American Icon? THIS?
You gotta be shitting me.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'm hardly MTV's demographic. I'd argue that I wasn't MTV's demographic back when we were watching the videos for "Sledgehammer" and "Take On Me" and "Losing My Religion." But when you don't have kids, you think you can stay relevant. Later on you learn to use new words like n00b and say w00t! in text messages and talk about how someone gow pwn3d, in the hope that makes you still a cool, happening sorta old person.
But I draw the line at Jersey Shore
. In the Beginning
The Italian-American zeitgeist is nothing new. If "colorful Jews" dominated radio in the pre-television era, "colorful Italians" have dominated pop culture for the last thirty or so years. It all started with The Godfather
, as the murderous Clemenza could be forgiven anything because of his immortal line, "Leave the gun...take the cannoli." Later in the 1970's, the gangsters of Francis Ford Coppola gave way to a younger group of Italian-Americans.
Mr. Brilliant used to joke about the whole Saturday Night Fever
/disco thing by calling it "To be young, stupid, and have no future." John Travolta's Tony Manero was the proto-Situation; a heavy-featured Italian guy, inarticulate, boorish, oversexed, vain. At least Tony Manero could dance.
The cultural touchstone of the last decade was indisputably The Sopranos
. The genius of David Chase's vision was how he was able to make people in the flyover states actually CARE about a large cast of extremely unappealing characters who exemplify the WORST of Italian-American cultural stereotypes. Is The Situation just the latest manifestatio of Michael Imperioli's Christopher Moltisanti? Is J-Woww the reincarnation of the poor, doomed Adriana, the original Guidette? And how the hell do I know who these people are, anyway?
Once you get past Jackie Mason, the Jewish stereotype has largely fallen by the wayside. Sure, there are comics like Marc Maron who still play to the "Jewy thing" to some degree, but Jews have become so assimilated into goyische
life that we now have a generation of Kaitlyn Goldbergs and Ryan Liebowitzes. Why assimilation today means that every baby is Irish, I have no idea. But there's a certain rough Italian-American archetype that still captures the imagination. Everywhere. You can't fucking get away from it. And that is why, despite the fact that I have never seen the show, I know who Snooki is.Pay Attention To Me!
Last Sunday she was the focus of a Mean Girl article in the New York Times
style section, which referred to Nicole Polizzi as "a berserk windup toy"
and alluded to some possible retardation
...she doesn’t exhibit normal levels of self-control for a woman her age. Her father, referring to her antics on “Jersey Shore,” said, “It’s not an act she’s putting on,” and as if to prove that, he described a recent visit by Snooki to his office: “Instead of standing at the counter and saying, ‘Can I speak to my father?’ she walks in and goes, ‘Daddy, Daddy!’ And people are looking at her. It’s not an act. It’s just the way she is.
Now, I've never seen Jersey Shore
, but the minute I saw "4-foot 9 inch" in that article, I immediately started thinking about how, on a show full of tall, busty, sharp-featured girls who are the living embodiment of what Richard Price described in his 1974 debut novel The Wanderers
She was about sixteen and had jet black hair piled high on her head. She had a nice figure, as much as he could see, and her face was Cunty Italian -- small dark features, dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a lot of eye makeup.
...it's the ridiculously short chick with the kind of body that went out of style after WWII if it ever WAS in style, who's the breakout star of this show? As someone who only has maybe an inch and a half in height on young Snooki, I have to admit to a certain fascination with the way she's treated in the media, and even a certain soupçon
of satisfaction that someone who is, as a former fellow vertically-challenged co-worker used to say, "a normal-sized person," is the one everyone's talking about.
From press accounts, she's dumb, loud, vulgar, childish, with an outsize personality, albeit largely a lousy one. But in a peculiar way I can relate to that. Because when you're less than five feet tall, you often have to be loud in order to have people recognize that you exist. It isn't so much that we want attention (well, most of us, anyway; Miss Polizzi seems to be an insatiable need machine), we just don't want to be jostled in the subway, bullied on the roads, and in general treated as if we don't even exist just because the tops of our heads are below the eye level of a good chunk of the American public. So we have to do something to let the world know that we're here, or else we find ourselves, as I did in our local pizzeria one night, trying to pick up a pizza with the counter so high they can't see you, while people behind me in line get waited on so I'm reduced to shouting, "Hey, am I fucking invisible or something?" This is not the sort of thing that sounds normal coming out of the mouth of a fortysomething (at the time) self-styled Jewish intellectual. But out of someone called "Snooki"? Pure gold.
I cringe at the idea that Jersey Shore
is how not just the rest of the country, but the world, sees Americans. But for all her vulgarity, you've got to admire someone with a nickname that sounds like the dog down the street, doesn't give a rat's ass what you say about her height, her ridiculous hooters, her thighs. or her awful taste in clothes. And while I realize that all this is starting to make me sound alarmingly like Camille Paglia, I say to Snooki, go get 'em. Take their money and wear what you want and tell everyone who doesn't like it to go fuck themselves. Do it for all of us who get pushed around and called Little Napoleon and have to have 10" of fabric cut off everything we buy. Because we are not short, and we are not fireplugs, and we are not the Lollipop Guild
. We are normal-size people. It's the rest of you out there with inseams longer than 26" who are the freaks.
Labels: American Idiots, ethnic stereotypes, pop culture, The Decline and Fall of America