MTV's Jersey Shore is one of those genius ideas that looks simple in retrospect: The Sopranos plus Laguna Beach. It's the network's first smash in ages, complete with sponsors pulling ads and politicians protesting. No wonder America has fallen madly in love with these self-proclaimed guidos and guidettes — there's a little Jersey Shore in all of us. "I have unbelievable mass appeal," says the muscle-bound party monster who calls himself "the Situation" and talks like Gertrude Stein. "Everybody loves the Situation. And if you don't love the Situation, I'm gonna make you love the Situation!"
In the days of old, the Jersey Shore was an idyllic seaside retreat, but now it's a place for MTV's eight handpicked housemates to booze and brawl, after a hard day of work at the Shore Store or binge-tanning at the Simply Sun Salon. A typical night out in Seaside Heights involves getting the crap kicked out of you by girls with names like JWOWW and Snooki after a few sips of Ron-Ron Juice. Can this place be real? Who cares? It's a runaway American dream where the highway's jammed with broken guidos on a last-chance hair-gel drive.
It's weird to think how just a couple of years ago, people got a kick out of The Hills, watching all those prissy little rich twits whine about how much they hate one another. But whether it's massive economic hardship or just celebutante burnout, it's Jersey Shore's America now. These kids are not deluded by that Hills sense of entitlement. They know summer will end and they'll have to go back to their ordinary lives. So eat, drink and hook up with the Situation, for tomorrow ye shall be right back selling "I Shaved My Balls For This?" T-shirts.
The contrast is all there in the way the ladies have each other's backs. While the Hills girls were catty frenemies, the Jersey Shore guidettes will kill for one another. They don't mess around with eye-rolls — they get blood on their press-ons. JWOWW punches a girl who calls Snooki fat, but she tells the others the girl called all the housemates fat, so Snooki won't feel singled out. It's a tiny gesture, but a moving one. Would Audrina do that for her own grandmother? And who wouldn't love to see JWOWW punch out Heidi or Spencer?
While the kids rage all night, they still find plenty of time to debate what is and isn't classy. It's practically a symposium on the code of classy. Wearing a tie to a club called Headliners? Classy. Wearing heels with a T-shirt that proclaims shore store whore? Classy yet sassy. Hot-tub nudity? Maybe we should let Angelina field this one: "They're takin' their underwear off in the fuckin' Jacuzzi! Are you dumb? That's classy? No!"
The girls may have come to the Shore to fight, but the boys came to look hot. The whole guido pageant is a celebration of male vanity, as the boys check out each other's blowouts and lip gloss. But the girls could give a fuck about body-image issues. While the Situation, Pauly D, Vinny and Ronnie compete to be the prettiest thing in the room, the girls just open another bag of Doritos and pound another beer; JWOWW's hair looks like it got chomped by a bleach-drooling coyote. It only adds to the fun that MTV these days is full of ads for New Moon, another teen utopia where the pretty boys get dolled up like supermodels, while the girl looks like she just slept on the bus. Just think: Wouldn't the Twilight movies be cooler if the Cullens got a house in Seaside Heights, complete with a vampire hot tub? (But bringing home werewolves? Not classy.)
Crazy as it gets, at heart Jersey Shore is really just an old-fashioned sitcom family, where everybody fights, then hugs and makes up, and invites Lenny and Squiggy over for lasagna. The ugliest moment, circulated widely online, came when Snooki got punched in the face. Afterward, there's a touching scene where Ronnie holds Snooki as she cries and tells her, "You know we fuckin' love you." But the next night, Snooki is back in the bars, getting into fights. "I see hair being pulled and all that shit," Snooki says. "And I'm like, 'Omigod, how do I get in?'" Not one to dwell on trauma, our girl Snooki.
People may pretend to watch Jersey Shore because they look down on these kids. But really, we envy their ability to look in the mirror and say, "Shoot, could that be the Situation? Yes, sir, it is." These kids are into themselves. That's why this show has inspired so much outrage. They don't crave our approval. It's summertime, and the Situation is easy.