In the heyday of Jersey Shore (a simpler time, frankly) Snooki and her cohort of ladies were slut-shamed and scrutinized by the media in a way that their spiky-mopped male counterparts were not. Just in time for the show’s reunion, Annie Fell muses about the Shore’s double standard.
In her extended essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf muses about, among other topics, women’s taboo relationship to fame. Or, in her words, the perception—encouraged largely by men—“That publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them. They are not even now as concerned about the health of their fame as men are, and, speaking generally, will pass a tombstone or a signpost without feeling an irresistible desire to cut their names on it…”
Being a reality TV star is the pop cultural version of scrawling your name on a stop sign or bathroom stall; it’s a “detestable” way to make your existence known without having to necessarily do anything. The prevalence of this cultural more reached an all-time high at the tail end of 2009 when MTV’s Jersey Shore premiered. If Keeping Up With the Kardashians, then in its fourth season, seemed offensive to viewers’ sensibilities, the cheap spray tans, sizes-too-small Ed Hardy tees, and true famous-for-nothingness of Jersey Shore would be wildly shocking.
The show, similar in format to its MTV forebear The Real World, followed a house full of strangers—all of whom were self-identified “guidos” and “guidettes” regardless of any Italian ancestry—as they spent a summer binge-drinking and working at a t-shirt shop on the Jersey Shore. I doubt anyone needs me to remind them of the show’s immediate, unfathomable success.
Unsurprisingly, the show’s popularity launched a public outcry against people getting famous for being dumb on TV. In his 2013 essay on the psychological effects of reality TV, New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz cites the book The Image, claiming “Daniel Boorstin wrote of people whose ‘chief claim to fame is their fame itself.’ He was writing about faded starlets like Brenda Joyce; he could not have predicted Snooki.” (Woolf, again: “The chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of, said Pericles, himself a much-talked-of man.”) Jersey Shore quickly became MTV’s highest rated show, and most viewers loved to hate every cast member. However, the women seemed to be the only ones deemed outright offensive.
In 2010, not too long after the premiere of the first season, legendary fashion critic Cathy Horyn opened her New York Times profile of Snooki with the words “Flake, cow, loser, slut, idiot, airhead, trash, penguin, creep, moron, midget, freak, Oompa-Loompa, nobody.” Clearly the list was meant to illustrate Snooki’s poor reception as a reality star rather than Horyn’s personal opinion, but it wasn’t very helpful that Horyn didn’t do much to negate any of those insults. In the profile, Horyn claims that Snooki had only read two books in her life (Twilight and Dear John) and that her “busty and short-waisted” body resembles a “turnip turned on its tip.” She interviews Snooki’s dad about his daughter’s newfound fame, about which he’s puzzled: “What is it that draws [people] to my daughter? Be honest. Because it’s very hard for me to see what it is. She don’t sing. She don’t dance. I don’t want to say she don’t have talent …”
Hatred of the Jersey Shore girls certainly was not limited to arbiters of taste like Horyn. Their already cartoonish looks made them prime targets for parody; Snooki, with her 4’9” frame and thotty wardrobe, was almost always played by a fat dude with a spray tan and shake-and-go Halloween wig (most notably by Bobby Moynihan on SNL). Snooki’s weight combined with the way she presented her body and sexuality (sluttily, and rightfully so) became something of a simulacrum of the show. That would have been unsettling in any circumstance, but it was made even more impossible to swallow considering that Snooki’s struggle with an eating disorder was pretty well documented throughout the series.
In their quick ascent to fame (or infamy), Snooki and Co.’s cheap extensions and slutty behavior somehow became the most offensive part of the show. The Situation, Ronnie, Pauly D, and Vinnie were reviled too, but in a way that leaned more toward “Look at these fuckin’ idiots” rather than viewers and critics calling out the fact that they were often verbally and sometimes physically abusive. Who cares that J-Woww has fake boobs when Ronnie is ‘roided-up, shoving his girlfriend and assaulting strangers on the boardwalk? Where were the eviscerating profiles of him or the explicitly chauvinistic Pauly D? Why wasn’t the Situation’s mom asked for her opinion on her son’s fame after he called innumerable women, including Snooki, fat grenades?
The women of Jersey Shore were left to defend themselves against their own friends. If the iconic moment where J-Woww punches the Situation in the face after he asked Snooki, eating bread, if she already had enough “rolls”—or when Snooki and J-Woww pen their infamous letter to Sammi about Ronnie’s cheating—is any example, they were more than qualified to do it. But they shouldn’t have had to also basically defend their humanity against all of the American viewing public, when their male peers seemed to only be getting gently ribbed.
Jersey Shore Family Vacation—which premiered this month—has functioned as less of a reunion than just another regular season. Nearly ten years since the show’s premiere, everyone is still basically the same (albeit with a few kids thrown in the mix). Vodka is still binged. Ronnie is still complaining about Sammi, despite the fact that she’s not even on the show this time around. The guys are still just as misogynistic as ever (they constantly crack jokes about how J-Woww and Snooki are Botox-ed and filler-ed-out moms now; meanwhile, the upper 50% of the Situation’s face is immobile and he’s literally about to go to jail).
As a society, we’ve failed the women of Jersey Shore. Being wealthy and having awful taste should be a crime, but it’s not. We have to stop crucifying women for being skanky and famous for “nothing” when there are even tackier men doing actual damage to their peers and to society (note The Situation’s tax evasion). It’s tragic that this even needs to be said, but women whose only “offense” is basically being slutty and loud should not be criticized more viciously than men who are actually abusive. Laugh all you fuckin’ want, but your slut-shaming don’t mean dick to me.