Jersey Shore recap: The Decline and Fall of the American Everyman
Vinny crosses a line with Snooki, Ronnie and Sam implode, and Boss Danny can only look on in disgust
Before we begin, fellow viewers, I have one question: Who is the everyman on Jersey Shore? Who is the control group in this demented science experiment? Who is the person to whom you would happily say “Hello, my friend!” if you ran into them at the local supermarket/multiplex/church/bar? In this show’s curious subculture of demonic partygoers and decadent thrill-seekers and Xenadrine-addled ape-men, who is, well, the normal one? The obvious answer is Vinny. He is not running a relentless stealth PR campaign for his own cult of personality, like Sitch. He was not stolen from his jungle home and raised in captivity, like Ronnie. He is not stuck in the Mirror Stage of human development, like Sammi. He is not a tormented crusader for justice, like J-Woww. He is not a sociopathic demi-god from Neptune, like Pauly. He is not Snooki, like Deena.
Vinny honors his family. Vinny tries to be a good friend. Vinny’s skin is not the color of a rotting Jack O’Lantern. He is self-aware, and witty, and thoughtful. (All of those terms are relative, but you get the idea.) Vinny makes mistakes, but he appears to regret those mistakes. We can tell ourselves that, if we were trapped in a house with steroidal rock ’em sock ’em robots for two months in a row, we would act a lot like Vin-Vin: bemused, exasperated, a little bit frightened.
But maybe that’s an optimistic perspective. We should remember that humans are a petty, selfish, narcissistic, semi-suicidal species. We invented the atomic bomb, breast implants, and the Disney cruise. We agonize over pointlessly shallow things. “Do I look good?” “Do people like me?” “How come everyone I know hasn’t realized that I am the most interesting person they know?” From this perspective, the everyman should be a fundamentally tragic figure: A self-mythologizing, self-loathing Willy Loman type, who brings only sadness and terror into the lives of the people who love them. The everyman is the cause of their own problems, the villain in their own story. With that in mind, it’s obvious who the everyman is in the Shore house. To misquote Oliver Stone’s Nixon: When we look at Vinny, we see who we want to be. When we look at The Situation, we see who we are.
Of course, the truth is that there isn’t really an everyman on Jersey Shore. This is because the American Everyman is dead. He died over a decade ago, in the summer of 2000. On May 31 of that year, Survivor debuted. Six weeks later, on July 14, the first X-Men movie hit theaters. Those two apparently unrelated events were, in hindsight, a pair of slow-detonating proximity mines whose dual explosions would fundamentally alter American pop culture. Survivor inaugurated the decade of reality television, a genre built on the dual foundation of Ridiculous People (The Hills, America’s Next Top Model, America’s Got Talent, The Real Housewives of Everywhere, anything with Celebrity in the title) and Average People Forced to Do Ridiculous Things (Survivor, Amazing Race, Fear Factor, Wife Swap, Undercover Boss.) Even shows about “real people” doing “real jobs” elevate their material into the stratosphere — the typical A&E reality show is shot like a Michael Bay movie, except the characters aren’t models and the dialogue is better written.
At the same time, the Era of the Superhero Movie slowly pushed most average human beings away from the multiplex. Tom Shone’s essential book Blockbuster brilliantly notes how America’s movie heroes used to be average joes — the freaked-out sheriff in Jaws, the farm boy in Star Wars, the high school kid in Back to the Future. Now, our heroes have all become godlike beings. Consider the billionaire protagonists of Batman Begins and Iron Man, the dashing adventurers of Pirates of the Caribbean, the world-saving messiahs of The Matrix and Avatar. Yeesh, Thor is literally a freaking god.
This wasn’t Hollywood’s fault. We all want to be athletic billionaires who save people because we love justice. We all want to go away to a desert island and win a million dollars. We all want to be gods, and we all secretly believe that we can become rich and famous just by being ourselves. (This is why American Idol is still the most primal reality show on television — it taps into our secret belief that we are superstars, just waiting to be discovered.) Nobody wants to be normal anymore. Which is why the real hero of Jersey Shore is Boss Danny, the owner of the Shore Store and the last man left on earth who can treat the Jersey Shore cast like the horrible overgrown fifth graders that they are.
