I told you this was gonna be somewhat random
Wonderful business opportunities await.
I’d been over to my friends Mindy and Greg’s place a few weeks back, graciously accepting yet another plate of really swell and interesting food, which I’d be a fool to turn down, right? Anyway, Greg and I got to talking about various extreme hot sauces we’d sampled over the years; he was mentioning one with just a graphic on the label of a cartoon somebody with a foul expression and a wounded tongue. We laughed. Yes, I’ve enjoyed Dave’s Insanity Sauce and other caustic condiments when they’re presented to me and I’m loony enough to ruin a good sandwich with them.
I mention this fond reminiscence, because I’ve made a few addictive behavior-driven runs around the corner from here to a joint called Chita’s, which sells chips and salsa on the cheap, and the salsa roja there is really goddamn good and tempting in the way that single-malt Scotch whispers to businessmen in dreams, or greenbud calls out to those of us who favor meandering guitar solos over concise pop-music statements. If I were more of a blues-headed entrepreneur, I might be busy dreaming up something with a graphic label consisting of a similarly sourfaced cartoon hot-sauce aficionado seated uncomfortably in a sitz bath, with little pain-dart icons radiating from his lower parts. My product would be called something like “Salsa del Butthurt,” or “Salsa Lastimada del Extremo.”
But I digress.
For a Scot raised in the redneck suburbs of interior California on Presbyterian potlucks and casseroles and generic fast food, I got a hankering for spicy comestibles and sundry exotica pretty early on. My L-7 folks were always nervous to hear that teenaged me had pedaled his ten-speed into the netherworld of downtown Stockton to destinations like Azteca Cafe and Arroyo’s and Las Manitas for a plate of bisteak chicana picosa or carnitas, or a bowl of albondigas soup. Made ’em nervous as hell. And I also would hit the Italian delis for good nosh, too, and Lebanese when I could find it. The point, if there is one, is that I’ve always had an affinity for cultures with better spices in their cooking, mostly ones with a Roman Catholic subtext. Which means, in Stockton terms, Mexican and Italian.
OK, so since MTV hasn’t put eight Latinos into a house at Venice Beach for a so-called reality series yet, I can’t tell you that I’m addicted to that show. I probably would be, because I grew up around that and can groove to that vibe. But I will tell you that Jersey Shore, which at this writing is four episodes into its existence, is the all-time best fucking television show in the history of television. I kid you not.
Now, if MTV happened to put a bunch of Chicanos in a house doing stereotypical stuff like lowering Chevy Impalas and smoking weed and drinking, the Hispanic anti-defamation league would be reasonably pissed off about it. Same as if you put a bunch of Jewish kids in a house together and they started doing or kvetching about something stereotypically Jewish, although an argument could be advanced that there are a ton of sitcoms already in syndication that might qualify there. How many seasons did Seinfeld run?
So it’s no surprise that what Jersey Shore castmate and bar punching victim Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi called “The Italian Whatever National Whatever the Whatever Their Organization Is” got its collective boxers in a bunch over MTV’s latest search for Darwin’s missing link.
They may have a point. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you what it is in particular that I dig about Italian-American culture. But first, as a Celtic-American (one half Scottish, the rest Welsh, Irish and maybe some English, German and/or Austro-Hungarian and Choctaw Indian), whose ancestors come from the bloodline that forms the basis of American hillbilly redneck fuckstick culture, I can tell you I’m not offended when people make fun of stupid white people. Part of that is that we ofay mofos don’t start out being discriminated against because of skin color; I know I can clean up my appearance and drop my twang in favor of a well-bred uppercrust accent and fit in pretty much anywhere that people gather who visibly don’t like the cut of a man’s jib if he appears to be downmarket Caucasian enough to leave an old pickup truck on blocks in the driveway with a snarling and tooth-marked Rottweiler tied to the door handle. Not that that shit matters anymore. But basically, I know I’m not stupid, and I tend to be reasonably creative on good days, and besides, part of me likes that I come from that same gene pool that gave the world George Jones and Willie Nelson and a bunch of other hard-twangin’ country motherfuckers.
So what is it about Italians with me? First, the food is great. Not too crazy about the Vatican, but the stuff around that celebrated edifice and city-state is pretty cool, including Florence and Venice for art and Turin and Milan for automobile design. Italians excel at cool industrial design. And great film, and fine opera and sweetly wonderful Neapolitan songs and exquisitely bad disco, and in my humble opinion beautiful women. There, I’ve said it: Mediterraneans of the attractive female persuasion (especially, from my experience, Italians and Yugoslavs) tend to be tumescence inducing in the extreme, at least for this mammal.
Now, some Italian-Americans tend to get a little nervous about the behavior patterns of certain Sicilians, and along the Eastern Seaboard, the guido stereotype has been framed in undeservedly pejorative terms. But what this particular Anglo loves about Italian-Americans is their expression of soul. Yeah, I’m talking Frank Sinatra and my personal hero Dean Martin, but also Louis Prima and his sax-swingin’ sidekick Sam Butera, along with a whole bunch of others.
And this may get me in trouble, but fuck it: Here’s what I think lies at the appeal of Jersey Shore, at least for some of us. It’s that same quality of not giving a fuck that Nick Tosches nailed down in his excellent bio of Dean Martin, Dino, and hooked in with that is a sublime quality of detachment, like where you see mobsters in a film killing someone and cutting them up while they politely banter about, oh, how to cook a really good marinara sauce, or what goes into the perfect sandwich. It’s a lack of self-awareness, which leads to some really great lines being uttered every episode.
Contrast that with the way Ashkenazim Jews are portrayed in various comedies, getting completely angst-ridden over a trip to the post office, the collective weight of the responsibility of being g-d’s chosen people exerting pressure on their shoulders every minute of the day. The Italians don’t give a shit; when you’ve got the Vatican in the center of your country, you figure you’ve got your connection with the Divine pretty much squared away, so who fuckin’ cares?
Yep, it all boils down to Dean Martin vs. Woody Allen, which, as false dichotomies go, is no worse or more full of shit than anything put forth by one of the tools in Rupert Murdoch’s employ.
Anyway, that’s why the so-called guidos and guidettes on Jersey Shore are so entertaining to me: If I want to watch nitwits with entitlement complexes, I’d prefer they come from working-class backgrounds. That’s where MTV, and “reality programming” in general, really fucked up: too many trust-fund bints like Paris Hilton and the Kardashian sisters, along with the douchey wastes of daddy’s ejaculate they happen to skank around with. Rich Hollywood trash kids just aren’t interesting. Italian kids from Staten Island and Poughkeepsie and Providence are. No one gives a shit about Paris Hilton and her fuckin’ chihuahuas, or the Kardashians and their stupid boutique and who they’re fucking, or those vapid idiots on The Hills. But give us some characters straight out of something John Waters might dream up going into the second decade of the 21st century, and maybe we’ll perk up. At least I will.
More on this later, because I haven’t stopped laughing since Jersey Shore started airing this month. And Italian Whatever National Whatever the Whatever Their Organization Is, please take note: I’m laughing out of love, not derision or contempt. This show really is that fuckin’ hilarious. —Jackson “DJ Jacky G” aka “The Position” Griffith