry yourself in public, is exactly why there is need for an organization like UNICO."

American Family Insurance and Domino's Pizza have pulled their sponsorship of the show, as not only did they feel that the cast members portray negative images of Italian-Americans and that they perpetrate ethnic stereotypes, but also that the content is inappropriate. Drinking, ahem, 'hookups,' one guy that punched Snooki (I think) in the face and the seemingly lack of intelligence of the characters.

But besides that, what has been interesting is the amount of both outrage and glowing reviews of the show. Now, the glowing reviews are in no way surrounded around character plot or the incredible insight that the characters provide; it the pleasure around laughing at the characters.

It is debatable whether people are laughing because they feel that the characters, especially Mike, "The Situation" and Snooki are perpetrating images that Italians have been trying to rid, or that people are happy to see another group outside of Blacks, Asians, Muslims, and Jewish people being portrayed as backwoods buffoons on TV. And in this case, they are completely digging their own hole themselves. From Nadra's blog at

"View" co-host Whoopi Goldberg compared the concerns Italian Americans have about "Jersey Shore" to the concerns African Americans and Asian Americans have had about depictions of them in popular culture.

"We [blacks] used to complain, you know, 'Good Times' is not making us look like we're moving on up, and here, now, we got Italian folks going, hey, this is not okay," Goldberg said. "And then you have Asian people going, 'The Charlie Chan stuff isn't working for me anymore. We all have to sort of recognize that these stereotypes do annoy people. People don't like it."

Wendi Muse at Racialicious wrote an excellent essay about Jersey Shore that was about, among other things, "White Ethnics" (ex:Italian-Americans, Irish and British Americans) can really be damaged by negative stereotypes as much as people with more evident physical characteristics that make them the 'other.' She argues that because White Ethnics can because they can still benefit from white privilege can, if they choose, to eschew or avoid negative stereotypes and assimilate into the larger culture (Anglo Saxon) and more importantly, their relation to their ethnic group more than let's say African-Americans, is all this hullabaloo about the negative images on Jersey Shore much todo about nothing? After all, the characters do know what they are doing by calling themselves "Guido" and "Guidettes," and revel in their stupidity:

Now in a time when multiculturalism is an accepted concept, many groups have worked to reclaim the links that were lost, particularly because of their increasing cultural currency. In a strange way, the cast of the Jersey Shore is doing just that. They are using their white privilege to assert a hybrid identity that was created over time in the United States as means of connecting in some way to a lost past. Few white ethnics speak the language of the Old Country and, despite their hyphenated identities, often know little about the respective contemporary societies. Yet in the creation of this fictional culture, they are working to take ownership of what was lost over time. Unfortunately for groups who lack the white privilege that allows the movement between whiteness and chosen ethnicity, there is little room for such a decision.

One of the things that I want to ask, is was there this much hype around shows like BET's College Hill? I know Tyler Perry has caught some flack because of his movies and his popular character, Madea, but it seems like people are more outraged over how Italian-Americans are portrayed than any of the embarrassing black television shows or movies - and there are plenty them. Black folks have complained and we are told we are whining, making much ado about nothing. So why is there so much drama over Jersey Shore? Just sayin.'

Happy New Year everyone!




Contributing EditorRace, Ethnicity & Culture

Blog: Writing is Fighting:

Writer: Hellbound:

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