By Shannon Perez-Darby
I know what you’re thinking; Jersey Shore is nothing but a hot mess, right? In short, yes… there are many upsetting and frankly quite disturbing things that have happened over the course of 4 seasons. And while I can say that I watch Jersey Shore for “research,” the cold hard truth is that I like it and watch it as much for entertainment as for critique. Many critiques have been written about the show and while I think there is a lot of validity to those critiques that’s not what this post is about.
Talk to any avid Jersey Shore watcher and they can tell you who their favorite cast members are (I prefer Snookie and Vinnie, not that you were asking). Now Vinnie is no saint, and recently got into some hot water for a seriously upsetting rap he released glorifying rape. While disgusting and upsetting for me, this point brings home what I already know: people are complex and not easily pinned down into the narrow character archetypes offered us by reality television.
As a domestic violence advocate who watches a lot of TV I’m often asked for representations of domestic violence in pop culture. These days I’ve found myself coming back time and time again to the relationship between two Jersey Shore Cast members, Ronnie and Sammie. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this now-famous reality-television duo, Sammie and Ron meet during the filming of the first season of Jersey Shore and they’ve been in a tumultuous on again off again relationship over the course of the 4 seasons. One of the most upsetting fights to watch happens in the 3rd season in an episode entitled “Cabs Are Here!” in which we see Ronnie and Sam in a fight that culminates in Ronnie taking Sammi’s stuff and throwing it out on the porch while they’re shoving, yelling and screaming at each other. There are tons of horrific things that happen in this episode but what I want to focus on is how the roommates react to this fight.
At the very end of this fight we see the aforementioned Vinnie telling Ron, “Breathe bro… dude that’s not healthy. Enough is enough”. In the MTV interview after the episode airs, Vinnie tells us “I was telling Ron, I was like, ‘You guys need like real help. You need to sit down with like a therapist or something and just really get real help because this stuff isn’t healthy.’” It’s really worth watching the entire 10 minute clip for a lot of reasons not the least of which is to hear Sam talking in a really calm and thoughtful way about the unhealthy dynamics in her relationship with Ronnie.
What I think is so powerful about these moments is that you get to see real life moments of friends and family offering support. We see Vinnie not only intervening in the actual fight telling Ron to calm down and get out of the house for a little while, but we also see Vinnie following up after the fact, telling Ron how concerned he is about the dynamics of his relationship with Sammi and supporting them both to get help.
In the world of domestic violence where isolation is the single most unifying characteristics among folks who are surviving abuse what would it mean if every person who was surviving a pattern of power and control had friends and family showing up to support them through all of the ins and outs of their abusive relationship? How would rates of domestic violence change if every survivor could go stay at their mom’s house to recuperate and get support and if every person who was battering someone had friends reflecting back to them the impact of their behaviors? While these moments may seem small and insignificant I would say that they’re anything but; in fact I think this is one of the only ways we’re ever going to roll back rates of domestic violence, by each of us looking at our own relationships, by staying connected to our friends and family, by stepping up and asking “So how’s it going with your sweetie?”, by opening up our houses, bringing food, having that weekly friend date to reconnect; these are the things that each of us can do to support the people in our lives. While examples of people acting bad via reality television are a dime a dozen, it’s not often we get to see friends and cast mates stepping up and supporting each other to get the help they need. Hot mess, it may be… but don’t say you never learned anything from watching Jersey Shore.