Image Credit: MTVTry as you might to black out every single episode of Jersey Shore you’ve ever watched, it’s hard to forget one particular moment from late 2009. MTV, running a promo for an upcoming episode of Jersey Shore, showed a piece of footage that had everyone gasping in disgust: Snooki got punched. Viewers were outraged (though some were disturbingly tickled), claiming the network was using footage of criminal assault in order to boost ratings. MTV, in turn, listened to their critics, and agreed to pull the scene showing the violence from the episode: “After hearing from our viewers, further consulting with experts on the issue of violence, and seeing how the video footage has been taken out of context to not show the severity of this act or the resulting consequences, MTV has decided not to air Snooki being physically punched in next week’s episode,” the network said in December 2009.
But then on last night’s episode, we witnessed Sammi punching her boyfriend, Ronnie (MTV did not immediately respond to a request for comment). Granted, this scene didn’t involve the same crime: Snooki was punched by a stranger — a man. Ronnie was punched by his girlfriend — a woman. Yet, violence is still violence, and domestic violence can be just as (if not more) terrifying than a random act of heinous douchery. And yet it’s not unthinkable that most Jersey Shore viewers laughed at that moment. We laugh at everything the Jersey Shore cast does: Drink, smush, or sit in refrigerators while discussing their bathroom habits. Why shouldn’t we laugh when a delicate woman clumsily punches her juicehead gorilla boyfriend? But the moment still implied the same unsettling message that the Snooki punch did: That violence is excusable if it makes for good TV.
It’s no secret that TV producers have long equated fighting with good TV — as long as it involved women. It’s the reason Bad Girls Club, Rock of Love, and any other reality show featuring women have been so successful. On Jersey Shore, Sammi and JWoww’s epic brawls continue far after the fight becomes injury-threatening. (Fights between the men on the show end quickly, especially when police become involved, as in Ronnie’s case in season 1. And, really, when’s the last time you can remember any of the men on the Jersey Shore fighting?) We can sit back and laugh (and yes, I’ll admit to laughing while watching Sammi vs. JWoww), but as my colleague and Jersey Shore recapper Darren Franich pointed out, J-Woww (a reality star with both beauty and brawn) is as much a physical threat as any of juiceheads at Karma. Airing a fight between she and Sammi, and playing it for comedy, seems just as unsettling as watching Snooki get assaulted. And even when a David takes on a Goliath — in the case of Sammi and Ronnie last night — it sends a message that it’s okay, if not encouraged, to take delight in domestic violence, at least so long as it’s a woman punching a man. Double standard much?
As MTV said when they decided to pull the footage of Snooki getting punched, viewers don’t get the chance to see the consequences of such an action. Did Sammi get arrested? No. Did Sammi get reprimanded by producers? No. Did anything happen to Sammi at all, besides some (light) chastising from her roommates? No. While no impressionable soul should ever be allowed to watch an episode of Jersey Shore, they certainly should be dissuaded from practicing the same violent behavior they see on TV — perhaps the same way that Teen Mom tells its viewers that “Teen pregnancy is 100 percent preventable” at the start of every show. (Heck, MTV even aired an anti-violence PSA from the Love Is Respect Project immediately after the Jersey Shore episode in which Snooki got punched. What’s the difference here?) And speaking of which, on the very same network, we watched Teen Mom‘s Amber beat her fiancé, Gary, on camera. Though we didn’t witness consequences directly after the fact, subsequent news coverage regarding Amber’s legal troubles — and acknowledgment that domestic in-fighting is unacceptable in the reunion show — was hopefully enough to hammer home to MTV’s demographic that violence in any capacity is unacceptable.
Now, I understand there are few (rational) people who look at JW0ww, Sammi, Snooki, or Ronnie as role models. But there are plenty who view their fights and domestic violence as good-natured fun. And that’s a situation.
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