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April 27, 2010

"Shore" hits

by Anya Gosine, Online Managing, Op/Ed and Food Editor
They captured millions with their gelled hair, tanned skin and tireless fist-pumping. This year Americans bonded with the young, party-loving Italian-Americans who spent an eventful summer together in one beach house on the shores of New Jersey. Now there is news to celebrate for reality television addicts - several spin-offs of MTV's "Jersey Shore" will be crashing on land.

The first season of "Jersey Shore" was an instant hit, raking in millions of viewers per episode. According to TVbythenumbers.com, it was the number one cable series for viewers aged 12-34 in the show's time block. Even after the season finale, the show continued to gather major publicity; cast members frequented talk shows, were featured in numerous Internet spoofs and prepared for production of a second season of the show in Miami, Florida.

Now televisions producers have decided to run with MTV's premise and apply it in a Persian and Asian-American series in Los Angeles, California and a Russian-American version in Brooklyn, New York. In addition, another spin-off entitled "Wicked Summer" is already set for shooting this summer, set in Massachusetts and focusing on New England stereotypes.

But the question remains: Are MTV and the other producers wrong in their exploitation of racial stereotypes for entertainment? "Jersey Shore" alone stirred up serious controversy with its use of the term "guido" (and "guidette") , as well as its portrayal of Italian-Americans. Organizations such as the National Italian American Foundation, UNICO National and the Order Sons of Italy in America all criticized the show, and several companies pulled advertisements from the show slots. In watching the show, there is no doubt that the group is depicted in a not-so-honorable way - they are narcissists who swear profusely, hunt for casual sex, attend wild parties every night and are too lazy to work.

But on the other hand, the shows can be seen as simply self-satirizing. The episodes do not just embrace stereotypes, but mock them. By turning racial slurs and stereotypes into light-hearted comedy and entertainment, these shows actually dilute racism in society. For example, cast members of "Jersey Shore" who claim that terms such as "guido" were considered derogatory in the past use the term positively as a way to display their ethnic pride.

After all, television shows parodying African-American stereotypes seeped into American culture in the '80s, and are now a regular and well-received part our daily entertainment. Current celebrity comedians such as Dave Chappelle and Russell Peters also build the majority of their comedy on stereotypes, turning prejudice into a laughing matter. In a way, the myriad of controversial shows may end up being beneficial to various minority groups in the U.S.

We should also remember that for the majority of MTV's target audience, shows like "Jersey Shore" provide nothing more than mindless entertainment. Most critics rarely take reality television seriously and, in actuality, the genre does not have many harmful effects other than its ability to spark viral YouTube parodies. More likely than not, when these shows are produced, we will simply wait and see how "the situation" plays out.



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