The New Year is upon us, and with it returns longings for springtime, plans for self-betterment, and a new season of MTV’s infamous reality series, “Jersey Shore.” As each new episode of the Shore airs, the internet surges with yet another wave of hand-wringing articles claiming the ways in which the show dumbs down its viewers, causes much-deserved shame in its audience, and promotes undereducated role models for our children. Though it may not be a popular stance in this culture of irony and irate-ness, I choose to instead profess my earnest affection for both “Jersey Shore” and its cast of fist-pumping, Jersey-turnpiking, constantly tanning characters.
I recognize, of course, the gawking appeal of the Shore and its inhabitants, and I make no attempt to argue against its value as borderline-sideshow entertainment. After all, where else can you watch a grown woman elatedly drink pickle juice straight from the jar, witness someone literally dancing her own underwear off in public, and satisfy your longstanding curiosity as to what Jake Gyllenhaal would look like if he took up competitive bodybuilding (quick answer: Snooki’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jionni)?
Beyond this, though, my love for “Jersey Shore” and its often alien-seeming inhabitants comes from the quieter, gentler moments, when I find myself relating to the cast as actual people. It is in these scenes where I can see my own goofiness in the Jersey boys’ original song for alerting the house as to what time it is (a habit my roommate and I have since adopted), recognize my best friend and I’s die-hard, sometimes dorky, relationship in the faithful bond between Snooki and JWoww, and even identify my own confusion as to how to deal with feelings of rejection and vulnerability in Ronnie’s tear-filled freak-outs over Sammi. Because as humiliating, humbling and humanizing as it can be to see ourselves in these Others, there’s something equally heartening in the knowledge that even “gorilla juiceheads” have difficult feelings, that even self-proclaimed “guidettes” struggle with our society’s infuriating double-standards, and that even someone who gets as much love from the ladies as Vinny does sometimes feels so lonely for his mom that it sends him into a panic.
For me, it’s not so much about what makes makes me or my life better/worse/different from the action at the “Jersey Shore,” it’s the things that make it all—and us all—surprisingly the same.