According to recent surveys, Jersey Shore is one of the most popular shows on television, even among teenagers. Yet it deals constantly with “adult” situations that most parents would not want their teenagers to be involved in: drinking, nasty back-biting and temper-tantrums, highly physical relationships without commitment, wild parties, etc.
What makes this TV show so entertaining and popular? Let’s take a brief look at the Jersey Shore phenomenon and see if we can learn anything from it.
Reality shows have become hugely popular in the last fifteen years. They seem to be a refreshing change from the canned laughter and fake situations of so many comedies and dramas from the earlier days of television. We get to see how real people react in real situations.
But are reality shows truly that real?
Well, yes, they really do film real people in real situations. The actions and reactions we see are not purely a stage illusion.
But in some ways reality shows are not quite as real as they pretend to be. The producers purposely set up dramatic situations so as to generate dramatic reactions. The shows are a combination of reality and planning.
And the shows tend to feature a certain type of person. They feature people who love to be noticed by others. Usually this type of person can handle the pressures of being in the spotlight, but he or she often tends to be very self-centered. Usually this type of personality is referred to as narcissistic.
Not welcome on reality shows
Many people do not sign up or qualify for reality shows because they do not like having their privacy invaded. This is because in many of us would prefer not to parade our mistakes and weaknesses in front of others.
Does this mean that most of us are are just hiding our weaknesses and not dealing with them?
This can be true, but usually it is easier to overcome our mistakes and weaknesses when we are not being constantly scrutinized by everyone else. Common sense tells us that in order to overcome our flaws and mistakes we need a respectful atmosphere, not an atmosphere where people are celebrating our mistakes.
When we mess up
It is usually better for us to overcome our mistakes with the help of people who genuinely care about us and who will respect our privacy. This is where our relationships with our parents, with Christ, and with friends who have good values help so much.
As Catholics, besides the wonderful gift of prayer, where we talk to Jesus as our best friend, we also have the added gift of Confession.
Here we can be totally honest about our mistakes and receive forgiveness from Christ in a very personal and moving way: we hear Jesus speak to us in the human voice of the a priest who pronounces Christ’s words of forgiveness after listening to our real situation.
A priest, like our parents or people with good values, can often give us valuable advise and encouragement in our effort to overcome our weaknesses and live up to our greatest ideals.
A priest’s advise in Confession is not, strictly speaking, exactly the same as Jesus telling us what to do (a priest can make mistakes), but a priest’s training and experience in helping people can often be a big help. And the absolution a priest gives in Confession is really and truly Jesus giving us forgiveness and a new chance.
But let’s get back to reality shows.
Beside featuring a certain type of person, reality shows tend to feature a certain type of acting. This type of acting is usually called improvisation. It is sometimes used in traditional TV, theater, and movies, but it is one of the main features of reality TV.
Improvisation can be some of the very best acting, because it tends to mirror reality more closely than just repeating lines that someone else has written. It is more of a gut reaction to a situation rather than a strict following of a script.
But, it is still acting. As an actor, you are trying to get people’s attention. You are playing a role. In reality shows the actors are playing a role. Just that they are playing it all the time.
Snooki and happiness
For example, Snooki, probably the most famous member of the Jersey Shore cast, has a very interesting role. She is the unlikely hero. She is blatantly open and honest about her feelings in every situation. Her basic attitude probably can be described in this way: “I don’t care what you think. I am just going to have fun.”
Her honesty often gets her into very interesting situations, but she knows that it is her job as a cast member to “stir things up,” to create dramatic situations.
We admire her honesty and openness, but we wonder about the wisdom of her decisions. Is she really building a life of true happiness? Or is she just living for the moment, purposely ignoring some of the destructive results she is creating for her life?
Happiness and the future
We cannot help but admire her courage, but our admiration is bitter-sweet. We sometimes wonder about her future. It would seem that she may end up very lonely and depressed once the thrill of the parties and the power of the fame and money she is making begin to wear off.
Jersey Shore promotes a certain type of happiness. It is the happiness of living just for the moment. It is the thrill of a quick relationships.
We all know that happiness can be found in these things, but is it lasting happiness?
Fireworks or a home
Perhaps not. Perhaps real happiness is more like building a house. We have to do it brick by brick. It takes patience. It takes putting aside some quick thrills for a while, delaying the rewards a bit.
Building a longer happiness is not as thrilling as a quick party. But it can stand the storms of life better. It is like the difference between the excitement of a fireworks display and the warmth of a home that is built on love, patience, and respect. Both have their joys, but one lasts a lot longer.
Which happiness will each of us choose? We answer that question every day.
Then the scribes and pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle …. But when they continued asking him, Jesus straightened up and said to them. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” … Then Jesus said to the her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8: 3-10)
“Mass media can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2496)
“While claiming to represent reality, communication media can tend to legitimize or impose distorted models of personal, family, or social life.” (Pope Benedict XVI, May 4, 2008)
“Should it not be a priority to ensure that they remain at the service of the person and of the common good, and that they foster … man’s inner growth”? (Pope Benedict XVI, May 4, 2008)
- What personality traits do you admire some of the characters on Jersey Shore? What personality traits do you not admire?
- Do you think that showing young people doing these things is interesting? Does it help you deal with potential problems in your life as well?
- Do you think that perhaps programs like Jersey Shore feed on some of the unhealthy curiosity in all of us? Do you think that they do more good than bad or more bad than good?