Thirty-five years ago, MTV changed television forever. In 1981 the cable television channel began airing music videos making Generation X-ers very happy. A decade later MTV would change the face of television forever by introducing reality TV. PBS had done this with the documentary “An American Family” but MTV took it to another level. “The Real World” followed young adults as they faced life and responsibility. The show tackled controversial topics at the time including relationships, addiction, sex, discrimination and AIDs. Realty television became a new genre and became visible on just about every channel. Then came “Jersey Shore” which would truly change the face of realty television.
Here’s how “Jersey Shore” completely shaped what MTV is today.
Jersey Shore, the premise
“Jersey Shore” first aired December 3, 2009. For six seasons, the show followed nine young adults as they spent their summers living in a house together in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. They also went to Miami Beach and visited Italy. The cast included Nicole Polizzi “Snookie”, Michael Sorrentino “The Situation”, Jennifer Farley “JWoww” and Paul DelVecchio “Pauly D” became famous for nothing more than living in a realty show. The kids were placed in situations where they had to manage each other and each was a bit narcissistic. The show debuted with so-so ratings but its popularity grew quickly. By the third week, the show was parodied on “Saturday Night Live”. In 2010, the cast was named one of Barbara Walter’s most fascinating people on her annual special “The 10 Most Fascinating People List”.
Jersey Shore, the controversy
“Jersey Shore” quickly became controversial. Critics and, in particular, Italian Americans and residents of New Jersey, found the show offensive. The cast members played up their roles as Italian Americans. Although the kids were not from New Jersey, they played up the stereotypes of kids hanging out at the Jersey Shore. Yet, the show went out of its way to focus on stereotypes of these cultures. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie complained about the negative light “Jersey Shore” put on the state by dropping kids from New York onto the Jersey Shore and playing up the stereotypes which are not entirely real. Many people were offended by the portrayal including the use of the words “guido” and “guidette”.
Jersey Shore, the legacy
While “The Real World” was more realistic, “Jersey Shore” was obviously contrived. Realty TV was no longer about looking into realistic situations that could lead to difficult conversations. With “Jersey Shore”, realty TV became more about entertainment. MTV and other television stations would no longer rely on complete spontaneity but now, realty shows would be contrived and loosely scripted to create more entertainment than looking at life as it really happens. Today we can watch realty shows like “The Bachelor” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” with a grain of salt.
We realize these shows are no longer a study of human relationships, but are created for pure entertainment and ratings. While MTV had already introduced some scripted realty shows like “The Osbournes” and “The Hills”, “Jersey Shore” was different. It took kids with absolutely no connection and placed them in an interesting place and helped them perform to stereotypes that could be offensive to some. “Jersey Shore” was obviously created for television ratings, and MTV, once a music video channel, became an entirely different television station. The station has always been edgy and controversial, but “Jersey Shore” cemented that reputation. “Jersey Shore” proved that MTV was evolving with its audience.