NEXT: Death of a T-Shirt SalesmanBoss Danny doesn’t look like much. Central Casting would make him the supervillain’s henchman, or maybe the background buddy who laughs at Patrick Dempsey’s stupid jokes. But Danny — or the version of him we see on Jersey Shore — is a noble human being. He owns a business, which used to be one of the three fundamental American aspirations. (The other two were owning a house and conquering the moon.) In order to run his business, he has to deal with the most awful people on the face of the earth. They are lazy. They are spoiled. They are incapable of committing to hard work. They follow all their worst instincts and expect to be rewarded for it. They are the cast of Jersey Shore. And they are exactly like us.
Imagine what a mammoth undertaking it is to film a season of Jersey Shore: producers, directors, cameramen, burly black-shirted security personnel, a crack team of criminal attorneys on-call 24 hours a day. Picture all the people whose entire existence is based on making the Jersey Shore gang look good. Only Boss Danny remains to speak truth to power. On last night’s episode, Deena showed up late for work on her last day. She was bored, and tired, and useless. “I don’t wanna deal with fricking people!” said Deena. “I want to make T-shirts!” Danny was adamant. “I’m gonna get some work out of you,” he said. “How about you go make a sale?”
Danny doesn’t ask much out of his charges. They are not mapping out the Louisiana Purchase. They are not laying the groundwork for the Transcontinental Railroad. They’re selling T-shirts. And yet, it was all too much for The Situation, who is only good at selling himself. Sitch also showed up late for his last day on the job. He promptly snuck into a changing room and fell asleep. A deliveryman set down some big packages and accidentally trapped Mike in the changing room. When Danny found Mike fast asleep, I was surprised he didn’t have the delivery man finish the job and cover Mike’s little sleep-hole with cardboard, and therefore trap him. It would’ve been just like The Cask of Amontillado, except without the archaic language or the cask of amontillado.
“You know what, Mike? You’re fired!” Danny said. Sitch walked away, laughing, already training for his paso doble. Danny was just joking when he said, “Getting fired from the Shore Store? He will never amount to anything.” But you know what? He might be right. Of course, The Situation is a multi-millionaire. He could buy the Shore Store and turn it into his own private money bin. (Picture Uncle Sitch sitting on a giant mound of money. He loves to dive around in it like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher, and toss it up and let it hit him on the head. He goes on wacky adventures with his nephews Vinny, Pauly, and Ronnie. Mike is like a hurricane, here in Seaside…) And yet, Boss Danny has one thing Sitch does not have, something that no one on Jersey Shore will ever have again for the rest of their lives: his dignity. We could all learn a valuable lesson from Boss Danny, if only we could avert our eyes from the ridiculous shenanigans all around him.
Next: The Ballad of Vin-Vin and Snook-Snook (Back to the Shenanigans!)I once owned an edition Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita which featured possibly the most hypnotically bananas cover blurb in the history of bananas cover blurbs. It reads: “The only convincing love story of our century. —Vanity Fair.” What a glorious, ridiculous thing to say! It’s so impossible to quantify: There were probably as many love stories written in the 20th century as there are stars in the sky, or grains of sand on the beach, or grenades in Aztec on a Saturday in late August. Even if it’s true, only a complete goon would make such a pronouncement. Which is my way of saying you should put on your goon-muffs, kids, because after last night’s episode, I have come to believe that the back-and-forth flirtation between Vinny and Snooki has slowly evolved into the only convincing love story in reality TV history.
The young, star-crossed lovers went out to lunch, he modeling a Free Weezy T-shirt, she rocking some Go Hard booty pants. Vin-Vin suggested they go to the place where you can make your own burgers. (He knows Shnookums loves that place.) At the burger joint, Snooki could barely restrain the emotions bursting from her heart. “I’m actually starting to get feelings for the kid,” she admitted to us. “I don’t like that at all.” Vinny pretended to be oblivious: He joked about how Pauly’s girl snores when she’s asleep, while proudly noting that his girl falls away unconscious post-smush.
Why won’t Vin-Vin just hook up with dear Snook-Snooki? “We see you guys every day, you know what I mean? It’s just weird,” said Vinny, by way of explanation. What he was trying to say, I think, was: “Of course I love you. I’m with you all the time, and I always have fun, even when we’re angry at each other.” He said as much in the confessional: “These other girls really aren’t that important. The chances that I can ever actually be serious with Snooki, you know, they can get there.”
