October 24, 2010

In Defense of Snooki

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If you are sick of watching, reading or hearing about The Jersey Shore, I’m with you.  In the last year, it literally feels like there has been a full-on Jersey attack on society, similar to the one depicted in the recent episode of South Park in which inhabitants of West Jersey invaded the town. After just one season, according to a July article entitled Snooki’s Time in The New York Times’ Fashion & Style section, the show was the “highest-rated cable show among young adults.” Most fans, however, would be incapable of expressing exactly what it is about the show that is so appealing to them. I believe that this question is the basis for the hype surrounding the show.  What is it that is so incredibly addicting and exciting about The Jersey Shore?  Everyone wants to figure it out.

Your first reaction might be that this is a characteristic of all bad television: people cannot articulate the reason they tune in every week. But I don’t think it is.  If you ask people why they are addicted to Gossip Girl, they generally respond with a variety of reasons: the clothes are great, the characters are good-looking or the drama is detailed and fun to try to follow.  Reality shows such as America’s Next Top Model?  Again, the people are attractive, the suspense of who will get kicked off every episode is addicting and it is fun to watch people get criticized.

It is significantly harder to list reasons for watching The Jersey Shore. It is exactly this mystery that makes the show a topic of interest to media forms from The New York Times to South Park, and why you can hardly help but live and breathe it, even if you have hardly watched an entire episode. I believe that this mystery is so hard to crack because the solution is so obvious, and sometimes it’s difficult to see what is right in front of us: In the midst of our hectic lives, the lives Americans are famous (or infamous) for, sometimes we just need a break.  Enjoying The Jersey Shore is easy — no brain power is needed and watching people be ridiculous is funny! People become addicted to the show without knowing why because The Jersey Shore does not veil its pure intention to entertain.

When you think about it, what people like about The Jersey Shore is not really that different from what they like about many other bad television shows — they just would not admit to these reasons for watching them.  Do the characters of Gossip Girl get drunk and have random sex? Sure.  Does America’s Next Top Model show the contestants drinking and mingling inappropriately with random men?  All the time. These shows just masquerade behind a pretense of actual content: demonstrating how to become a model or depicting the glamorous life available in New York City.

The Jersey Shore simply gives people what they want in its purest form — sex, drugs and drama. I do not think that there is more of a secret to uncover than that.  It is important to accept that we cannot be productive and intellectual all the time, and sometimes we need a manifestation of entertainment in its most bare-bones structure.  In fact, The Jersey Shore is so brilliantly basic that you could even argue that, for this reason, it is art.

I did not originally intend to launch a full-fledged defense of The Jersey Shore, but I suppose I do defend it.  I defend it because I believe it succeeds at its aim to entertain millions, and I defend it in response to one point in The New York Times article: “A main point of outrage … is that the show has absolutely no redeeming value.”

It is of course hard to argue that The Jersey Shore has redeeming values — that would mean it is worth exposing children to the degrading way the Jersey males treat females and the carefree manner in which all the cast-members consume alcohol.  I do think, however, that there is something to be said for the no-nonsense attitude and readiness to stand up for herself displayed by Nicole Polizzi, nicknamed “Snooki,” and some of the other female characters.

Though not morally righteous by any means, Snooki creates a worthy contrast to female pushovers who flit around, subject to the whims of men (like Serena on Gossip Girl) and the beauty norms of America (the dream of all the women on America’s Next Top Model may be to master the art of modeling, but that dream inherently involves a concern for the male-fueled ideal of the female body). Snooki, however, has a most untraditional body shape and appears completely secure with herself.  She stands up for herself and does not feel ashamed.  She is always on the prowl, which is generally viewed as a personality flaw, but as a big believer in breaking down the stereotype that women should play “hard to get,” I admire her for having no shame. If a male acted in this way, we would hardly notice. Snooki is by no means a paradigm of morality, but these particular qualities are admirable.

So, let’s all put the question surrounding the merit of The Jersey Shore to rest and accept it for what it is.  The Jersey Shore is not as different as it appears to be from everything else Americans love, and Snooki is a valuable addition to the mix of female characters on television.  While she is hardly a celebrity I aspire to be like, I do admire her ability to defy traditional norms and female insecurities.  I believe these qualities in females should be represented on television, even bad television.

If I had to rate the best bad television shows, The Jersey Shore would be at the top of my list.  It does what it is meant to do, entertain, and it may even show a few insecure girls that it is worth being a little bit more confident.  There is no way, after all, that you could look worse than Snooki.

Original Author: Suzanne Baumgarten