When reminiscing about the early 2000s, Jersey Shore stands out as a staple of the time. Most likely against their parents’ wishes, teenagers would eagerly turn on MTV and enjoy watching racy cast members of Jersey Shore partake in a wild summer getaway, including signature activities such as “gym, tan, laundry.” The reality show ran for six seasons and generated wild success—in fact, it was MTV’s highest-rated series ever. Jersey Shore’s seemingly unfiltered portrayal of parties and beach vacations is a large factor in its popularity: the show was even picked up in 2018 for a reboot. Fans obviously found, and continue to find, something enticing about the personalities on Jersey Shore.
Yet, the reality show has been deemed fairly controversial by many, specifically with its representation of Italian-Americans. Jersey Shore not only stereotypes these individuals, but cast members refer to themselves and each other as “Guidos.” A TIME article from 2009 (when the show was first released) states its distaste with the vulgar terminology. The author considers the word comparable to the n-word, for it is something that “cannot be said out loud without setting off a series of complicated psycho-cultural explosions” (Brooks). Upon hearing the word on television for the first time, viewers were said to be shocked at Jersey Shore’s candidness. Audiences wondered how such a demeaning word could be tossed around so freely. Additionally, an article from ABC News titled “MTV’s ‘Jersey Shore’ Garners Critics Over Use of Term ‘Guido’” notes that for many groups of Italian-Americans across the country, the “show is awash with inaccuracies, many of which they fear give the Italian community and the vacation destination a bad rap” (Cohen).
However, although the word is frequently perceived as a slur against Italian-American men, the flip-side is that perhaps Jersey Shore is merely celebrating a term that has been derogatory for so many years, and spinning it positively. A sociology professor at City University of New York points out that, “’Guido is a slur, but Italian kids have embraced it just as black kids have embraced the N word. In the same way that radical gays call themselves queer’” (Brooks).
Within just the first few minutes of episode 1 in season 1, it is clear that cast members address themselves as “Guidos” with pride. Pauly D, for example, is shown gelling his hair, talking about his tan skin, and bragging about the hot hookups he has experienced, all thanks to his “Guido lifestyle.” Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, rants about his “Guido” good looks as well.
All in all, producers of reality television shows face a slippery slope when including controversial terminology such as “Guido.” Naturally, the show will face backlash, especially in something as provocative as Jersey Shore. Italian-Americans are stereotyped (and not necessarily in a good way). Still, it is somewhat commendable that they have “taken back” the term “Guido” and, at least to Pauly D and “The Situation,” made it into something favorable.
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