Commentary | Is “Jersey Shore” racist?

An Italian-Canadian considers MTV’s “guidos”

In the last few years, MTV has become known for its arsenal of reality TV shows which have essentially waged a war on the brain cells of millions of susceptible youth around the world. Its most recent spectacle, “Jersey Shore,” is no more thought provoking than past shows like “From G’s to Gents,” or “The Hills.” However, it has managed to accumulate a level of success unseen in the last couple of years on MTV, as well as a level of controversy unobserved among the channel’s prior shows.

The bulk of this controversy has been levelled against the representation of Italian-Americans in the show. At the forefront of these claims of racism is Andre’ DiMino, the president of UNICO National, purportedly the largest Italian-American group in America. In the past, Andre’ has also protested such TV shows as “The Sopranos,” “Growing up Gotti,” and most recently, the video game “Mafia II.” In a public letter, DiMino expressed his frustration with media portrayals of Italian-Americans as either “bimbos and buffoons” as seen in “Jersey Shore,” or, “mobsters and mafiosi,” as seen in “The Sopranos” and “Mafia II.”

I recognize that DiMino’s criticism of the show is well intended, however I cannot help but feel uneasy about his public statements and views. First of all, it is important to classify the scope of the show in terms of DiMino’s claims. The show contains no “real” – as in born in Italy – Italians. Instead, only those born in the United States are represented. This distinction is critical, as “guidos” (the term for the fake-tanning, iron-pumping, club dwellers present in the show) are simply harder to find in Italy than a cast member of “Jersey Shore” with a three-digit IQ. However, this is not true in relation to the United States, where a large population of “guidos” does certainly exist, primarily on Staten Island, in Queens, and of course, on the Jersey Shore.

This is where DiMino’s argument begins to falter. He claims “Jersey Shore” attempts to portray all Italian-Americans as “bimbos and buffoons,” whereas, I believe it provides its weekly viewers with a look into the lives of an entertaining band of “bimbos and buffoons.” The difference between these classifications is that in reality, “guidos” do exist, but are a subculture of youth like skaters, not defined to a single race. DiMino’s claims that the show portrays “guidos” as a cancer affecting only the Italian-American community are utter trash. In fact, out of the eight original cast members on “Jersey Shore,” only four are completely Italian-American. The other four represent a mix of Italian with Chilean, Polish, and Puerto Rican ancestry. One cast member “J-Wow” is entirely free of Italian descent, as she represents a mix of Irish and Spanish heritage. Firsthand experience at clubs almost anywhere in the world will show that meatheads are not exclusive to one race or country. This experience evidently evades DiMino, however, as the sight of the grey haired UNICO president in a club, fist pumping or breaking out into an ecstasy-fuelled tecktonik trance would completely warp a person’s mind for the rest of their existence.

As an Italian-Canadian, I’m all for UNICO National and other groups that focus on preserving Italian heritage. What UNICO should focus on, however, is emphasizing the accomplishments of the Italian-American community – not attempting to rid the mass media of representations of “guidos,” within or without that community. This allows for a more accurate and fair depiction of the situation (no pun intended), with all factors considered.

Essentially, DiMino should have more confidence in Italian-Americans, as the average human surely recognizes that the “guido” Italian-Americans are a minority. If this statement ever becomes false, then it is obvious that the mass populace has deteriorated to the level of dumb beasts, in which case, the representation of Italian-Americans will be a minor issue in comparison to what humanity itself will face.

Davide Mastracci is a U0 Arts student. You can reach him at davide.mastracci@mail.mcgill.ca.


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