Felt compelled to write this after watching Season 4 of Jersey Shore. 'Spoilers Alerts!
It is difficult to deny that Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino is a new kind of sociopath (“Say hello to the bad guy!”) especially considering his behavior toward Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi in this most recent season of Jersey Shore. By dissecting this ‘situation,’ as it were, we can examine the success and importance of Jersey Shore, reality tv, and a concept of our times.
The idea occurred to me when watching this most recent season, the fourth, which takes the cast to Florence. At the beginning of the season The Sitch professes his affection for Snooki openly, even trying to kiss her at a club, despite her love for her boyfriend, (still in the States) Jionni. Sitch says “If Jionni can’t make Snooki happy, I can.” Then Sitch pulls Ronnie Ortiz-Magro aside and tells him a sordid, sordid tale: Sitch and Snooki had hooked up two months before Florence, when she had just started dating Jionni. After hearing of it herself, Jennifer ‘JWoww’ Farley pulls Snooki aside and relays the information, saying that Sitch told ‘Everyone,’ emphasizing that word significantly and “He gave details like…‘I fucked Nicole and she cheated on Jionni.’” Snooki then confronts Sitch and this is a transcript I made of the scene, please excuse any inaccuracies, where there is excessive repetition and overlapping in the show I condensed: Scene I
Confessional Snooki: Mike is a big fat liar, I have never hooked up with him, and the fact that I was there for him as a friend, I mean…you’re a fucking asshole.
Snooki: Fucking Mike, what is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?
Sitch (attempting to lead her off camera): Come here…into the bedroom
Snooki: No! I’m not gonna come here, fucking stay right here. You’re telling everybody I cheated on Jionni with you, why would you even say that?
Sitch: Where did you…Wh—wh—who came up with this?
Snooki: I am boys with…I am fucking friends with you!
Sitch: Who came up with this? Who said this?
Snooki: You’re telling everybody in the house!
Sitch: No I did not tell anybody—everybody—
Snooki: Yes you did because everybody’s telling me right now!
Sitch: No, no, I didn’t tell everybody in the house.
Snooki: Okay well obviously you’re lying right now because you know how fucking much I love Jionni, I’m not fucking dealing with that shit that’s fucked up. I don’t want to be friends with you. I don’t like you. I don’t even want to look at you right now. I’m done.
Snooki: I want nothing to do with you I was your fucking friend in the house and I’m done.
Sitch: I’m not gonna lie!
Snooki: You’re a fucking asshole!
Sitch: I’m not gonna lie!
Confessional Sitch: Everyone knows the Situation is not a liar and the Situation is…if a girl rejects me, I’ll say it, you know? I’d never lie.
Sitch: I’m not gonna lie! I’m not gonna lie!
Snooki: Mike, get over it! Nothing happened!
Sitch: I’m not gonna lie!
Snooki: You are lying about me hooking up recently with you!
Sitch: We hooked up two months ago.
Snooki: You’re a psycho!
Sitch: Two months ago.
Snooki: You’re a fucking psycho!
Sitch: Two months ago.
Snooki: Get over it. Nothing happened!
Sitch: I’m not gonna lie. I’m not gonna lie.
Snooki: No you’re an asshole because the only person who wants to be friends with you, who wants to talk to you is me and you are a fucking asshole. Dude you have no fucking friends in the house. The scene more-or-less continues but for the purposes of this paper all of the important details are contained in this section. The argument itself is simple, but I am going to break it down anyway so we can discover its symbols and the greater context/content. Snooki’s first confessional serves as a kind of initiating title for her intentions in the argument. JWoww says in an earlier confessional that there are “three sides to any story: Mike’s side, Nicole’s side, and the truth,” and this is Snooki’s side of the story: The Sitch is lying and the lie is all the more horrible because she was there for him as a friend, a fact she later uses to twist the knife when she claims that he has no other friends besides her. Having no friends eradicated Angelina Pivarnick in the first and second seasons and almost did the same to Sammi ‘Sweetheart’ Giancola in the third. There is a perceived alliance between all the castmates and when an individual sullies it he/she is excommunicated. Who is the alliance against? Everyone not on Jersey Shore. We non-castmates are unsympathetic to their lives—the cast are entertainment, not people—and therefore we are a kind of enemy. Much more on this separation later. The moment when Sitch tries to lead Snooki away into the bedroom is significant because of the privacy he thinks they will have there, not just from the rest of the house, but from the cameras. This is why JWoww’s emphasis of the word ‘Everyone’ is important. It rings in my ear every time I hear it on the show now because it is code for the cameras and therefore the public spectator. We are Everyone. We/Everyone are the threat that makes their ‘unseen’ (more on this word later) personalities and relationships public. The Sitch may or may not realize (I believe he does realize) that he divulged information to Everyone that was off-limits and tries to resolve it with Snooki privately, where they can be Mike and Nicole instead of Situation and Snooki. Snooki refuses to go with him I think because she believes that the damage has already been done, Everyone heard the ‘lie’ Sitch told and the only way to fix it is to make sure Everyone hears that it never happened and that, furthermore, Sitch is psychotic (besmirching his character). She believes the resolution must be ‘seen.’ Sitch tries to ascertain who told Snooki this information probably with the intent to besmirch that person’s character, but Snooki tops it by literally shouting her love for her boyfriend and calling Sitch a liar. It is at this point that Sitch realizes his game depends upon his not being a liar and repeats that over and over. In his confessional he says that he would never lie about a girl hooking up with him, and it is statements like this that make me think that the Sitch is a socio-or-psychopath. There have been countless times in Jersey Shore when he has misrepresented or even changed the facts/truth especially in regard to his sex life, to make himself seem cooler or more desirable. And this is interesting: the clips that the producers (more on them later) show us of the Sitch’s sexual exploits are almost always his failures and subsequent manipulations of truths. We rarely see him succeed with women. Where does his self-confidence and self-righteousness (“…I would never lie…”) come from? The devil most likely. In the end it is unclear whether Snooki is more upset that her relationship with Jionni is in jeopardy, or that she trusted Sitch. The show is different than when it first aired, the castmates’ behaviors have changed slightly, but why is this and why should we care? We the audience receive reality tv under a simple assumption: no actors and no writers. We are expected to believe that everything occurs spontaneously. It’s like documentary tv except with the purpose to entertain and not to inform or educate. However, there is a process that determines how the scenes progress and has contributed to the show’s change. The cast has presumably seen the show as viewers and there is a kind of time jump to the future that occurs in their minds now as they are filming. They are at the same time ‘actors’ and ‘spectators.’ Though Jersey Shorecan be said to be unplotted and unconstructed (unplotted meaning there are no writers giving a direction to the events and scenes; unconstructed meaning there are no actors creating characters that will behave and emote in a certain way), both the producers and the cast members of the show build it by a choice/process of what is ‘seen’ and what is ‘unseen.’ In the first season, the cast served as ‘material generators’ and the producers selected from that material what is seen. It is pretty basic tv-making, and season 1 may have actually been totally spontaneous and ‘real.’ In later seasons, however, the cast—themselves having seen what material was chosen/processed—are more discerning with their material generation and take an active part in deciding what is seen. This is why certain tropes are becoming stale and self-parodying, for example: Vinny Guadagnino and Paul “Pauly D” DelVecchio dressing up and playing as guidos (“fistpumps, pushups, chapstick”), JWoww’s increasingly alarming appearance (endless plastic surgery), and Ronnie and Sammi talking openly about how stupid their fights are. In recent seasons the cast is taking more and more of an active role in creating Jersey Shore. This is why Snooki and Sitch’s fight is so important and violent: they, the material generators, had agreed what would occur/be seen on the show and Sitch the madman broke the agreement. This is another reason I agree with Snooki that he is a psycho: they had decided what would be seen by not hooking up on camera, but Sitch decided that he would make the hookup seen without consulting anyone. This is the sub-intention of Snooki’s attacks about his being a bad friend. By choosing something to be seen separate from the Jersey Shore castmates, he is breaking their alliance; he sides with Everyone rather than siding with Snooki. It is to me uninteresting whether or not they actually hooked up two months before Florence, what is interesting is the result of taking something unseen and calling it seen. Sitch may be operating as the guardian of the truth, but at the cost of Snooki’s unseen life. This seen/unseen process carries over into their pragmatic lives, it is where their nicknames come from, for surely The Situation is not a character created by Mike, but a Situation part of a larger Mike. In the reunion shows that air/occur when the series closes, the stories the cast tells are oftentimes everything we’ve already seen. They tell stories just like one might watch home videos of when one was a child and think one remembers it. One creates the memories in the present moment after seeing the home video. It’s like the cast see the show footage and then remember the event, rather than the show footage reinforcing the already-present memory. I believe they create their seen selves in the same way: the cast watches itself and this creates its seen persona or seen character. Are they themselves and of themselves or is Jersey Shore a process of creation? It’s an interconnected mass that forms and reforms itself in the image of appeasing Everyone. With advancing social technologies like Facebook and Twitter, we do the same in our own lives. We choose what is seen and unseen based on how we believe it will be seen by other people, or by ourselves in the future. It is impossible to boil an event/piece of a person’s life down to 150 characters, or a photo album, or a Like, but it is possible to use these tools to create a seen self that is separate from the unseen self. As I write this, it is unseen, but when I post the link on my Twitter it will be seen. I do not think it is a question of whether something ‘exists’ or not, but a new sophisticated process of social interaction. It is no longer necessary to move up a social ladder in order to speak with certain types of people, the ladder is destroyed. Many codgers and curmudgeons hate social media because they fear that it will kill their privacy and actual human feeling, but I don’t think this is a danger at all. I think that social media is not a replacement for life, but a tool. We now have an amorphous pool of seen connections and interconnections at our disposal that is a smaller part of our unseen lives. By friending or following someone, one is not saying “I want to be your friend; I want to follow your every word,” but is saying instead “I want to share seen selves with you.” Jersey Shore and reality tv in general are contemporary examples of the artistic pooling/integration of seen worlds. Why am I following each member of the Jersey Shore cast on Twitter? I don’t know if I can fully explain it myself, but it has something to do with my interest in their seen selves. I don’t really want news or updates from them, but there is something entertaining and fulfilling in just watching them. The question certainly requires more research/textual evidence/thought.