In a matter of weeks, MTV's unlikely hit series "Jersey Shore" — documenting the doings of ten self-described "guidos" and "guidettes" during a month living together in Seaside, NJ — became a cultural phenomenon. The show's participants, with self-styled handles like "Snooki" and "The Situation," have become household names, fascinating their audience by proudly embodying the superficial values of a local subculture obsessed with fake tans, buff physiques and spikey hair. What is it about "Jersey Shore" that millions of fans find so compelling? (Watch a spoof of "Jersey Shore" featuring little children)
We secretly admire the cast: Audiences appreciate "Jersey Shore"'s unashamed embrace of trashiness, says Brian Moylan at Gawker. We've all acted like the cast "at one point in our lives" – drunkenly engaging in questionable exploits while on vacation – but most of us have the sense to be ashamed by our behavior. The cast's guileless embrace of trash turned them into "media avatars, acting in irresponsible ways we could only dream about."
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The cast is unlike anything we've ever seen: Watching "Jersey Shore" makes us feel like we're "anthropologists secretly observing a new tribe through a break in the trees," says Nancy Franklin at The New Yorker. Blend the cast's outlandish behavior with a "particularly heavy load" of "Guido" stereotypes – "attitudes, looks, poses, burdens, and aromas of Italian American culture" – and you have a perfect recipe for reality-TV mockery.
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The cast makes us feel better about ourselves: The "train wreck" characters of "Jersey Shore" provide a healthy dose of schadenfreude for the overburdened, unemployed masses, says Lakeia Brown at The Root. When we think things couldn't get worse, we only have to "flip on the TV and "meet 'The Situation'... and realize it could be worse – a lot worse." We mock them to forget our own sad lives.
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Fun is fun: "There's something condescending about singling out the cast of 'Jersey Shore' for special scorn," says Joanna Weiss at The Boston Globe. Their behavior isn't more reprehensible than the "rich kids" and "skeletal" wives of Orange County — but they're more fun to watch. "Bacchanalia as identity politics" just makes for utterly fascinating TV. "They're fools, but they're our fools: Born in the USA."
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