Photo from http://www.mtv.com/shows/jersey_shore/series.jhtml.
Do the self-proclaimed "Guidos" and "Guidettes" (unconsciously) resist MTV's youth-culture mold? And could the kitchen be the site of their resistance?
Jersey Shore has been no exception to the MTV rule of homogenizing youth cultures. As with Real World, the network's original youth-based reality show, MTV's story lines for Jersey Shore revolve around the same-old-same-olds of partying, hookups, and relationship drama.
The idea that MTV is homogenizing youth cultures with a show that highlights the stylistic uniqueness of Guidos and Guidettes--their lingo, their hair style and dress, and their cave-man extremes of sexual dichotomy and male-female protectiveness--may seem counterintuitive. Isn't the show really all about the uniqueness of this Italian-American subculture that spends its party vacations on the Jersey Shore? Superficially, yes. But, in dramatic terms, the Jersey Shore housemates are reading from the same old MTV script.
If, however, you read between the plot lines, and pay attention to what the camera is capturing while trying to focus elsewhere, you will notice the alternative, unintended, and perhaps more organic, script.
Whenever the housemates are in the kitchen, and we are supposed to be following their conversations about partying, hookups, and relationship drama, all of them, male and female, without fanfare, without self-consciousness, are...what? Cooking. Yes, and they each help. And they do it frequently. Someone might be chopping veggies while Mike (AKA "The Situation") lowers a casserole filled with veggies and what I once thought looked like uncased sausage into the oven. Despite whatever else may be polarizing their characters on the show, they are there, in that kitchen, prepping food together. I can't get a fix on what they're making. MTV is not following it. This isn't Food Network, I know.
It is a striking sideshow. Communal cooking among housemates is not a regular behavior on MTV's other youth-based reality shows. In a context where the most vain, volatile, and fleeting aspects of youth take center stage, this peripheral activity impresses. It suggests a transcendence of youth, a possession of inter-generational skills. It indicates more profound cultural content. That the housemates' sense of kitchen duty seems automatic, their cooperation routine, further endears me to them.
Aside from a couple of episodes, such as the one in which "The Situation" made an especially elaborate steak-and-lobster feast for his housemates, and then complained bitterly that the girls didn't help him--unusual, I suppose?--MTV ignores the housemates' cooking culture. Cooking comes naturally to them, though, so the network can't edit it out completely. To all you Guidos and Guidettes, keep on cooking! And please tell me what "The Situation" put into that oven.
Copyright 2009 Alison Pearlman. All rights reserved.