MTV’s hit reality show Jersey Shore is becoming as well-known for its brawls as its Guido accents and big hair. In addition to the infamous Snooki bar fight, the show has sparked a tussle between the show’s producers and Italian-American groups who claim it perpetuates offensive stereotypes (like the use of the word Guido).
While some advertisers have pulled their ads in retaliation, cries of bias have largely been brushed aside…and at face value, it does seem silly. The loud-mouthed, spray-haired, skin-baring Jersey stereotype has endured in everything from Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning My Cousin Vinny performance to YouTube parodies like the 25-million-hits-and-counting “My New Haircut” (warning: it’s R-rated). Why put up a fuss now? Plus, caricatures are the stuff reality TV is made of: Just ask the bimbo sexual opportunists of The Girls Next Door, spoiled rich kids of The Hills, or anyone who’s ever been featured on Wife Swap.
But the “Jersey Guido” typecast is more deeply rooted in ethnicity and class than the typical reality TV circus, which makes the viewers’ sense of superiority a little harder to stomach. It’s telling that Italian-Americans are ticked about the portrayal, not the state of New Jersey. And the group tends to be lower-income and not highly educated. It’s hard to imagine other reality TV shows based on that brand of bias—like, say, Harlem Ghetto or Mexican Immigrants of LA—getting a similar free pass from the PC Police.
Let’s be real: The reason people love Jersey Shore is because it allows them to watch the brashness, cat fights, cleavage, and muscle tees, and think How ridiculous! Thank god I’m not like/better than that! Without the stereotypes, where would the fun come from?