As someone who spent most of his childhood summers (well, two weeks of them, every August) at the Jersey Shore (and, as The New Yorker points out, no one ever says "Jersey Shore": it's either "the Shore" or "the Jersey Shore") I lament this bizarre series, now coming to the close of its first season. But Jake Martin, SJ, has some more thoughtful things to say about this ersatz "reality" show, as well as the whole genre, which began with the now-tame-looking first season of "The Real World." His dissection of "Jersey Shore," "Keeping up with the Kardashians" and the slow decline of reality TV has just been posted on our online Culture section. Martin begins:
Gym. Tan. Laundry. These are the marching orders for the denizens of the “Jersey Shore,” the slice of distorted Americana that has become the latest darling of reality television. All bloated muscles, tan flesh and silicone, the casts of “Jersey Shore” and its celebrity cousin “Keeping up with the Kardashians” on E! serve as a reminder that the circus sideshow is alive and well, and blaring away in our living rooms.
It’s been nearly 20 years since MTV introduced reality television to an unsuspecting public. “The Real World,” which debuted in 1992, followed the exploits of a diverse group of twenty-somethings, living under the same roof and trying to negotiate the ups and downs of newly found adulthood. The show, though flawed, had promise. Taking advantage of the diversity of its cast, “The Real World” was able to examine such issues as racism, abortion and HIV/AIDS; indeed, one of the members of the show’s third season cast, Pedro Zamora, was HIV positive, and a significant portion of the show dealt with how the small community of strangers coped with living in the midst of the deadly disease.
Most significant about the show was the audience to whom it was directed. MTV had been the flagship for youth culture for the better part of a decade by the time the first episode of “The Real World” aired, and, coming on the heels of its wildly successful “Rock the Vote” campaign, there seemed to be a deliberate movement by the network toward responsible, socially relevant broadcasting for the 18-25 demographic.
It was fun while it lasted.
James Martin, SJ