'Jersey Shore': 4 Articles on the Cultural Significance of Snooki and Co.

Why are we so fascinated by the antics of a group of loud, crass, infantilized millennials? A handful of writers search for the answer.

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Jersey Shore's fourth season begins on Thursday, bringing Snooki, The Situation, JWoww, and the rest of the crew to Florence, Italy. The show has become a pop cultural phenomenon since it debuted in 2009: MTV's highest-rated series ever, it's inspired comments from President Obama, a tweet from John McCain, and a plethora of related books and products.

Why are we so fascinated by the antics of a group of loud, crass, infantilized millennials? Several writers have tackled that question—here are four of the best attempts to explain the cultural importance of Jersey Shore:

Jersey Jetsam by Nancy Franklin
The New Yorker (January 10th, 2010)

The magazine's television critic assesses the show and its devoted following, coming to the following conclusion:

Our ability to take any pleasure, or even interest, in shows like this—in which participants are depicted as energetic but essentially aimless, oblivious of their own deficits, and delusional about their attractiveness and their importance in the world—hinges not on our ability to identify with them but on our ability to distinguish ourselves from them.

Snooki's Time by Cathy Horyn
New York Times (July 23rd, 2010)

The paper's fashion writer profiles series star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi in a backlash-inducing article. She asks Snooki's father to explain his daughter's appeal:

"When we go to venues, I like to stand out in the crowd," he said. "She'll be up there hooting and hollering, and I'll say to someone, 'What is it that draws you 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 ..." He seemed to have his doubts. Then he shrugged. "Everyone basically says they can relate to her. I think Nicole's just a likeable person."

Poof! by Dana Vachon
Slate (July 28th, 2010)

The writer explains why Jersey Shore, with its celebration of blue-collar hijinx, is the ideal mid-recession show:

We were watching Jersey Shore, filled with the sort of people we'd deny ever knowing pre-Madoff (lifeworn bikini models, drivers of Clinton-era Hondas, Ronnie Magro) but couldn't get enough of post-. The cast, having apparently sat out the prosperity, were powerfully able to show the rest of us how to go on living now that it was over.

Jersey Shore Joins the Canon by Alyssa Rosenberg
The Atlantic (January 26th, 2010)

Our correspondent points out that Jersey Shore's set-up of young people humiliating themselves at the beach has a long line of cultural forebears, from Pride and Prejudice to Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

For all its purported raunchiness, Jersey Shore has a surprising sweetness in common with its predecessors: it's a show where promoters with breast implants get upset when their housemates can't say grace seriously, where a girl can drink herself sick and still cry because she's homesick for her mother.
Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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