Friday, July 30, 2010

What we talk about when we talk about GTL

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 5:45 AM

It was sometime last winter when I realized The Situation is a genius.

I was on my way to some friends’ place in Brooklyn when a couple of young hipsters passed me on the sidewalk. As they made their way up the street, I was able to catch the tail end of a story one had apparently been telling the other:

“So that’s that situation.”

He paused, realized what he had just said, then chuckled: “Situation.”

I knew exactly what he was referring to. And all because the former Mike Sorrentino has managed to equate himself with one of the most common words in the English language – if not irrevocably, at least inescapably.

I’m sorry, but that’s genius, in a wholly postmodern sense. If you had told me years ago that I could attain instant fame by giving myself a nickname that somehow referenced both my personality and the state of my abdomen

well, right now, I’d be endorsing some pretty hefty checks, all of them made out to The All-You-Can-Eat Breadsticks at Olive Garden.

Jersey Shore is fascina


ting because its participants have been so blatant in their desire to be household names, even as they’re forced to spew its semi-scripted blather about their cherished status as a “family.”  (You know, a family -- like the Gambinos.) Not three episodes into the show’s first season, Snooki declared on camera that she would be the ideal star of a spinoff program, and even helpfully offered a title: Snookin’ for Love. The first generation to grow up on The Real World, the cast of Jersey Shore know how feasible it now is to become famous for having been made famous, and they waltzed onto the show bound and determined to end up as Bobbleheads. (Which happened. Naturally.)

What was interesting was that the two most ambitious players -- the aforementioned Snickers and Sitch – didn’t claw each others’ eyes out for screen time, as one might expect. Instead, they treated each other like respectful rival superpowers: some affectionate brother-sister back-patting here, a little Jacuzzi canoodling there, all in the name of detente. (Or maybe just Mutually Assured Distraction.) True diva-dom was the province of Angelina, the Staten Island cyclone who willfully antagonized everyone by blowing off work and relentlessly “cock-blocking” the boys, all in a clear attempt to become the Puck of the show. She only half-succeeded: She got thrown out of the house, all right, but within a measly two episodes -- quickly enough to have been all but forgotten by the time the Jersey Shore phenomenon was becoming the beach sand in the vagina of popular consciousness.

Angelina is back for Season Two, which started last night. The show’s producers, not content with the explosive potential of housing volatile exes Ronnie and Sammi under one roof, have given themselves some catfight insurance by bringing back its most reliable instigator, hopefully to this time avoid eviction before, oh, Episode Five. And in a truly preposterous contrivance, Angelina is now rooming with two of the guys -- a situation (sorry) that everybody on the show accepted with a readiness born not of open minds but of a dutifully attended story conference.

It’s moments like these when I truly savor the absurd protestations of Shore co-creator/executive producer Sally Ann Salsano, who recently told Entertainment Weekly that it’s getting hard to capture footage of her charges not being treated like celebrities when they go out in public, but that she has to do so to keep the program “real.”

As Angelina would say, “Hello? Are you dumb?” Since when did genuineness enter the picture? If the cast can’t enjoy a simple Saturday-night beatdown without having to sign an autograph for the attending EMTs, that is their reality – and any effort to deny it is as bogus as whatever’s going on on Two and a Half Men.

What’s really driving that attempt to keep the franchise “grounded” is pure economics. The Jersey Shore kids have been engaged in a very public series of contract disputes with the network, all over their pesky belief that the stars of MTV’s highest-ever-rated program should be paid like

well, like stars of a top-rated MTV program. So this week’s unveiling of Season Two was accompanied by a fusillade of press coverage designed to make them all look like dim ingrates whose salary expectations are far exceeding their career prospects. In a particularly pointed piece in the New York Times Business section, Salsano twice admonished the cast against forgetting “who [they] are” – an odious, plantation- mentality turn of phrase that revealed the true panic behind the network’s concerned-sibling stance.

Right now, Salsano and her peeps are positively sweating the possibility that one of these idiots might actually sustain a career that’s not bound to any one network, thus raising the station of the reality star from that of the indentured servant to that of the free agent. (Sorrentino’s public declarations that he can make more money for appearing at parties than for shooting an episode of the show display a nearly Marxist understanding that what he does is more important than whom he does it for.) And if that metamorphosis transpires, everybody who gets cast on a reality series in the future will expect to be treated like a potential business asset, not a contestant on The $1.98 Beauty Show. In other words, they’ll want real money.

Personally, I hope it happens. I hope The Situation GTLs his way into an Emmy for Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, and the miserly bastards who have saturated the airwaves with cheap-to-produce garbage like Jersey Shore have to start ponying up as if they were still making Friends. They’ve squandered an entire medium because quality was just too damn expensive, and now their only hope of escaping poetic justice is to humble the “talent” into acquiescence.

But you can’t keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve seen Seaside Heights. And that’s the name of that Situation.

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