November 1, 2011

Jersey Shore Conference: A tale of two Italies

“Homecoming” was the operative word at one conference, “Guido Cultural Signfiers,” where a panel of University students outlined the characteristics of the American guido and traced the term’s lineage back through Italian culture.

“They were returning to their homeland, but it’s really the homeland of their relatives,” said Rita Biagioli, a Ph.D. student in comparative human development.

“Guido” arose as an insult for immigrants who had not assimilated into American culture, according to Biagioli, but has since evolved into the cast members’ ethnic identity and youth culture.

However, this culture is often in conflict with continental Italian culture, Biagioli said, as seen in season four, which transplants the cast from their native New Jersey into foreign Italy: When the Italian translation for guido is translated back into English, it means “vulgar, provincial youth.”

Some of the characters in “Jersey Shore” recognize that guido culture is not synonymous with Italian culture. As cast member Pauly D sings in “Beat Dat Beat (It’s Time To),” one of the singles off of the show’s soundtrack: “I don’t represent all Italians. I only represent myself.”

House music also plays a major role in the show as a coping mechanism when cast members have difficulty assimilating into Italian culture, according to third-year music major Melissa Scott. “When homesick, Snooki dances to and seeks certain music,” Scott said. “The house music she is familiar with is a site of escape.”

In addition to homesickness, the cast also struggled to adopt Italy’s eating and drinking customs, said Alexandra Reznik, a Masters in English literature at Duquesne University. In one season four episode, the cast find themselves visibly out of place during a tasting at a local winery.

“They have a disregard for the culture surrounding the wine tasting,” Reznik said, “but they are willing to participate in the consumption of the alcohol.”

Still, the panelists said, for those cast members hoping to identify more closely with their European heritage, all hope is not lost, pointing to a few of “Jersey Shore’s” rituals that are in keeping with the customs of their distant homeland: respecting and forgiving one’s family, obsessing over an Italian-American spouse, and drinking shots before dinner.

This article is part of our full coverage on the UChicago Conference on “Jersey Shore” Studies.