5.11.12

YOB NATION IN PRIME TIME.

In the aftermath of Sandy's rearrangement of the New Jersey coast, I decided to check out the MTV Jersey Shore show, but not for long.  There's only so much foul-mouthed drunk-in-the-morning Thirteenth Generation crude I can take.

New York Post television critic Linda Stasi was thinking systematically about the same thing, at the time the show appeared.
Yes, I'm talking about "Jersey Shore," a show in which Italian-Americans are stereotyped (clearly at the urging of its producer) into degrading and debasing themselves -- and, by extension, all Italian-Americans -- and furthering the popular TV notion that Italian-Americans are gel-haired, thuggish, ignoramuses with fake tans, no manners, no diction, no taste, no education, no sexual discretion, no hairdressers (for sure), no real knowledge of Italian culture and no ambition beyond expanding steroid-and silicone-enhanced bodies into sizes best suited for floating over Macy's on Thanksgiving.
She's not mellowed over the past three years.
Deena is so depressed, drunk and demented that her parents should institutionalize her instead of letting her go to the shore one more time.
I think that's the girl who arrived drunk at a bar when it opened, and whined about the lack of meatballs, before talking a beachfront arcade operator into giving her a spiked beachball. The other cast members are similarly inspiring.
JWoww is beginning to get that Britney Spears banged-up, one cocktail over the line look. Vinny is suffering from anxiety attacks. Ronnie must have been fooling around in the science lab because he’s gone from the Missing Link to full-on ape, while his girlfriend, Sammi, is behaving like an abused spouse in training.

And Pauly D? He is in a crisis, I think. One day his hair looks like a short stack at the diner and the next like he’s wearing a felt crown.

It’s all so tragic.

Years of making themselves into substance-abusing morons and public-place-urinating menaces is coming to an end.

They are no longer clueless, idiot kids without manners or education. Now they are adult idiots without manners and they just look, well, sad and desperate.
Ideas have consequences, people.  Britain's Yob Nation might be the trickling down of Bad Habits of the Rich and Famous to the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpen-proletariat, and something similar might be behind the crudity of the Jersey Shore cast.

In the academy, though, Thirteenth Generation crudity with an ethnic edge becomes yet another transgressiveness to celebrate.
According to Donald Tricarico, a sociology professor at City University of New York/Queensborough, "Guido is a slur, but Italian kids have embraced it just as black kids have embraced the N word. In the same way that radical gays call themselves queer."

Tricarico has been researching Guidos for over 20 years and has put out academic papers with titles such as "Youth Culture, Ethnic Choice, and the Identity Politics of Guido," "Guido: Fashioning An Italian-American Youth Style," and "Dressing Up Italian Americans For The Youth Spectacle: What Difference Does Guido Perform?"

There's no date stamp on when the term Guido came into play, but Tricarico theorizes that it very well may have originated as an insult from within the Italian-American community, confering inferior status on immigrants who are "just off the boat." It clearly references non-assimilation in its use of a name more at home in the old homeland. In fact, in different locales, the same slur isn't Guido: in Chicago the term is "Mario" and in Toronto it goes by "Gino." Guido is far less offensive, among Italian-Americans, than another G word, which is also used in the names of countries in equatorial west Africa.

Tricarico traces the mainstreaming of the term Guido to what he frames as a "moral panic" racing through the media in relation to a 1989 racial incident in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. But he pinpoints the real birth of the Guido subculture to the 1970s. If the movement has any guiding icon, it's young John Travolta and his many incarnations: Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter and Danny Zuko in Grease. Today, there are message boards for self-described Guidos and Guidettes to chatter (www.njguido.com). "It's a way to be a part of popular culture for kids who aren't invited to the party," Tricarico says. "It is defiant. It's identity politics," he explains. "It's a cultural movement, but it's about consumption, not ethnicity."

"'Guido' has become the name of a lifestyle," says Fred Gardaphè, Distinguised Professor of Italian American Studies at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College. "Guido itself is not a derogatory name." He explains its origins from a stereotype: "It's a real handsome, uneducated kid who gets by on his charm and his looks and doesn't really have much going for him." But, says Gardaphè, the wave of negative response to Jersey Shore come from what he calls "irony deficiency" in the Italian-American community. These peacocking kids, he says, come from a long history of exaggerated characterizations in Italian culture.

"The major key to Italian-American culture is something called 'bella figura,'" says Gardaphè. "It basically means, to put on a show so people don't know the real you. If you're poor, you make them think you're rich. If you're rich, you make them think you're poor." For an immigrant people emerging from a history of foreign conquerors and a lack of a nation-state (till 1870), says Gardaphè, "It's all about protection."
That's all useful to know.

All the same, it's hard to contemplate the erosion of the U.S. middle class without suggesting that transgressiveness or edginess for its own sake is a self-inflicted wound, particularly for young people without the support a Britney Spears or a Prince Harry can fall back upon.

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