Is Snooki America? Is America Snooki?

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The reality star's behavior on this season of the Jersey Shore represents, in a way, the American tendency to point fingers instead of accepting blame

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So I was watching an episode of Jersey Shore a few weeks ago—you know, the one where Snooki's boyfriend Jionni leaves her after she shows her kooka in public—when all of a sudden, it hit me. Snooki is America, or at least the America that cannot squarely face its problems. And America is Snooki, at least the Snooki who will not take responsibility for her own poor judgment. No wonder tens of millions of Americans love this silly show. It is a prime-time symbol for our miserable failure to haul ourselves out of the trouble we're in.  

"We cringe at the way Snooki handled her problem, but we enable the same lack of self-scrutiny which has paralyzed our politics and policies."

Although I cannot turn away, I did not love this season of the Shore, in which the cast and crew were transplanted to Florence, Italy. I did not even like it. The principals looked bored, the mortified Italians couldn't figure them out, and until the last episode there were far too few sight-seeing moments. If Bob Hope and Bing Crosby could earn immortality for their "Road" movies, why couldn't MTV figure out how to make this big hot mess seem entertaining? Mercifully, the season ended last night. Hopefully Italian-American relations will recover.

Next season, the Good Lord and Pauly D willing, the kids will be back at the Jersey Shore, fist-pumping at their beloved Karma, and interacting with other young Americans treading the same evolutionary path as Deena and the gang. Until then, fans like me are left to ponder the meaning of their relationships with one another, and with their purported loved ones, and what it all means for the rest of us, which brings me back to Snooki and Jionni, the faux-tanned Fred and Ginger of Poor Communication and Unmet Expectations.

The Set Up

For the first seven episodes from Florence, Shore-sters were told that Snooki was very much in love with Jionni, the so-called "juicebox" she left behind in the States. Oddly, or perhaps not, Snooki expressed this love by having a same-sex tryst with her friend, Deena, and by tepidly fending off the advances of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, who claims that he had a fling with Snooki before the cast went to Italy. In fact, the whole season was based around the collapse of Snooki's sensibilities. Oh, for a few episodes of Love, American Style!

Jionni and Snooki spar on the phone for much of the season. He's not happy with her wild ways and all the drunk dialing. She resents what she perceives as his efforts to try to change her. You know, phone sex for crazy people. Then, finally, in Episode 8, Jionni comes to Florence! Snooki is very happy. They smush. And then the couple goes to a bar, she gets wasted, and then flashes her aforementioned kooka to bar patrons. (By the way, this, I submit, is what lovers are supposed to do in Italy).

Jionni, generally portrayed as a bit of a stuff-shirt by Shorewinian standards, is reasonably unhappy with the latest iteration of Snooki's exhibitionist tendencies. He leaves the bar, in a huff, forcing Snooki and her friends to wail around for him well into the Florentian night. A distraught Snooki eventually gives up and comes home sobbing. The title of the episode, which you can watch here, is "Where is My Boyfriend?" The boyfriend, we later learn, is going back home to America. Turns out he doesn't want a girlfriend who stars on a reality TV show.

The Conversations

Let's stipulate, for purposes of this exercise, that what Snooki says in this episode, drunk or sober, is real. Let's believe that MTV didn't write the script and that these are all genuine reactions. "I f--king love you," Snooki says to Jionni when he arrives. "Jionny is a guy I want to marry," she says to the camera. And then, boom, out of nowhere, its kooka time! "You're dancing like a f--king whore," a enraged Jionni says to Snooki. "She's embarrassing me," he says to her friend J-Woww as he storms out of the club. Where's Jilly when you need him?

"What is wrong with you?" Snooki says to Jionni shortly after he leaves her. Then J-Woww, one of the few cast members who occasionally acts like an adult, interjects. She tells her pal Snooki: "Man up and realize that you are acting like an asshole." To which Snooki mournfully replies: "I don't deserve this right now... Why did you have to leave me like that? I hate him... I hate him. Why would he do this to me.... Why me...." She says this over and over again, hysterically. Drunk or sober, I don't think she was acting.

"What did I do to you?" Snooki screams. "I don't need a girl who lifts up her skirt on a stage," Jionni candidly replies, speaking on behalf of most boyfriends everywhere. "I don't deserve that, I don't deserve that," says Snooki. "I just don't understand why he left me because he knows I love him," Snooki says. Of course, many of the rest of us understand it, realizing that if Snooki didn't act "a little skanky" (Vinnie's words) she likely wouldn't have driven off her boyfriend. No, I can't believe I just typed those words, either.  

Cheap Pop Psychology

When faced with the choice of soul-searching or finger-pointing, Snooki chooses the latter. Even though it is her own conduct that causes the crisis, even though no one put a gun to her head and told her to expose her kooka, Snooki blames Jionni and, later, her best friend J-Woww, for not supporting her. Snooki doesn't accept responsibility for the bad turn of events. She doesn't acknowledge her own failures. Instead, she turns the table on her accuser. It's his fault. She declares herself a victim. And then claims she can't understand her fate.  

This struck a chord with me. The denial. The deflection. I don't want to make too much of it, it's just a reality TV show after all, but do people actually think and act that way? And, if so, isn't that what our current politics is all about? Most reasonable people would cringe at the way Snooki handled her problem. And yet collectively we enable the same lack of self-scrutiny that has paralyzed our politics and policies. Sometimes, it is our fault, right? And when we create our circumstances, like Snooki did, we aren't exactly innocent victims of it.

I watch Jersey Shore for many reasons. It prompts me to remember what I was like at that age. It makes me wonder what my child will be like when he is that age. And it connects me with people and perceptions that I would never otherwise come across. But I am trying to raise my kid to be a lot more honest—with himself and with his friends—when the time comes for serious relationships. I'm trying to teach him to be honest, too, about America's problems. I reckon he'll need that candor when the Snookis of the world are running it in 25 years.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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