The Situation is surprised to discover that the people he has spent three years torturing don't like him
There are people who have given up on Jersey Shore, and I can understand why. The show isn’t really fun anymore. The cast can barely stand each other. J-Woww — who once upon a time was the house’s wounded heart and bruised moral soul — has become a non-entity, too mature to be really interesting in the show’s drunk-preschool environment. Snooki swans through Seaside Heights acting as if every half-hearted catchphrase she farts out is an instant double-platinum hit. She’s like a one-hit wonder stumbling around the Meatpacking District one year after her hit single dropped off the charts, assuring her Twitter followers that she’s in serious talks to collaborate with Kanye. Or she’s like Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard, vamping for the cameras, not realizing that her adoring fans are actually policemen with diamond-studded handcuffs.
Ronnie and Sammi have settled into the sort of wedded bliss that you usually only find in emotionally abusive couples who turn 60 and decide they may as well stick together until the sweet embrace of Death finally provides some warm respite from the bleak, bitter winter of waking life. Deena entered the house as a parody of Snooki and has now become a parody of herself parodying Snooki; if Snooki is The Matrix, then Deena is Underworld: Awakening. And Vinny has staged a full retreat. He was always the smart one, so perhaps he sensed that a vomit-palace filled with vagrant inebriate masochists was not the best place to experience a nervous breakdown.
And yet, I think that the viewers who are checking out of Jersey Shore are missing one of the most fascinatingly depressing seasons in reality TV history. Now, to a certain extent, all reality TV is depressing, since reality TV stars debase themselves for our amusement, and if they’re lucky, they’ll fade away before they become famous. But this season of Jersey Shore — the final season, I think, or at least that’s how I’m choosing to treat it — is literally becoming a show about depression. It’s a show about people who have achieved everything they could have ever hoped for — people who can walk into any room and become the center of attention, people who get paid to act like late-period Roman aristocrats, people who are at their best when they are allowed to be at their absolute worst — and, by and large, they are discovering that achieving their dreams have left them empty and alone.
In that sense, the only two truly interesting characters left on the show are Pauly D and The Situation. You could argue that Pauly D is the hero of Jersey Shore: The ever-smiling imp whose half-hearted catchphrases actually are all double-platinum hits. Which would make The Situation the clear villain: He’s the man who stages robberies on humble Vin-Vin, who torments Snooki, who stalks around town with a man named The Unit. (The Unit clearly being the Muttley to Sitch’s Dick Dastardly.) And yet, you could just as easily pull a Wicked and argue that The Situation is the show’s hero. He’s an essentially flawed 45-year-old man whose greatest crime is being a devoted follower of his own belief system, whereas Pauly D is a synthetic creature designed for perfection who views the rest of the world like tiny, hilarious dots. Can’t you see Uncle Sitch onstage, a spotlight capturing his sunbleached forehead, singing aloud to all those who don’t believe in him:
It’s time to tryyyyyYYYY!
I think I’ll tryyyYYYYY!
And you can’t pull me down!
But of course, these theories are all just silly. At this point, it should be extremely clear that The Situation is George Lucas and Pauly D is Steven Spielberg.
NEXT: An explanationLast night, Pauly D and The Situation were both celebrating their birthday. Or rather, The Situation was looking on, his face draped in an increasingly dour haze, while the entire world celebrated Pauly D’s birthday. Pauly D’s family and friends from Rhode Island all surprised him. Even Big Jerry was there! Pauly’s mother brought along his barber from back home, who spent about an hour working on Pauly’s hair. As near as I can tell, the barber didn’t actually change anything, since Pauly still looked like the evil grown-up clone of Calvin (as in & Hobbes.) Pauly’s family brought him and The Situation and Ronnie out to dinner at Rivoli’s. They ordered him a lobster. They ordered him a birthday cake. They told him, “Oh Pauly, we love you Pauly, fame hasn’t changed you Pauly, you’re still as wonderful as you were the first time we knew you Pauly, your best work is still ahead of you Pauly, Pauly, Pauly, Pauly, Pauly.”