Now, you could argue that Vinny is just being a total dude: Certainly, from a shamelessly objective perspective, the girls he hooks up with are more classically hot than Snooki. Anti-Vinny partisans certainly had plenty of ammunition later in the episode. Vinny and Pauly had brought home a pair of girls. Suddenly, a surprise visit: Vinny’s girl’s brother appeared at the doorway. For a second, this seemed like a horrible redux of that episode where the Angry Uncle showed up to rescue his niece’s sainted chastity. But no, the brother just wanted to hang out. He basically offered up his sister as a virgin sacrifice to the Jersey Shore house: “I can take them home tonight, or tomorrow morning.”
Pauly D, who didn’t like his girl very much, told him: “Hey, why don’t you take her home right now?” Everyone laughed awkwardly. Pauly D didn’t care. Pauly D has evolved beyond simple human emotions. (It’s impossible to guess how Jersey Shore will end, but I will not be surprised if the series finale features a sequence where Pauly D transcends our celestial plane and transmogrifies into a ball of pure kinetic energy. He’s a DJ!) Pauly’s girl got one great line in, by the way: “I’d rather f— Mike anyway.” It’s funny, because it’s not true! God, fiction is hilarious.
NEXT: The Cruel Heroism of Mr. Circumstance
The girls both went home. Vinny, who was apparently smashed out of his gourd, decided to play a little joke. “C’mon, Snooki!” he yelled, pulling her down the hall, her green slippers rubbing against the floor. It was a bad joke. Everyone was horrified. Pauly D’s eyes were like gigantic saucers that looked horrified but musical. Snooki: “I’m not anyone’s last resort! You always want to snuggle when you’re drunk.” Even through the fog of inebriation, Vinny had a good retort: “You do that, too!” And he was right — the only difference between Vinny’s actions last night and Snooki’s actions a few episodes back is the inherent predatory subtext of a dude creeping on a girl.
So ’round-and-’round they go, this pair of lost romantics. Vinny made a big joke out of it: “We’re going to have sex in the air.” (Was that a Moonraker reference? God, I hate Moonraker.) The best thing about Vinny and Snooki is that they are literally great for each other…until one of them actually tries to acknowledge that they have feelings for the other person. They are a perfect couple whose perfection is entirely predicated on them not actually being, you know, a couple. I imagine them, many decades into the sci-fi future, as next-door neighbors in a retirement home on Mars Colony 57B, merrily smushing their way through the gorilla juiceheads and DTF hotties in the octogenarian ward, and laughing about their respective conquests over old-person brunch the next day. Man, the future is going to be awesome.
Speaking of tragic romances! Ronnie and Sam were having a fight… oh dear lord. I’m sorry, viewers, I can’t bring myself to write about them anymore. [Darren receives a stern phone call from his fatcat bosses demanding that he continue writing about Ronnie and Sam. Following the phone call, which leaves him in tears, Darren shuts his computer, empties a bottle of Xenadrine onto the desk, crushes the pills, and mixes the powder into a mug of scalding hot coffee. He then opens the computer again.] Ronnie and Sam, you guys! They’re back together, wow! And they had a serious talk about the whole Arvin thing! Well, Sammi talked. Ronnie looked at his food, and ate the food, and fed Sammi some food. He did not say a word all during dinner except “Can I have more mustard?” Sam said, in all seriousness, “My night alone with Ronnie, surprisingly, is going amazing!”
They spent a memorable night-vision hour in the upstairs bedroom. They came down to the living room to watch the Vinny/Snooki drama unfold. Somehow, Vin got into a 8 Mile rap-battle with Sam. Vinny:
You got no plan
I’m the man
You’re just a fan.”
He’s a terrible rapper! Sammi responded:
You should go in
But you’ll never ever be
Someone like me!”
Definitely an improvement. Vinny:
You’s a sit in you’re seat
See my girl Sam
She’s the sneakiest bitch you’ll ever meet!”
And then Vinny fell over. Pauly D was screaming with happiness. Sammi was not happy. Things were getting awkward. All it would take to blow the lid off this house is something simple. Like, perhaps, an inebriated parent quack-quack-quacking on the duck phone.
NEXT: Arvin’s terrifying revelationEnter Ronnie’s Mama. The duck phone squawked with her maternal concern. She talked to Deena, who handed her to J-Woww, who handed her to Mike. Mama McDuck was talking all about Ronnie and Sammi’s Miami experience — we can theorize that she had just watched an episode from season 2. “I don’t know, Mike,” she bleated, “What are we going to do? Quack?” Mike decided to tell Mama McDuck the sad, true story of Arvingate. Why would Sitch tell her this? Why? Clearly, some men just want to watch the world burn.
