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The Cultural Importance of Jersey Shore

I’ve long been amused when academics talk about the deep meaning in pop culture, which is often just sophisticated-sounded nonsense spewed over vapid and temporary mediocrities. Andrew Sullivan issues a poseur alert over this piece from Erwin Montgomery about Jersey Shore.

Entrepreneurial selves must stay attuned to this kairotic flux, while those in relationships must reckon with how they rack up opportunity costs. According to Paolo Virno, contemporary subjects “confront a flow of ever-interchangeable possibilities” not to try to slow or divert it but to make themselves “available to the greatest number of these [possibilities], yielding to the nearest one, and then quickly swerving from one to the other.” (A Grammar of the Multitude). This anxious searching for possibilities has become, Virno argues, a “homogeneous ethos” based on “the universal opportunism demanded by the urban experience.”…

The ennui and anxiety of the latter-day metropolitan are on conspicuous display even in such a reputedly lowbrow cultural product as MTV’s The Jersey Shore, which recently ended a six-season run. On the show, the hedonism of the six “Guido” and “Guidette” housemates, though intense and relentless, appears joyless, almost workmanlike. For instance, the conversations between Mike “the Situation” — a nickname that indiscriminately applies to (a) Mike, (b) Mike’s toned abs, and (c) just about any impending set of circumstances promising indeterminate pleasure — and Ronnie, two alphamale cast members whose musk-inflamed horn-locking drives the show’s first season, frequently turn to the subject of “pounding out” women they meet in nightclubs or on the boardwalk. Though piquant, this expression suggests activity undertaken more out of obligation than inclination…

Less representatives of their particular American subculture than creatures of their historical moment, The Jersey Shore cast, in their unsentimental sexual pragmatism, embody the general human disposition under neoliberalism. According to David Harvey, neoliberalism “proposes that human well being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms.” If human well-being includes sexual fulfillment, then sexuality is in need of deregulation, so it may become more responsive to entrepreneurial initiative. The Situation is exemplary in this respect.

That’s a lot of fancy-sounding bullshit that really just means “these guys are shallow assholes who care about nothing but getting laid.” It reads like a cultural version of the Sokal hoax.

Comments

  1. lofgren says

    That’s a lot of fancy-sounding bullshit that really just means “these guys are shallow assholes who care about nothing but getting laid.”

    You obviously didn’t even read the segment that you quoted, because that is not what it says. [Note: I am not expressing endorsement of the author's claims nor his writing style. I am only pointing out that this is not a valid summary of the quoted portion. If you were my student and I asked you to summarize the significant points in these paragraphs, and this is what you gave me, you would get a C- and I would consider that generous.]

  2. justsomeguy says

    This guy gots some college-learnin’, an’ he aims to let all us simple folk know all about it with all them fancy-book words.

  3. oranje says

    That reads like most of my grad program. Everything was critically important so long as you cited the correct theorists and got the right people to nod their heads to your thoughts.

    A painfully large percentage of the humanities reads like Sokol these days. I made some enemies when I started studying Sokol and similar critiques of the vapid end of our field.

  4. tubi says

    @3, lofgren:

    I would dispute that grade you gave me by asking, “Why should I be penalized by having to parse meaning from a load of drool ‘written’ by someone who can’t just say what he means?”

  5. oranje says

    @8: Careful with talk like that in the humanities; you’ll get blasted for subscribing to the window pane theory.

  6. lofgren says

    “Why should I be penalized by having to parse meaning from a load of drool ‘written’ by someone who can’t just say what he means?”

    Aaaand now you have an F. If you don’t understand something, say you don’t understand it. Don’t just make up bullshit.

    For the same reason that you can’t just ignore the instruction manual to a chainsaw because it is difficult to read. Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of going through life simply avoiding any communication that is complex, difficult, or poorly written.

