I was probably too young when I started watching “Jersey Shore” with my older sister. I slowly became fascinated by Snooki’s search for a “gorilla juicehead,” which she described as a tan, tall, well-built, good-looking guy. I came to know the gang of guidos and guidettes like I’d met them in real life, and watching their antics became my guilty pleasure.
The show aired on MTV from 2009 to 2012 and followed the gang as they traveled from New Jersey to Miami to Italy all to do the same thing — drink, fight and tan — over and over and over again. It’s a 71-episode car crash that you cannot take your eyes off of. I’m slightly ashamed of the fact that I have watched every episode more than once and that I can recall the cause of every fight between Ronnie Magro and Samantha “Sammi Sweetheart” Giancola (who also happen to be the most toxic couple I have ever seen). They taught me at a young age what I never want in a relationship. I guess that’s a plus.
Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino appears as the worst-behaved cast member of all. The fact that he calls every girl he finds unattractive a “grenade” while simultaneously being extremely self-absorbed is impressively moronic and offensive. In season four, Mike tries to beat up Ronnie but ends up ramming his head into a concrete wall, giving himself a concussion and ending his gym-tan-laundry, or GTL, days for a while. RSVP, which stands for Ronnie, (The) Situation, Vinny and Pauly, have trouble bonding and finding girls who are DTF, or down to fuck, after that. Clearly, the amount of acronyms this cast uses is absurd, but embarrassingly entertaining too.
To make matters worse, I’ve grown up alongside grandparents who immigrated from Italy and a mother who is heavily influenced by her Italian roots. Whenever she hears the theme song blast from the other room along with Snooki’s iconic catchphrase — “I’m going to the Jersey Shore, bitch!” — she rolls her eyes and rants about how the show is disgraceful to Italian-Americans. I listen to her rant as Jenni “JWoww” Farley’s theme song introduction overpowers her: “After I have sex with a guy, I will rip their heads off.” I feel ashamed, but I also just can’t seem to exit Hulu.
The cast members appear excessively proud of their Italian heritage, yet they continuously reinforce Italian-American stereotypes of violence and aggression throughout the six seasons. “Jersey Shore” uses these stereotypes as a source of entertainment, and unfortunately it works in some cases. Viewers watch in awe as the eight housemates brawl at bars, fight one another and even throw furniture out of windows. But, of course, they all come together after a drama-filled week for family dinner on Sundays.
After six seasons of never-ending drama, “Jersey Shore” came to a close. But that wasn’t the end of the crew’s partying days. In 2018, “Jersey Shore: Family Vacation” aired, bringing the gang back together for a few more seasons. As adults, they aren’t as willing to party at bars and get into physical altercations in public. However, it is extremely apparent that many of the cast members have been permanently affected by the original reality series.
Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino came clean about using drugs, going to rehab and even getting arrested for tax fraud. He’s definitely not the same violent and conniving 20-something he was in the previous seasons and now admits, “The Situation is under construction.” Mike preaches positivity and second chances in the newer episodes and never once tries to justify his unacceptable behavior in the previous seasons. After understanding this journey toward recovery, it becomes even more clear that the producers of “Jersey Shore” used Mike’s addiction to their advantage, exploiting his behavior for entertainment.
Additionally, cast member Ronnie Magro is open about the long-term effects of his toxic relationship with Samantha Giancola in the original series. In the reboot, Ron admits that he’s still scarred from their relationship. Because “Jersey Shore” forced the two to live in the same house for days on end, Ron and Sam were never able to fully get away from each other. Their fights were also exploited for entertainment and egged on by housemates for four years, leaving the couple emotionally damaged for the future.
When I first watched this show at age 11, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. The drama was addictive, proving that the exploitation of stereotypes, addiction and violent behavior for entertainment can have a strong influence on vulnerable audiences. After examining the series as a guilty pleasure, it’s clear that’s what the show intended.
Not many people are proud to say that they avidly watch “Jersey Shore,” yet the show is one of MTV’s most successful reality series. “Jersey Shore” is, in my opinion, truly a guilty pleasure at heart. You can feel the shame growing as the episodes play on and on, but for many, including myself, it’s not enough to turn off the television.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.