When Ronnie and Sammi returned, things reached a boiling point. Team MVP and J-Woww were talking to Ronnie outside. Sitch was regaling poor Ron with the primordial history of Sammi and Arvin — how they were friends, long ago, and might have hooked up. J-Woww preached balance: “Can you guys maybe neutral that? You hooked up with a girl in Miami!” (J-Woww is just like Blind Justice, except instead of holding balancing scales, you’re holding two gigantic volleyballs.) But J-Woww’s reason fell on deaf ears. Ron actually said, “It kind of seems like Mike is stirring the pot being an instigator. But I think Mike is actually being a friend and looking out for me.” Actually, you were right the first time. Thanks for playing! Because J-Woww is so wise and so wonderful, she said, “I’m pretty sure that Ron is getting brainwashed by Mike at this point. All the boys are brainwashing him.” She was right. Honestly, this has to be the single stupidest thing that any guy has ever agonized about. So a girl finally got out of an emotionally abusive relationship, fled home, and started text-flirting with an attractive fellow who does not suffer from any known mental disorders and has a head that is not shaped like a watermelon bowling ball. What’s the crime here?
But don’t tell that to Team MVP. Vinny: “I do not trust my girl talking to another dude.” Yeesh, what is this, the Dark Ages? Even worse was Pauly, who said that Sam’s crime was much worse than Ronnie’s: “All his s— was out in the open.” Guys, Ronnie still hasn’t really admitted to anything from Miami! (When he does talk about it, it’s so vague as to be essentially immaterial. He has never really had to feel sorry for anything.)
The episode ended at a point of chaos. Sitch had the duck phone cradled in his ear. He called up Arvin Quackfaster: “Hey, dude, did you ever hook up with Sam?” Arvin dissembled, tried to talk around it: “Well, you know, we were hanging out all summer… when you and me were hanging out… Quack…” Ronnie picked up the duck phone: “Have you ever hooked up with Sam?” Arvin admitted that they had made out. Ronnie threw aside the phone and walked towards the deck. Outside, the girls waited around Sam, perhaps to offer her solace, perhaps merely to bear witness to the end of all things.
NEXT: Attack of the argument peopleExcessively Eventful Events from Behind the Green Door
-I didn’t think it was possible for someone to have more fun in a cardboard box than Calvin & Hobbes. I was wrong. Deena was playing around inside of one, and she looked ever so happy, viewers. “I feel like I’m in a spaceship!” she squealed. “I’m stuck, I can’t breathe!” she laughed. “Cardboard box!” she concluded. From now on, whenever I’m happy, I’m going to yell “Cardboard box!”
-Vinny got his ears pierced. You could argue that this completes his transformation from a lovably teenager into a freakish pale clone of Pauly D.
-Witness the return of Danielle, She Who Stalks Pauly. Danielle greeted Pauly thusly: “Do you want to get beat up by an Israeli chick?” (That’s actually a famous pick-up line; I would tell you the punchline, but it’s a little too political for a family website.) (Also, I know “thusly” isn’t technically a word, but Pluto isn’t technically a planet, and I still love it.)
-Pursuant to our conversation about Super Mario Brothers a couple weeks ago, the boys had a pretty funny joke about Deena’s denim-heavy wardrobe. “What’s Deena’s favorite part of Mario Brothers? Denim denim denim!”
-Most powerful visual of the night: When Vinny tried to describe finding a beautiful girl at Aztec, he said, “Through the grenades, I’m always looking to find the one flower that’s in the weeds.” That is poetry.
-Truest line of the night: When some lame douche clown vroom-vroomed his engine, J-Woww zinged, “That means he has a small penis.”
-Best line of the night: Sitch, in a screaming match with Sam, finally just threw up his arms and concluded, “You are the worst argument person ever!”
Viewers, who did you want to strangle the most during last night’s episode of Jersey Shore? Have Vinny’s piercings really changed him, or have they just made him more himself? Is Boss Danny the greatest American hero, and if so, does his sorry lot in life mean that America no longer deserves heroes? Does anyone else want to see an animated spin-off of Jersey Shore about the duck phone’s part-time job as an attractive doctor responsible for stitching horrible wounds back together? (It would be called Quack to the Suture.) And what do you think will happen in next week’s season finale? Will there be a cliffhanger? An orgy? A death orgy? Tell me your thoughts in the comments, and follow me on Twitter for a regular dose of mad quackery. (“A Regular Dose of Mad Quackery” is actually the title of my concept album, which tells the life story of Vincent Van Gogh through country music. The only percussion is duck noises. It’s terrible!)