    Obviously part of a teacher’s JOB is to give you writing samples that are difficult to parse. That’s the whole challenge of the assignment. If the writing was clear, everybody would get an A and it would be a pointless assignment.

    I’m a little confounded as to how you could ask such a question. I know they have changed since I went to high school, but when I took the SATs something like half your language score came from questions like this.

    And honestly, if you can’t even understand it, how can you call it a “load of drool?” This is exactly why I felt the need to call Ed out for his poor summary. While I do find the quoted segment (I didn’t rad the rest and I’m not going to) to be masturbatory and intellectually lazy, and bordering on parody-level absurdity, it’s not fair to dismiss it based on what you imagine it says rather than what it actually says.

    Ed is a better writer than this guy by miles, but I suspect he would be more than a little miffed if I summarized this post “Andrew Sullivan is a really cool guy and I agree with him completely on everything,” which is about as accurate as Ed’s summary of Montgomery.

  7. tubi says

    I’m a little confounded as to how you could ask such a question.

    I was trying to make a joke. I guess I deserve my F.

    I write technical manuals and system training materials professionally, and I guess I’m sensitive to writing that is so horrendously muddled and obtuse. I have the intellectual capacity to understand most things, but I do get frustrated when writers intentionally make themselves difficult to understand, thinking, I suppose, that it makes them appear smarter than they really are. I wonder, “What’s the point?” Other than to show off to other faux intellectuals, that is.

  8. lofgren says

    I write technical manuals and system training materials professionally, and I guess I’m sensitive to writing that is so horrendously muddled and obtuse

    I am in the same profession, actually, and I completely agree. However, part of my job is to take the often very convoluted documentation produced by engineers and convert it into usable instructions for end-users. If I didn’t learn to parse poorly-written documents, then those users would be SoL. So I guess I sort of felt like you were saying my particular skillset is stupid and pointless.

  9. says

    Montgomery doesn’t switch from obvious description to argumentation until the final paragraph, where his actual position is muddled by his use of the words “entrepreneurial” and “deregulated” with no accompanying explanation of how those words apply in this context. Obviously he’s not talking about laws and money making, so what exactly does he mean? If an engineer (or in my case, a software developer) wrote like that, I’d have to go interview him/her in order to even guess at whether the statement made is actually true or not.

    Which is, incidentally, why engineers and software developers don’t write like that. Not everybody’s a technical writer, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be or should be intentionally obfuscatory, either.

  10. tubi says

    Since it sounds like we have similar skillsets, I’m definitely not saying it’s stupid and pointless. I would say, however, that I see that as two different kinds of bad writing. Documentation that is unclear because of clumsy construction or ambiguity resulting from the writer’s poor writing skills is one thing. I have to wade through that all the time. If you’ve ever tried to figure out how to do something in PeopleSoft based on the supplied documentation, you know what I mean.

    But when a writer is being intentionally difficult, choosing complex words when simple ones would do and constructing flowery, meandering, and disjointed sentences just because he can, I don’t see why I should have to read what he wrote or take it seriously if I do.

  11. lofgren says

    But when a writer is being intentionally difficult, choosing complex words when simple ones would do and constructing flowery, meandering, and disjointed sentences just because he can, I don’t see why I should have to read what he wrote or take it seriously if I do.

    The truth is, some people just write like that. Constructing overly-complicated sentences and using unnecessarily flowery language are just different symptoms of the same problem, which is a lack of focus on clarity. In fact my second pass on my own writing is largely aimed at eliminating exactly these issues (I subscribe to the “write more now, trim later” approach). The ability to write clearly and directly is a learned skill that requires diligence and care, and it is not the default communication style for most people.

    Which is, incidentally, why engineers and software developers don’t write like that. Not everybody’s a technical writer, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be or should be intentionally obfuscatory, either.

    You and I have worked with different engineers. I’m glad that yours are better writers than mine, but your experience is not a law of the universe.

