Jersey Shore, reflecting Public Diplomacy?

I could not believe my eyes (not ears) when Professor Hayden mentioned that Jersey Shore could be considered as a form of Public Diplomacy. Whether he was joking or not, I decided to investigate to see how much impact Jersey Shore has around the world.

According to Entertainment Weekly (http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/01/07/jersey-shore-ratings-record/), as of Jan 9, 2011, 8.4 million of viewers watch Jersey Shore. The ratings had increased by 63 percent from Season 2 to Season 4. This show started in December 2009, and it still continues today. Jersey Shore is a TV reality show with 8 roommates, all Italian to be specific, and the show consists a variety of dilemmas, problems, situations (not Mike the Situation, although he does cause some situations), and of course, the mother of it all- drama. Apparently, in my opinion, people like drama. People would choose to see Snooki punch a guy’s face rather than watching story about a lost dog that has finally been found. People would want to see Mike, the Situation, bash his head into a concrete wall in Italy, rather than reading a story about how a local bar in Frederick, Maryland made so much profit from college students that came home for Thanksgiving break within 4 hours.There it is, DRAMA, and Jersey has it.

Perhaps, if the show remained in the United States, I probably would not have considered Jersey Shore as a view of Public Diplomacy. But, because MTV expanded its’ network to Italy, Jersey Shore’s season 4 was filmed in Italy (which, in my opinion, was a horrible idea). After reading this article on the Wall Street Journal, Meichtry states”One of the town’s chic eateries has posted a “No Grazie, Jersey Shore” sign outside its door, instructing cast members to stay away. The cultural superintendent has barred the entire cast from being filmed in the city’s hallowed museums.” This shows me that people in Florence, Italy did not even want Jersey Shore to come in the first place. What does that reflect about America in a way? Of course, MTV is not going to stop just because some people do not want them to come. MTV, possibly having the American’s usual arrogant attitude, went ahead and did their filming of Jersey Shore regardless of how the locals felt. To me, that is offensive. And unfortunately, it does serve as a form of Public Diplomacy in a way. We send ambassadors overseas to represent us. Obviously, the cast of Jersey Shore was our ambassador for quite a while, and probably by now, the Italians probably think that Americans are filled with lunatics who love alcohol and sex and DRAMA. What’s more is that the people in Florence, Italy did not want Jersey Shore coming over to “re-define” the Italian way of life: “The clash of cultures is rooted in opposing views of what it means to be “Italian.” (2011). Yikes…

More information about Jersey Shore and Italy can be found through this link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304563104576353810943734854.html

I recall my friends in London and Ireland posting their Facebook statuses: “Jersey Shore is coming to visit? Oh no!” Well of course, I could not agree more. I could sit back and laugh at them, but then I realize Jersey Shore is representing us. I might as well post up on my status saying “OH NO!” as well! I could go on with the negative perspectives on Jersey Shore and how they can reflect Public Diplomacy in so many wrong ways, but I am trying to find a few positive ways of how they are representing us… the problem is that I can’t. Can you?

Well, as the Italians in Italy might say, Gli americani sono pazzi πŸ™‚ (Americans are crazy people).

 

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7 Comments to “Jersey Shore, reflecting Public Diplomacy?”

  1. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon–television shows as a tool for public diplomacy. Whether we like it or not, American pop culture (the good and the bad) has spread it’s seed throughout the entire world, and people consume it and make opinions about American based on what they see. Unfortunately, what makes its way overseas is not always the best representation of America. One reason is that many countries don’t have the media production capacity to produce their own shows/music/movies, so the import it from American for cheaper than they could produce it. Typically these shows are the lowest of the low-brow–Jersey Shore, My Sweet 16, and direct-to-DVD movies. However, because these shows are exported by the private sector, we don’t have much control of what represents us as Americans in other countries, but we need to be aware that this type of “public diplomacy” shapes a lot of international opinion.

  2. I agree, Ibruce, that television shows and Hollywood in general have been used as tools for public diplomacy for some time now. The Nye, Soft Power article even sights Roosevelt’s production of the Office of Wartime Information to, “shape Hollywood into an effective propaganda tool, suggesting additions and deletions to many films and denying the licenses to others” (98). Given the U.S government’s investment in media production and based on what you noted about other countries having limited media production capacities, it is no surprise that Hollywood and other undesirable t.v series (like the Simpsons, for instance) have made their way into the homes of foreign citizenry. As a result of this type of public diplomacy, Americans are perceived as one dimensional, Homer, Marge, Bart and the other characters archetypes. When I lived in Spain for three years, my Spanish friends constantly used to tease me about life in the U.S and my own family life—as ignorant as the questions seemed, they asked, “Does your Father work in a factory?” or worse, “Does he go to the bar everyday with his buddies after work?”. “Do all Pakistanis own chain food grocery stores like 7-11?” And the embarrassing list goes on……

    While we may never be equipped to fight off what media production capacity sells abroad, we can counter the effects through citizen exchange and providing more adequate representation abroad in the form of person-to-person interaction. According to Nye, these exchanges are what produce long lasting relationships and ultimately, “change minds”.

  3. Ditto and ditto to both Laurens.

    I am going to enter this conversation from the opposite angle, how the Jersey Shore represents Italians. To be clear, there is obviously a big difference between Italians and Italian Americans. They are basically two different cultures; the latter a completely hybridized creation which resulted from waves of immigrants into the US, and not reflective of modern day Italian society at all. However, for those in the US who have no been able to travel to Italy, watching TV shows like the Jersey Shore or the Sopranos is how the culture is understood.

