Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where I rant about the Jersey Shore...


So I recently saw this on the University of xxxxxxx main page:

Here is the description of this event: "Uxxxxxxx presents an academic conference on America's pop culture reality hit the Jersey Shore. The conference will feature four keynote addresses, nine panel discussions, and an episode screening, as it aims to use the reality show to explore problems around gender roles, ethnic identity, celebrity, the influence of mass media, the notion of ‘reality’ itself, and much more. The all-day conference kicks off at 9:30 AM in Ida Noyes Hall, and concludes with an evening reception at 8:00 PM"

What? I mean, really? The University of xxxxxxx , one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, hosted an "academic" seminar on the "Jersey Shore?"

On the one hand, a discussion on the notion of "reality" might have been interesting. I can only hope that it pointed out the clear disconnect between what is portrayed on television as reality, and what the average person actually experiences as reality.

I certainly do believe that there are problems surrounding gender roles, ethnic identity, celebrity, and the influence of mass media. But I don't know that an entire seminar viewing these problems through the lens of the Jersey Shore is necessarily beneficial to understanding the problem.

I believe that a seminar with a broader focus would be much more effective. Body image in the media could be discussed in conjunction with "The Swan." Reality TV that is clearly scripted, as passed off as unscripted, could be viewed through the lens of "The Hills," "The Simple Life," or "Keeping up with the Kardashians." There are, of course, many other prime examples, admittedly including "The Jersey Shore."

Ethnic identity could be discussed quite well through the lens of "The Jersey Shore," but other shows could be considered as well. Perhaps MTV's "Cribs," or MTV's "Flavor of Love."

Also what could be discussed are Reality television's competition shows. Perhaps there could be a discussion about how the "favorite" contestants on American Idol are given extra help from vocal coaches and stylists, thus tilting the "competition" in their favor. Or, perhaps the fact that shows like the Bachelor make women seem desperate for love. Or, perhaps there should be a discussion about how the "romantic" reality TV shows rarely involve real love.

I understand the feeling, Pauly D. Right there with you!

I don't know. I guess the whole point of this rant is that the University of xxxxxxx should hold itself to a higher standard. This is a school where the current estimated cost per year for an undergrad is $58,955. THAT'S PER YEAR, making a 4 year undergraduate degree cost a whopping $235,820! If a student is spending that much money on an education at a school that regularly lands on top ten lists, then perhaps the school should hold itself to a higher standard, and not host such frivolous conferences.


  1. Have you looked at the program? Believe me, this was anything but frivolous. Having attended a number of academic conferences, including some at U of C, I can tell you that the funny thing is probably just how seriously they took it.

    It's an interesting concept to focus so closely on one TV show. I have a number of books that look at religion in popular culture, and they do more what you describe, each essay looking at a different show, song, etc. I think there's something very useful in having everyone discuss a single show. There's be a common point of reference and language. Since the speakers come from a number of different disciplines (linguistics, philosophy, music, etc), having a common subject allows them to have a fruitful discussion.

    I've never seen Jersey Shore, or I might be tempted to see if they had a book coming out of this conference.

  2. I lost my entire rebuttal. Ugh. I'll start again.

    I was not able to locate a program, but now I have. It took a few more clicks than I realized at first.

    I understand what you are saying, but I personally think that reality television should be discussed more broadly, rather than focusing on one show. I think that it's a common enough subject that it doesn't need to be narrowed to only "The Jersey Shore."

    I think there definitely needs to be more discussion about how the phenomenon of reality TV has shaped mass media and American culture. But I think labeling it "Jersey Shore Studies," cheapens the validity of the discussion.

  3. I'd like to post a portion of a comment I left on Facebook in regards to this, to further explain my feelings and ideas:

    I acknowledge that there is plenty to be discussed concerning the effects of reality TV on mass media and American culture. I just don't think that the discussion should be limited to only The Jersey Shore. Furthermore, I think that entitling a conference at the University of Chicago "Jersey Shore Studies," cheapens the University (that's not the best sentence, but I'm too lazy to correct it). My argument for how it cheapens UChicago is embodied by my own knee jerk reaction to the title.

    As far as my opinions about the effects that reality TV has on American culture and mass media, well I don't think it's good. That's boiling my plethora of thoughts down to only a few choice words. But, then again, I'm entitled to my opinion, and that's why I avoid reality TV wherever possible.

  4. Further comments from Facebook:

    Barbara, I have taken college courses involving the effect of mass media on American culture. And those classes revolved heavily around "reality" TV. I view reality TV as damaging and destructive because it portrays a false picture of what reality actually is.

    I try to avoid reality TV because it makes me angry.

    But I don't agree that The Jersey Shore provides an example of everything that is wrong with reality TV. It may provide examples of a few key things that are wrong with reality TV, but I think there are more ideas to be explored.

    The thing is, a part of me wants to go back and edit the rather short-sighted first version of the blog that I posted. I don't think I properly expressed myself. But I won't go back and change it because I think it should stand the way it is. That's how I published it, and that's how it should stay.

    But I think it's worth noting that I've listened to what people have said, looked a little deeper into what the conference was about, and amended my opinion a bit.

    I now acknowledge the academic validity of the discussion, but I think the conference should have had a broader focus, and perhaps a different (less inflammatory) title.

  5. I HATE the reality TV, but I'm inclined to agree with Kelly here.

    As I said on your FB Beth, per your blog, this is but a discussion about society through the lens of Jersey Shore.

    It's a bit like saying: Harvard is having a seminar on contemporary religion though the views of a Jedi.

    To me, as ridiculous as that sounds, it's much more interesting than ANOTHER discussion about contemporary religion in society today.

    One gets me in the door and engaged, the other.. not so much.

  6. I don't think the title cheapens the University at all. It draws people in and drums up interest in the conference. How many academic conferences get any publicity at all? It's a good thing when they do.

    And sure, there's plenty to talk about if you broaden the focus, but this is a one-weekend conference, not a year-long course. Having a tight focus is extremely helpful. The problem with looking at all reality TV or whatever is that not everyone will have seen the show you're discussing, and they won't be able to respond to it. Everyone who presents at or attends a conference on the Jersey Shore will have seen at least one episode so they will all understand the references, and that leads to a more fruitful discussion. That's why I earlier talked about these books I have about religion in popular culture. The essays are interesting when I know the subject matter, but in any given volume like this, there are always essays that are meaningless to me because I don't know the TV show/music/etc. It's really boring to sit through conference papers when you don't have the background knowledge, and in a 20-minute talk, the speaker doesn't have the time to outline it for you. I imagine it would be extremely interesting to be at a conference where everyone shared a common reference point.