In a sense, we are all Snooki. The Jersey Shore star—and tanning product spokesperson, and hair-product entrepreneur, and aspiring author—was the subject of a spectacularly blunt profile in last weekend's New York Times, which has already caused its fair share of Internet controversy. But cruel as the piece was, it's hard to dispute its main point: On the surface of it, there's no reason for Snooki to be famous. She's not particularly smart or well-spoken. Her behavior is appalling, and her fashion sense is worse. She doesn't have any discernible talents, other than her ability to make a compelling spectacle of herself. In our current cultural moment, however, that ability is more valuable than almost anything else. And it's something that all of us—not just those of us who happen to be starring on reality TV shows—are having to learn.
Before we proceed, let's talk Snooki. In fact, the Times profile seems to miss some of the most interesting points about its subject. Of course Snooki is loud, crude, and strange-looking. That's what they pay her for. But she also has an impressive gift for commanding attention. In the first episode of the show, as Horyn notes, Snooki "got drunk, threw up and passed out." But by doing so, she invented her own plot line: Everyone else is only sort of drunk, but Snooki is very drunk! Everyone else is on time to work, but Snooki's late! Everyone else is having a party, but Snooki's at home - and can't figure out how to work the duck phone! (It's more engrossing on screen.) The most striking thing about the episode, in retrospect, is that Snooki immediately figured out how to get more than her fair share of screen time. The article notes her "artlessness," but for my money, the only truly "artless" moment in that episode is the moment where Snooki stares the camera down and reveals, "I'm used to being the center of attention." Cut to Snooki taking her clothes off, sliding into the hot tub, and lunging at the male cast members, intent on tongue-kissing each and every one.