I was next in line to meet America’s most beloved guidette when I started second-guessing myself. I had waited two hours in a Poughkeepsie Barnes & Noble for Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to sign my copy of her book A Shore Thing. I was planning to greet her with “PARTY’S HERE,” the way she greets her housemates in the first ever episode of Jersey Shore. The signing was in February 2011, before Snooki got pregnant and engaged, before she and Pauly D got spin off shows, before The Situation went to rehab, and before it became uncool to be as obsessed with Jersey Shore as I am.
The line shifted and a staffer signaled that it was my turn. “Party’s here,” I mumbled nervously, but loud enough that Snooki heard me. “Yeah,” she responded with a hint of sarcasm. Snooki was less amused with me than I was with her, but I didn’t take it personally. It was a wintry afternoon and this is a person who seems out of her element during the day and in the cold. I approached with the book opened to the title page facing her, as the staffer had instructed. Snooki was dressed conservatively and wasn’t her As-Seen-On-TV enthusiastic self. No leopard print dress, no poof, no Long Island Iced Tea. She signed the page with a pink marker in big round letters, like a popular girl in middle school autographing her trapper keeper.
“Welcome back to Poughkeepsie!” I blurted out, remembering that it’s her hometown. “I love you!”
“Thanks,” Snooki said politely, but shortly.
A security guard moved in an inch and I knew my time was up.
This close encounter of the Shore kind may be the closest I’ll ever get to the culture that gave MTV its most successful show. I’m neither a guido nor Italian. I prefer bars to clubs, I don’t belong to a gym, and I’ve never gone spray tanning. I’ve barely even spent time in New Jersey. Yet Jersey Shore has affected my life more than any other piece of entertainment.
As anyone who knows me can tell you, I constantly pepper my speech with Shore-isms, know the most extensive, useless facts about the housemates, and go out most nights with the same enthusiasm that Snooki does, which doesn’t always work in north Brooklyn. I don’t have a blow out, but I fist pump, try to maintain a solid (natural) tan, and say, “yeah buddy” way too often. The show’s ratings have fallen, but there is no denying its influence. Rarely is a TV program so culturally and linguistically affecting. Seinfeld gave our parents “yada yada,” but Snooki and co. gave us “smushing,” “GTL,” “tee shirt time,” “the shirt before the shirt,” “grenades,” and way more. They certainly didn’t invent guido culture, but they brought it to the mainstream and became its poster people. In less than three years, the show that started as a type of The Real World and that couldn’t attract advertisers became a cultural zeitgeist.
Watching Jersey Shore is like going to a party, with each episode heavy in drinking, dancing, fighting, and house music. MTV knows you’re not supposed to still be at a party when the lights come on, and starting with this week’s last ever season premiere, the network is closing the tab and cutting the music.
There’s a brief shot in season five unlike any other in the series. Pauly D and Vinny are playing a boardwalk game, throwing baseballs at dummies. The camera cuts to the dummies for a second, revealing that it’s caricatures of themselves that they’re trying to knock down. This Brechtian moment may be the only time that the show has alluded to the influence of its stars. So who are the real dummies? Probably us.
I’ll be a meatball long after this season ends. Although I still haven’t read my copy of Snooki’s book.