If Italian-Americans were offended by the stereotypes of “The Sopranos” and “Growing Up Gotti”, their anger was as nothing compared to the storm caused by the reality-documentary “Jersey Shore”, which reached Italian TV screens on Monday.
The MTV series follows eight young men and women who spend their summer in and around the town of Seaside Heights on the New Jersey Shore. Angelina “Jolie” Pivarnick, Jenni “JWoww” Farley, Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Paul “DJ Pauly D” Del Vecchio, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola and Vinny Guadagno are housemates and spend most of the time partying, topping up their tans and showing off their bodies. They work part-time in a t-shirt store where they must obey the rules and regulations or be evicted from the beach house.
The cast are presented as Italian-Americans but “J-Woww” is Spanish-Irish while “Snooki” is Chilean, though she was adopted by Italian-Americans. Ronnie is half Puerto-Rican. The ethnicity of the cast, plus their behaviour, led to protests and Italian-American Associations called for the removal of the show because it “used ethnic slurs to marginalise and stereotype Italian-Americans”. Snooki, when interviewed by ANSA, admitted that she knows no Italian and has never heard of Dante or Silvio Berlusconi and that statement rather sums up the “culture” of the Jersey Shore protagonists. “Snooki” defends the show by saying that she and her housemates behave as all young Americans do, whatever their ethnicity.
The eight young men and women are, in fact, self-confessed “guidos” and “guidettes”. You don’t know what a “guido”is? Neither did we. An American slang dictionary defines the term as “an Italian-American with well-groomed hair, lots of jewellery and designer jeans”. It adds that the term has come to signify people from other ethnic groups who dress according to stereotypes. The word is never used in this context in Italy and its constant use in the show and in articles about it has caused further offence.
The show has also come under fire from the “real” Jersey Shore community for portraying the area in a negative way, for its “glamourisation” of tanning and for the violent scenes that have been broadcast. MTV’s response was that the show “is not intended for every audience” and “shows just one aspect of youth culture”.
Now audiences in Italy will be able to judge for themselves. Ansa says the characters are “all sex and the gym” while Corriere della Sera’s TV critic calls them “supercafoni” [uncouth boors] with muscles and no brains and dismisses the series as “vulgar”. Not an auspicious beginning.
Do you think MTV should have cancelled the show?