This week, New Yorker television critic Nancy Franklin reviews Jersey Shore. Talk about a highbrow-lowbrow confrontation that would make the Approval Matrix explode. Most surprising? For a while there, we thought she kind of liked it! Most exciting? She gives us hope that Snooki will have her own spin-off.
Of course, the New Yorker isn't going to touch this toxic sludge without reservations. In describing the series, Franklin considers the entire genre of bottom-feeding reality shows, saying that their casts are filled with knuckle draggers with "few obligations and all kinds of ways to create a lifetime of regrets, not least for viewers."
Luckily, intellectual types can whip out some psycho-anthropological justifications for watching the trash:
Our ability to take any pleasure, or even interest, in shows like this—in which participants are depicted as energetic but essentially aimless, oblivious of their own deficits, and delusional about their attractiveness and their importance in the world—hinges not on our ability to identify with them but on our ability to distinguish ourselves from them. Unless the show manages to make us feel as though we were anthropologists secretly observing a new tribe through a break in the trees, it hasn’t done its job.
But don't mistake Franklin for a snob. The writer is definitely "one of us," even suggesting some familiarity with college drinking games:
"The logo of these shows might be one of those large red plastic cups used for beer (and beer pong) at frat parties."
Really though, Franklin tells New Yorker readers what we've admitted all along: these neon wonders are pretty damn likable! She says The Situation is "occasionally charming" and that Pauly D has an "awesome straight-up hairdo." I could not agree more.
Unfortunately, she's not quite so fond of our favorite Italian dwarf (seriously, Snooki is only 4'9", which puts her one inch above official "little person" classification):
Snooki, the princess of Poughkeepsie, is a tiny and very peculiar twenty-two-year-old who is out of control in so many ways (she had the distinction of being the first housemate to overdrink and then vomit; that happened within the first twenty-four hours) that she’s doomed to have her own show one day.
Man, we can only hope! (Franklin also rants about the show's minimally bleeped profanity and the declining language standards on TV in reference to Snooki calling herself "the fucking princess of fucking Poughkeepsi." It's an interesting digression since, I'm pretty sure, the New Yorker only started including curse words somewhat recently.)
Anyway, to make the article respectable, Franklin references a few touchstones of Italian-American pop culture infiltration:
The “Jersey Shore” housemates have a particularly heavy load, consisting of all the attitudes, looks, poses, burdens, and aromas of Italian-American culture, from “The Sopranos” back to Sinatra and including “Grease” and the Fonz and “Goodfellas.”
And finally, despite earlier flashes of good will, the review ends on a disappointingly negative (though entirely accurate) note:
"They’re a few minutes’ walk from the ocean, yet we’ve never seen them go swimming—they just slop around in their rooftop Jacuzzi, whose presence is so central to the men’s seduction rituals that it’s practically a character in the show. As such, it fits right in, being both of Italian-American descent and an embarrassing reality-show cliché."
For Franklin's sake, let's hope Jersey Shore's surrogate "family" of beach bunnies doesn't have connections to another Italian stereotype.
(Main Photo Courtesy of The New Yorker)