The Conference of Jersey Shore Studies at the University of Chicago kicks off today with a panel of experts set to discuss the cultural phenomenon known as Jersey Shore. The MTV reality show is the subject of the one-day conference with a wide range of topics everything from hypersexuality to the guido lifestyle and the ‘Phenomenon of Pseudo-Celebrity.
The Jersey Shore Conference is being organized by David Showalter a member of the University of Chicago Cloister Club. Prior to today’s conference we talked with Mr. Showalter about why he’s organized an actual academic conference on something that seems so…well non-academic. Since he said it so much better than I could paraphrase here’s what he had to say in his words:
“I’m holding the conference for several reasons. First of all, “Jersey Shore” cries out for thoughtful study, and the conference will help us as scholars to catch up. Since its debut in 2009, “Jersey Shore” has become the most popular show in MTV’s history, turning its previously unknown castmembers into celebrities, millionaires, and public representatives of the entire “Guido” subculture.
The ways in which they have leveraged their personalities and identities into branding and revenue opportunities across multiple mediums are indicative of the complexity of today’s popular culture and media landscape, as well as changing notions of fame, celebrity, and work.
The uproar over the show from Italian-American organizations, as well as controversy over incidents like Snooki being punched in Season 1 and Sammi and Ronnie’s abusive relationship (and the use of those incidents by MTV to drive viewership) have engendered a fresh wave of discussion of the ethics and morality of reality television and the relationship between audience and cast.
The stars of the show have devoted large amounts of screen time to discussions of many pressing contemporary issues, including gender roles, sexual normativity, ethnic identity and heritage, the use of terms like “Guido” that many consider pejorative, and so on. All of these aspects of “Jersey Shore”—its place within the larger television and media universe, its impact on youth culture, Guido and otherwise, and its onscreen representations and content—are all ripe for investigation, and the conference will help to fill the deficit of work on the show.
More broadly, I hope the conference serves as a model for rigorous and legitimate scholarship on topics that may be considered too “lowbrow” for academic attention. It is clear that shows like “Jersey Shore” form an important part of contemporary culture, and we deserve more thoughtful commentary and study of the media that we consume on a daily basis.
As a personal note, the University of Chicago go to great lengths to foster an “Uncommon” spirit of inquiry on campus, and I think events like this conference fall perfectly in line with this tradition…So I suppose I’m also trying in my own way to make my school proud.More broadly, I am hoping that conference will serve as an inspiration both for other events and projects of its kind, as well as for any student who is interested in studying something that might not be taken seriously by others in the academy.”
Check out the full Jersey Shore conference schedule and follow the Jersey Shore Conference discussion on Twitter.
Jersey Shore Season 5 premieres in January 2012 on MTV.
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