The Situation sat crabbily in the corner. “What about me?” he said. “Pauly’s got his friends and family. I feel like I got nobody.” (Keep in mind: This is a man who is suing his own father.) “I’m like a house with no legs right now. Not sturdy.” (Pause to imagine a house with no legs awkwardly hitting on a Bosnian chick in the middle of a nightclub, and the Bosnian chick says, “Ew, no thanks, I only date houses with legs!” and the house with no legs says “Holy crap, I can talk!”) Later, the girls gave Pauly a birthday cake. Even Sammi helped, and she can’t do anything! “The girls made Pauly a birthday cake,” moaned Uncle Sitch. “I must be the devil in this house.”
Then he pointedly underlined the season’s central metaphor, like a high school student underlining every mention of the word “Green” in The Great Gatsby. “There’s a good guy and a bad guy in the movie. And in this house, Pauly’s the good guy, and it seems like I’m the bad guy a lot of times.”
Now, George Lucas has lately been in the news because of the impending release of his long-in-the-works passion project, Red Tails. The interesting thing about Red Tails is that everyone, even George Lucas himself, agrees that the movie isn’t very good. In a recent New York Times profile, Lucas talks at great length about his vision for the movie, and what strikes you most of all is that Lucas has absolutely no interest in trying to make the movie sound even the least bit interesting. He proudly notes that the film was designed to be as simple and silly as possible. “If it’s a popcorn movie, it needs a lot of corn,” he says at one point.
The telling anecdote comes midway through the second page. In an early version of the script, we are told, the story of Red Tails began in segregated Alabama, with the heroic African-American pilots at the center of the story directly experiencing mid-century racism. The film’s second act would be an exciting series of airborne action setpieces. But the ending would circle back around to the beginning — as all the great stories do — with the heroes returning to a country that still hates and fears them, a country that won’t elect a black president until most of them are dead. That sounds awesome. That sounds like a movie.
It is also, Lucas proudly admits, a movie he was simply incapable of filming. “I can’t make that movie,” he says. “I’m going to have to make this kind of …entertainment movie.” So he cut out the interesting parts and made a movie about digital planes shooting digital Nazis while some of the finest working African-American actors (and also Cuba Gooding, Jr.) loudly declaim platitudinous dialogue which recalls one of the great single sentences in the history of film analysis, from that great overlooked critic Harrison Ford: “George, you can type this s—, but you sure as hell can’t say it.”
NEXT: Roll with me on this for a second, there’s a point.Here is the fascinating thing about George Lucas: Ever since he returned from hibernation to release the Star Wars Special Editions, he has been a man divided against himself. He will give interviews in which he explains that he doesn’t care what people think about his movies, and then he will exclaim with whimpering bemusement that he can’t understand why people don’t like those movies. At one point in the interview, he says — discussing the whole “Greedo Shoots First” fiasco — “My movie, with my name on it, that says I did it, needs to be the way I want it.” Hurray for George! Who cares what the audience thinks? Then, literally one paragraph later, he moans: “Why would I make any more [Star Wars movies], when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
Here is a man who completely spurned the Hollywood establishment — who made himself a beautiful village in the pleasant green acres of Marin County — and yet, he begins the interview with the Times exclaiming his disbelief that Hollywood doesn’t like him anymore. Ponder that for a second. It’s as if Lucas is saying: “Hi, Hollywood! You’re fully of vapid, inane moneymen who crush the artistic impulse of great filmmakers like me. Now, do you want to buy this movie I made? It’s kind of like Flying Leathernecks!”
Later in the interview, Lucas explains that he wants to make smaller, more personal films — which is a line he has been dropping for decades. The tragedy is that Red Tails was supposed to be a more personal film. And here we find another fascinating contradiction: Lucas always describes how much the very human story of the Tuskegee Airmen moved him. How could it not? It’s an inspiring story of people triumphing over other people. And yet, he has made Red Tails, a film which celebrates the triumph of digital effects over old-fashioned things like storytelling and character and sharp dialogue. A movie that could have been Bridge on the River Kwai wound up being Pearl Harbor 2: Boom Boom Boom Boom!
Recall in turn, viewers, how season 4 of Jersey Shore ended. The Situation was alone in their sad Florentine villa, mumbling to himself: “Who’s gonna be the bad guy? Situation? No problem. No problem. I’m the bad guy. Situation.” That seemed like a statement of intent. And indeed, The Situation has regularly explained that he sees his role in the house as a guy who mixes things up. We’re talking about a man who has spent two entire seasons of television tormenting Snooki with the knowledge that they hooked up. And now, he’s expressing his confusion that people don’t like him? Now, he’s wondering why Snooki isn’t baking him a birthday cake?
