Situation normal, all fudged up
Confession: I’ve watched every episode of Jersey Shore. This, of course, puts me smack dab in the middle of some kind of normal. I know a lot of people who are too good for this show, who turn up their noses when I admit that I have an addiction of sorts. But other people totally understand when I attempt to put into words why I still tune in on Thursdays if I can find a TV, or online on Fridays if I can’t.
That said, I’m guessing my Jersey Shore addiction is akin to what heroin addicts experience: A nice, exciting rush at first, and then the reality of the grim little jones settles in, and you just have to service it to keep from breaking out in some kind of cold sweat that stinks of sausage an’ peppehs, but the actual “kick” is long gone. I’m thinking the show jumped the shark sometime last season, and this Miami-based second season has been a real letdown, for reasons that I’ll elaborate below. But still, I watch. Go figure.
I’ve written about the following phenomenon before, but I think it explains why I think it was inevitable that this show, or any other show that takes nobodies and turns them into celebrities, has a very short nascent period where it’s actually charming and good. It came from an evening conversation a long time ago with Bob Armstrong, the cartoonist and multi-instrumentalist of Cheap Suit Serenaders fame, when I asked Bob why so many cartoonists who were also big collectors of 78-r.p,m. records, like his pal Robert Crumb, seemed fixated on a very narrow period of music — from roughly 1927 to 1930.
As Bob put it, the early end of that period was when the electrical recording devices introduced by Western Electric in 1925 finally found their way to the sticks, where early record label artist-and-repertoire staffers, what we later called A&R men, would go to find new folk and blues artists for their hillbilly and race-music lines. The most famous of these forays, the Bristol Sessions of 1927, happened when Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company (later known as RCA Records) went to Bristol, Tennessee on the Virginia border, set up shop in a furniture store, and walked away with the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers, thus altering the trajectory of American music forever.
By 1930, according to the purists, the white hicks and black blues singers had become inured to the recording process, and began making the subtle adjustments that artists do when they become conscious of process, or at least the end result and the reverse engineering it takes to make the adjustments that will achieve that end result. Before, it was like: “You want me to whut? Stand here lahk this? Sang into thayut big silver thang?” “Yes. Sing and play it just like you did when you auditioned for me. Relax. Imagine you’re back home, and sing it just like you do to the people who love you.” But once these field artists started hearing their own records, or records made by others, the music changed. For mass audiences, it was no big deal, and perhaps an improvement; for purists, however, the result was a catastrophe, the end to a sweet spontaneity that was precious and innocent, not to mention desirable.
So that, to me, is why Jersey Shore played out its utility in its first season, probably sometime in the first couple of episodes — around the time certain emerging “stars” on the show began demanding a lot more money per episode. After that, the catchphrases and dialog sounded less authentic and more labored, the relationships grew more strained and — in the case of Ronnie Ortiz-Magro and Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola — interminable to the point of being unwatchable, and the characters, especially Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, and to a lesser degree, Jenni “Jwoww” Farley, turned into cartoons. Paul “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio, arguably the most likable character on the show, began life as a cartoon, and weirdly became more human as the series progressed. And Vinnie “Watermelon Man” Guadagnino really didn’t come into his own until the second season, largely from a drunken impromptu Snooki hookup that may play out in the future as the “smoosh” of choice for the other hair-hoppers on the show. Especially the devious Angelina “Trash Bags” Pivarnick, who got bum-rushed off the show midway through the first season and appears to be headed for a similar denouement in the second.
But stick a fork in this self-baster, because it’s for all intents and purposes done-oroony. Of course, I’ll still stupidly watch, because even in its shit-shape, it’s still way better than most of the crap on TV, and Madonna forbid I miss anything, right? Like last week’s post-hookup interview with The Situation, who was clearly rattled that, in his alcohol-deadened state, he forgot to make sure his date had inboard and not outboard plumbing. Nothing like a tranny going sideways on you, eh Sitch?
Ah, fuggit. I still love this steaming heap, and I don’t feel no guilty pangs, either. —Jackson Griffith