    It is incredibly shameful how the Jersey Shore represents the dreck (yiddish word, literally means “rubbish” but is even stronger) of American society through completely disrespectful behavior. And if we go another layer in, the show also sends a message about Italians. I believe that this creates an arena for stereotypes to be enforced, resulting in the perpetuation of racism against this group. I was at the National Italian American Foundation Gala last month, and the incredibly bright and successful Minority Leader of the Ohio Senate, Capri Cafano, indirectly and diplomatically renounced the show and what it communicates.

    I will be honest, I know stereotypes exist for a reason and while I have never been to the Jersey Shore, I do know the type of individual that the show is glamorizing. But what I cannot accept is the arrogance of MTV to bring the show to Florence and basically sh** on Italian culture by letting the cast of the Jersey Shore run rampant in the birthplace of the Renaissance. (Can you tell this topic gets me heated? πŸ™‚

    So now this becomes a question of our entertainment outlets and what level of responsibility, if any, do they feel they have to be “media diplomats”? Seems like not very much.

  4. We’ve had a lot of conversations in class about “media ownership” and the reality is that this is just kind of what sells. As Lauren pointed out, people like drama. As my co-worker has told me constantly “the best way to watch Jersey Shore is slightly inebriated with 5-6 other people.” We’re also a society of commentators. We like to critique things, people, motives, issues. OF COURSE we like Jersey Shore–it’s a group of people asking to be made fun of, gawked at, and generally just poo-pooed on. But they’re the ones laughing (and probably making bank) because somehow, their network show is getting top ratings while excellent shows like Arrested Development and Community are threatened because of the lack of mass appeal.

    All that aside, the media cultural exchange is nothing new. Real World I’m sure made several trips overseas. The Bachelor/ette always takes trips around the world (Turkey, Iceland, and I think Thailand on one of them). We don’t want people to generalize that this is what America is all about, but it is. Other cultures are sexy to us. It’s quite a thought to ask, “What would happen if we put the Jersey Shore cast in Italy” for the exact reasons that we (and they) hate it! They didn’t send them to Mexico where they could have all the booze and beaches of a normal episode. They sent them to Italy, the cultural epicenter of refinement, art, social competence. Of course they did.

    I suppose I should be more surprised and I still don’t see the point of Jersey Shore. I watched one episode and decided I had gotten dumber and would never do so again. But what of our other popular shows as media exchange? I don’t know that anything on television shows the best parts of American society. Realistically, ONLY person-to-person interaction will cover the multitude of sins displayed in our media programs. And until the programming quality improves, I will opt to read a book in that nice “no Jersey Shore, grazie” cafe.

  5. I don’t know what to say except that sometimes I am ashamed of the culture I come from. It saddens me to think that that many people actually watch Jersey shore and even more disturbing to consider it Public Diplomacy. We have also recently discussed in-groups and out-groups. There are just some groups that I would do anything to not be associated with. I feel bad for people that really are from Jersey, now anytime they tell someone that they’re going to have to preface it with “no, it’s not like the tv show”. I always found it annoying to have to tell everyone that I am from California, and no I don’t surf. It never fails any person I meet from out of the country, as soon as I say California, it’s always have you met a movie star and do you surf? At least that’s not particularly negative. I wonder how the people that produce the show sleep at night knowing the garbage they are spewing into the world is ultimately reflecting back on the American image. How do we change this? I can’t stand pointless shows like that, but if people watch it, what can you do to keep it from being public diplomacy?

  6. Let me preface this by saying that Jersey Shore make me wince and cringe. I will say that Snooki is probably the most authentic cast member, but that’s another story. I have searched frenetically for an article I read in GQ when Jersey Shore came out that defended the cast with some pretty concrete arguments, but I can’t remember them in their entirety. But, I think it is almost too easy to criticize Snooki and the Situation more than the system and the society that has produced them.

    While bringing the cast to Italy may not have been the ideal exercise of Public Diplomacy. But, I think even though we disagree that this is obviously low-brow that does no good to promote a more accurate image of “America,” it is accurate to the extent that it reflects the demographic it represents quite well. I’m not speaking of the Jersey, or even the Italian-American community, but rather the college-age (18-25) demographic. MTV has done a good job at striking gold by filming a train wreck…I don’t know if the program’s popularity is linked so much to the notion of liking drama as much as it is the growing trend to watch programs (particularly reality programs) teeming with morally reprehensible characters and situations that potentially make us feel better about ourselves. Assuredly, none of us have derailed to the extent Snooki has after a long inebriated evening, but I’ve been sucked into the program once or twice simply because it made me feel intellectually and morally superior.

    And unfortunately, I think Jersey Shore somewhat accurately displays the realities of being young, immature, financially dependent with disposable income, and free of responsibility other than GTL. I think that speaks more about the unfortunate realities of our society. However, its not unique to the US…anyone heard of the UK’s Geordie Shore?

    And while Jersey Shore is by no means an example of good public diplomacy…it isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t I found this article pretty interesting. http://www.gq.com/entertainment/humor/201006/princeton-university-reunion-weekend-party

  7. Clearly, Jersey Shore is a popular topic. I’m interested in weighing in because I actually just started watching the show. Overall, it’s mindless and serves no real purpose. However, I am somewhat entertained by the cast and their nonsensical sayings (GTL anyone?). Maybe it’s because the shows is full of people whose lives are so completely different than mine. I agree with Jeff’s comment that Jersey Shore isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It’s a guilty pleasure. The show’s cast has no qualms about their questionable lifestyles. But, in terms of public diplomacy, I’m not really sure what Jersey Shore represents about America. The show is staged comedy. It’s supposed to be outrageous for entertainment value … I’m not sure you could argue that there’s much truth to it. How many times do a set of American strangers get together and live in a house with the sole responsibility of getting trashed? I know that our media influences opinions abroad, but do people seriously think that America is a land full of Snookis? I sure hope not.

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