MTV’s Jersey Shore, or the Impossibility of Enlightenment

The last two or three days I’ve been writing drafts for blog posts on the topic of academic cheating. I wanted to address how it seems to me our very culture encourages people to cheat, how valuing a piece of paper more than actual knowledge has become the default way we value anything. Of course I didn’t publish any of the drafts; they got too shrill and preachy and didn’t contain enough insight to warrant an audience. I did reread Nick Mamatas’ excellent “The Term Paper Artist” and wondered about people like the following:

In broad strokes, there are three types of term paper clients. DUMB CLIENTS predominate. They should not be in college. They must buy model papers simply because they do not understand what a term paper is, much less anything going on in their assignments. I don’t believe that most of them even handed the papers in as their own, as it would have been obvious that they didn’t write them. Frequently I was asked to underline the thesis statement because locating it otherwise would have been too difficult. But that sort of thing was just average for the bottom of the barrel student-client. To really understand how low the standards are these days, we must lift up the barrel and see what squirms beneath. One time, I got an e-mail from the broker with some last-minute instructions for a term paper — “I told her that it is up to the writer whether or not he includes this because it was sent to me at the last minute. So if you can take a look at this, that is fine, if not I understand.” The last-minute addition was to produce a section called “BODY OF PAPER” (capitals sic). I was also asked to underline this section so that the client could identify it. Of course, I underlined everything but the first and last paragraphs of the three-page paper.

Of course, identifying those who outright do not belong in college or any educational establishment only begins to reveal the manifold problems we face today. There are lots of people who are intelligent enough but do not have the discipline or willingness for higher learning; there are people who are very smart but very unappreciative, and can encourage contempt for learning by making everything seem arbitrary. And even when one gets beyond issues of intelligence and discipline, there is still the fact that attitude, trends and perceived necessities play a gigantic role in closing more minds than they open.

Which brings me to MTV’s Jersey Shore, which I read about recently (Troy Patterson’s Slate review quoted below; h/t Josh for the link) and had the experience of viewing. If you’re asking whether there are people like this in Jersey –

Some of the douchebags with the hot chicks could further be defined as guidos, which brings us to MTV’s Jersey Shore. Here, eight Italian-Americans descend upon Seaside Heights, N.J., from Rhode, Long, and Staten Islands and other such locales for a sunny season’s worth of binge drinking, casual sex, and open hostility. (As the Washington Post put it in an extremely delightful 2003 story, “Guidos belong to summer, and summer belongs to guidos.”) What does it mean to self-identify as a guido (or, his female equivalent, a guidette)? One of the Jersey Shore stars, Pauly D, has a ready answer: “It’s just a lifestyle, it’s bein’ Italian, it’s representin’, family, friends, tannin’, gel, everything….”

Pauly D’s housemates include Jenni, who encourages the nickname J. Wow, transliterated JWOWW; Mike, whose sobriquet derives from his abdominals (“My abs are so ripped up, we call it The Situation”); and an unfortunate little person calling herself Snooki. Early in the first episode, Snooki wasted little time in gearshifting “from stupid to, like, incoherent,” as Vinny said. Sloshed, shrieking, and despondent that the male housemates repelled her groping advances, Snooki wobbled off to the roof deck alone. “You don’t understand how I feel!” she bawled, either to herself or the hammock. “It’s so not fair at all!” Shortly thereafter, she snooked into the hot tub with the guys while wearing her underwear, attire deemed incorrect by Angelina: “A thong bikini would have been a little bit more classier, if you’re gonna wear anything at all, you know what I mean?”

– I mean, it is true these individuals are from the New York area, but short answer: you could have fooled me. The people I knew in undergrad were probably smarter than these: they were getting grades and degrees and working hard to pay tuition and for their lifestyle. Did they act in identical ways? Absolutely; take away an hour or two of studying from their daily lives and many were animals who could stay just clean and organized enough for the reality tv cameras to film.

I’m not saying everyone has to be perfect: heck, I found “Jersey Shore” entertaining up to the point they went to the local bars for the obligatory club/bar drama that every reality TV show has to illustrate the poverty of America’s conception of having a good time. I suspect many of you would turn off this garbage if it appeared on your monitor or TV screen lest one gets a disease from watching it electronically. I do know the biggest difference between the educated and uneducated is that a truly educated person can ask serious questions about what they consider good; they don’t just think that partying and generally behaving in a manner they thought awesome at 15 or 16 holds good for the entirety of their lives. I wonder if reality TV or our everyday lives came first: it seems our everyday experience has always been a lifestyle that expects the camera to follow us around. After all, if you already think you know what is most important, you are saying that your life is worthy of emulation, that it should be broadcast into everyone’s home.


  1. @ amanda – I read the review, and was like “why not?” What shocked me was that it didn’t bore me immediately – The Real World and Road Rules were great cures for insomnia the few times I was forced to watch them.

  2. “I wonder if reality TV or our everyday lives came first: it seems our everyday experience has always been a lifestyle that expects the camera to follow us around. After all, if you already think you know what is most important, you are saying that your life is worthy of emulation, that it should be broadcast into everyone’s home.”


  3. On a serious note: what exactly do you mean when you say that some people can be very unappreciative? Do you mean in the sense of highbrow snobbery? Esoteric critiques read by but a handful of peers? An unwillingness to return what has been given?

  4. What a great article. Re the first point: The cheaters eventually fall to the side. Most people can’t fake intelligence long enough to come out with a degree to show for it.

    It is a shame that there are so many smart individuals that lack the self-motivation to develop and reach their full potential. In my experience, that is sadly from a lack of encouragement during their youth. I try to inspire, support, and encourage my children, as I was. Giving someone the opportunity to try new things and offering challenges encourages the growth of the mind. Instilling a passion for learning is priceless.

    Re the 2nd point: I have never watched that show, but have found myself glued to the Real World several times when no one was looking…shh..(did I say that out loud?)

    I can’t seem to turn away..I think it is the horror that they can act the way they do (a) on TV (b) where their parents can see what they do. Then I have to wonder what kind of parents do they have that they aren’t bothered with that idea. Then the show ends, and I’m relieved that I’m not stuck in that house with them. :)

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