Monday, January 04, 2010

You can have your Jersey Shore; I'll take the real thing

My parents refused to get cable television until March 1994, which happened to be six months before I went off to college. Thanks, Mom and Dad. As a result, I missed out on a lot for a kid growing up in the '80s and into the early '90s. There are still a lot of shows, music videos and cultural references that I know of but don't completely understand as a result. For one, I pretty much missed the entire "music" period of MTV's existence.

I tried Real World back in its infancy; I remember an episode when they went from their loft in New York City to a Nets game in New Jersey so one of the cast members could meet Larry Johnson, who was playing for the Charlotte Hornets. But I couldn't stick with it and I've rarely gone back since. I couldn't even tell you where MTV is on our FIOS channel lineup. And so I haven't seen a minute of Jersey Shore.

I have seen The Punch, of course. Even before the episode aired, there was a GIF online that showed a few seconds of the footage on a loop, so that you saw Snooki's head go back and to the left over and over. But I have no interest in watching what I know is a contrived scenario of people of a certain background (and I don't mean what ethnic heritage they have) that happens to take place in Seaside Heights, N.J., because that's where MTV rented the house. They easily could've imported this same cast to the Outer Banks, South Padre or Las Vegas and had the same show. The Jersey Shore in Jersey Shore is mostly just the backdrop, the setting. While these particular cast members are representative of some of the people you'll meet in Seaside and other Shore hotspots, they aren't an indication of everyone you'd encounter -- especially in the offseason.

Obviously, the Shore is what it is because of the summertime, and Staten Islanders' money is just as good as the locals', the New Yorkers', the North Jerseyans', the Philadelphians'. But to really know the Shore, you need to go to the quieter, smaller towns. Or you need to go on a quieter weeknight in the summer, not a crowded weekend. Or you need to visit in the offseason, a windy winter afternoon, and stop into a local cafe and give them a little love to get through the down time. The revenue from summer visitors can only last so long.

There are a few redeeming qualities about Jersey Shore, according to Neil Genzlinger, and without having seen the show, I still feel like I can agree with his list. (Particularly the one about the Kardashians. If there's one thing I loathed about my previous employment at a celebrity magazine, it was covering "celebrities" who were famous for no discernible reason. Exhibits 1 and 1A might be the Kardashians and the Hilton sisters.) However, I'm going to continue to separate MTV's vision of the Jersey Shore from my own and do my best to educate others. I'll hold onto the memories I have of my grandfather's summer house in Seaside Heights, which he sold in the early '80s, just before the town began its transition into the scene it is now. And I'll take the quieter beach towns over the loud, neon-tinged circus of places like Seaside that draw the crowds and the gawkers down the Parkway from points north.

And I'll take the Shore in winter, too, when I may have to bundle up a little more, but there are no lines and the gorgeous views aren't as cluttered with swarms of people and bumper-to-bumper traffic.

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