  12. says

    lofgren,

    I don’t think anybody is saying their engineers are good writers. They’re saying that their bad writing is the normal lousy writing variety, not the stereotypical bloviating academic variety that we see here.

    Having been at various times both a technical writer and an academic, I know the difference.

  13. lofgren says

    “I defy you to explain this shit.”

    OK, I’ll give it a whirl. As I said I haven’t read the whole thing so some of this may be changed by context:

    Paragraph 1: Modern city-dwellers are paralyzed by infinite but meaningless decisions.

    Paragraph 2: An example from the Jersey Shore. The Situation and Ronnie engage in dominance displays and casual sex out of a sense of obligation to their identity rather than pleasure or desire.

    Paragraph 3: The erosion of traditional sexual mores has turned casual sex into a competitive sport devoid of inherent value.

    Whole thing: Through freeing individuals from their traditional roles and allowing individuals to construct their own identities, those identities become meaningful only through competition with others.

  14. Rip Steakface says

    What the fuck does Jersey Shore have to do with globalization and economic liberalization and deregulation? Is this person seriously comparing, by analogy, the “sexual pragmatism” (more like toxic masculinity) of the male cast of Jersey Shore to GATT and the WTO?

  15. Ichthyic says

    you know who else tried to take an example from TV and run with it?

    Dan Quayle.

    I would warn against using TV actors to make salient points about… anything really.

    but then, people who would even think to do so typically fail in the salient point department anyway.

  16. lofgren says

    Ugh. Against my better judgement, I clicked the link.

    1. Sure enough, in the context of the rest of the article my summaries are inaccurate.

    2. These are actually some of the most well-written paragraphs in the entire piece, since they at least appear to make a little sense.

    3. The author seems oblivious to the fact that referencing the behaviors of characters on a reality TV show (that’s right, I said “characters”) hurts his argument rather than helps it.

    4. I’m pretty sure the author starts by saying that people behave in certain ways because they are expected to, and then concludes that no matter how you behave, somebody expects it. In other words, his argument is tautological. If you’re not thinking about pink elephants, then he expected that because why would you ever think about something so ridiculous? But if you do think of pink elephants then he expected that too because sooner or later somebody was bound to.

  17. leftwingfox says

    Read it. I came away with “Capitalism turns all relationships into shallow transactions. Might I suggest abstinence from relationships until we someday figure out a way to make sex seem less like a transaction.”

    That was the rhetorical equivalent of being smothered by a laundry sack full of shredded freshman reading lists.

  18. says

    “I am in the same profession, actually, and I completely agree.”

    And you have students and teach school?

    “The truth is, some people just write like that.”

    True dat. And those not employed in academia, government bureaucracies, giant corporations and, especially, ReiKKKwing Thoughtlesstanks starve to death while waiting for a check for their work.

    “You and I have worked with different engineers. I’m glad that yours are better writers than mine, but your experience is not a law of the universe.”

    And yours is?

    “1. Sure enough, in the context of the rest of the article my summaries are inaccurate.”

    Do you suppose that Ed or Andrew Sullivan might have read the whole thing?

    One need not wade into a repository of human effluence to a depth sufficient for said effluence to enter one’s alimentary tract prior to postulating that it is in fact a cesspool full of shit.

  19. says

    This:

    “Entrepreneurial selves must stay attuned to this kairotic flux, while those in relationships must reckon with how they rack up opportunity costs.”

    btw, would be enough of a “spoiled alert” to have me turn the page or click off.

  20. says

    I’d say that Jersey Shore served a useful purpose. It convinced many people that television has become a festering cesspool of stupid best to be avoided.
    And then Honey Boo Boo — aka Little Miss Redneck Sunshine — came along and proved it beyond dispute.

  21. Brian Engler says

    @24: It is funny. In fact when I first saw the title of this post on my RSS feed, I misread it — perhaps more appropriately — as “The Cultural Impotence of Jersey Shore.”

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