At the close of the episode, he exclaimed, “I wear my heart on my sleeve, and it actually hurts me to think that people don’t care.” In a very real sense, The Situation’s mistake is the same as George Lucas’: They both choose to be utterly and completely themselves. Which is fine: You could argue that the greatest triumph in a human life is self-realization. But just because you are yourself doesn’t mean people will like that self.
George Lucas’ constant tweaking of the original Star Wars movies is — he has said over and over — merely an attempt to perfect them, because the technology wasn’t good enough back then. Implicit in that argument is that Lucas had a very specific notion for the films, and the primitive technology wasn’t enough to capture that brain-beam. So when, say, Greedo shoots first, that is a direct representation of what was in George Lucas’ brain. Which is fine. The problem is, it’s also stupid.
Like, by way of comparison, here’s a haiku that expresses what I am literally thinking right now:
I want have more sex
The “Drive” soundtrack makes me cry
Also want billion dollars
That’s pure poetry! That’s straight from my heartbrain! What’s that you say? The first line has bad grammar? There’s no point to the poem? Haikus are supposed to follow the syllable structure 5-7-5, and that haiku is 5-7-7? Those are all legitimate critical questions, and here is my answer: F— YOU!!!! I’m expressing my soul, and my soul is beautiful.
NEXT: Pauly D will never stop loving lifeOf course, one of the most interesting things about George Lucas is that his best friend is Steven Spielberg. The two men became famous and successful at roughly the same moment — Spielberg’s Jaws was the highest grossing movie ever in 1975, and then Lucas snagged the title with Star Wars two years later. The difference is that Spielberg has been making films at a fast clip ever since. (His M.O. for the last decade has been to release two films in a single calendar year, although he accidentally one-upped himself by releasing Tintin and War Horse in the same freaking week last month.) Some of those films are incredible; some are merely good; a few are bad; a couple are terrible. But only one of them — the dreary Lost World — is inessential. And even his not-so-good movies, like The Terminal or Hook or 1941 are interesting. Spielberg has never lost his interest in filmmaking.
Now, enter Pauly D. Unlike The Situation — who has aged over the course of five seasons from a rather well-preserved 45-year-old man into a stunt double for late-period Stallone — Pauly D does not appear to have aged a single day in the Jersey Shore house. He always greets every new instance with a warm smile and a hearty laugh. Some of the most enjoyable moments of Jersey Shore have been when Pauly and his old pal Vinny — who, for the sake of this metaphor, we’ll refer to as “Janusz Kaminski” — are sitting on a couch watching their housemates fight each other, commenting on the action with a cynicism that would be cruel if it weren’t so entertaining.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Pauly D is that, five seasons in, it doesn’t feel like we really know him at all. He does not wear his heart on his sleeve, like The Situation. He has never told the camera how he is feeling at a specific moment. The only time I can remember Pauly D being even a little bit sad came early in this episode, when he realized his friend Vinny was really gone. And yet, I would argue that Pauly only missed Vinny the way you or I might miss our favorite co-worker: We’re sad, because now we won’t have anyone to talk to in the cafeteria, no one to send an angry email to when the fatcats in Corporate raise the prices in the vending machine or declare that we can no longer write the word “f—” even if we dash out the nasty letters.
In this sense, maybe Pauly D has always been the smart one. His only goal has always been to entertain. Even now, when the rest of the housemates seem too bored to even go out, he still relentlessly throws out potential T-shirt slogans — “Pauly D Problems!” — and still seems to want nothing more than to party all the time. He seems to know that, at base, his job is to be fun, and in order to be fun he tries to have fun.
The Situation didn’t know that. He thought that if he could just be himself — or anyhow, the part of himself he loved the most — he would get everything he ever needed. Alas: All he has now is merely everything he ever wanted, only a poor old man swimming through his millions, wealthy and famous and misunderstood and alone.
–If the other housemates were great directors of the 1970s, then J-Woww would be John Milius, Snooki would be Martin Scorsese, Deena would be Brian de Palma, Vinny would be Francis Ford Coppola, Sammi would be Bob Rafelson, and Ronnie would be Rick Baker in his Kong Kong costume from the horrible ’70s remake of King Kong.
–Never forget the immortal words of Deena: “I know I’m not the smartest crab in the box, but this isn’t rocket scientist!”
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich