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Gym-Tan-Linger: Season Two of Jersey Shore Begins – and Why We’re All Responsible for That

July 27, 2010

I will say this up front, to dissolve any airs of pretention which may be detected in the following paragraphs: I am part of the problem.

As I’ve noted, many times, on this very web site, I am unabashed in my embarrassing love for MTV’s anti-Real World housemate drama Jersey Shore. I watched all nine episodes of season one (though I had to go back for the first two episodes, as I only joined in at episode 3), and I fully plan on — and am oddly excited about — the premiere of the second season.

There’s no tangible reason why one would, or should, be excited about a second season of Jersey Shore. After all, nearly everything these people are capable of doing — drinking, fighting, making out, having sex, going to Atlantic City, and something called “creeping” — was done to its fullest extent during season one.  It’s not as if, somewhere in season two, Vinny is going to figure out how to clean up the oil in the Gulf, or that an episode will see Ronnie chosen to receive an honorary doctorate in international diplomacy from neighboring Princeton. It’s safe to say that season two will be more of the same.

When Jersey Shore began, it was fascinating. It really was. Here was a group of people, capable of outrageous stereotype, who by and large — with the exception of a second tier friend on King of Queens or a sporadic SNL sketch — had heretofore escaped gratuitous sterotyping. We’d all seen them, we knew the look, we were familiar the archetype. We called them “guidos.” We really didn’t think about it, or who they were, or what they did with their lives. Enter Jersey Shore, which gave these caricatures ridiculous names and ridiculous hair and ridiculous bodies, and showed us exactly what they do with their lives — at least when cameras are running.

We hadn’t really seen this type of person on television in this particular fashion. Take Real World, for instance. The perennial MTV reality smash had seen muscleheads, jocks, sluts, hillbillies, Irishmen, politicos, homosexuals, homophobes, troublemakers, punks, freaks, teases and neo maxi zoom dweebies.  But there hadn’t really been a character like any of the characters on Jersey Shore: loud, cocky, proudly Italian and existing only to wear too-tight shirts, hit on girls and dance furiously in clubs. Yes, it’s offensive. Yes, it’s over-the-top. Yes, it’s probably not representative of an entire generation of young Italians. But — oh yes — it was entertaining.

Now, on the eve of season two, we seem to have a problem. These same people we iconized  — and yes, holier-than-thous, I count your mocking them and discussing their terribleness at parties as iconization — have grown too huge.  They are now like the interesting bug in a 1950’s sci-fi movie which starts to grow and grow and grow; what once was at the very least a fascinating experiment is now out of control with no hope of being stopped.

But here’s the kicker: friends, we gave them this power. The show became a minor, cultish hit at first. MTV, naturally, capitalized on this success by putting their faces everywhere — that’s just smart PR. But then “The Situation” and Snooki were turning up on Conan’s couch. Jimmy Kimmel was running short comedy featurettes featuring them. The Huffington Post began running stories about them seemingly every single day. We created these monsters, little by little, day by day. Even those who mocked them made them more famous. We just couldn’t leave them alone. In fact, just this morning the cast fist-pumped the opening of the opening of the New York Stock Exchange, which ABC news called “one of the most crowded days in years.” Really?

And now, with a recent Jersey Shore strike during the filming of season three, the cast literally cited their reasoning for holding out for more money to be that “they can make more money doing appearances for two months, rather than filming the show.” Let me break this down for you. This means that the cast of Jersey Shore is willing to come to your club or bar for the evening. Club and bar owners know that the cast will bring fans, which will bring customers. The cast has learned that they now are capable of bringing so much money into a particular bar or club by simply being there that they can command astronomical appearance fees — fees which bars and clubs are presumably willing to pay. Because we, apparently, want to see them in person.

Yes, that’s right. What this means is that, in essence, we as a society are willing to pay these people even more than MTV.

Will the Jersey Shore cast eventually become mere pop culture footnotes? Yes. Don’t worry. All we have to do is wait it out. The popularity will crest and swell again with season two and its drunken shenanigans, and we can all talk about how “these people are idiots” and “I can’t believe these people are on TV” and it won’t matter a bit because they are on TV and they’re not going anywhere. Eventually the beloved Pauly D, Snooky, JWoww, Ronnie, Vinny, Sammi and The Situation will fade out and become jokes signifying things from our pasts. Perhaps it will be because they just grow too old and too depressing to watch. Perhaps MTV — parlaying the show into an institution — fires them and just finds seven other absolute trainwrecks willing to drink and fight and hump their ways to stardom. Or perhaps (and, as strange as it may sound, this can happen) we’ll all just eventually forget about them and wonder why we cared in the first place.

Either way, we’re in for a maelstrom of new Jersey Shore hoopla and constant news blurbs. It’s inevitable and it’s going to happen.  And we have no one to blame but ourselves. So you might as well unbutton your shirt a few more buttons, open a beer, “beat back the beat” and watch season two. That’s precisely what I plan to do. Because I’m freely willing to admit that just because the cast of Jersey Shore is awful doesn’t mean it’s not massively entertaining. And you can think less of me all you want. I’m fine with that. But the truth is that we created this beast — we might as well watch it go nuts. It can’t live forever. God, let’s hope it can’t live forever.

Season two of Jersey Shore premieres on MTV Thursday, July 28 at 10:00 PM EST.

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