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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Of fists and fist pumps

Published: January 29, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

MTV’s “Jersey Shore” has come and gone, and it was undoubtedly a goldmine. Before the season was even halfway over, the cast members were making appearances with Jay Leno, getting paid upwards of $5,000 to make club and bar appearances and receiving condemnation from commercial sponsors and government officials alike. They even graced the pages of tabloids and filmed promo spots with Michael Cera, the king of skinny white boys everywhere.

But I’m not really concerned with how much bank these young people will make in 2010, or how many reality spin-offs they’ll be offered. The drinking, smoking, tanning and high-decibel house music will catch up with them soon enough. And when it does, they can all make a go of it on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”

No, I’m concerned with the violence regularly depicted on the show. Those of us who didn’t travel overseas or cloister ourselves in a mountain resort this winter break are likely familiar with the now infamous punch Nicole, aka Snooki, received at a cheesy bar over some cheesy shots in episode four. Much to everyone’s horror, a “grown man” hit the tiniest girl with the biggest hair I’ve ever seen, square in the jaw. It was not pretty. Before the episode aired, the punch clip circulated on the internet and a repeated GIF of it was even made. People were angry, offended, horrified, etc. and the outpour of sentiment caused MTV to pull the clip from the air. Instead, the screen went black for the infamous punch and at the end of the episode, MTV posted a public service announcement of sorts about violence against women and offered a link to a domestic violence website.

That everyone was disgusted by this drunk’s behavior is right. Attacking someone over something as stupid as cheap booze is despicable. Violence should be deplored in all contexts. But on “Jersey Shore,” not so much. The housemates were not content to turn over the perpetrator to law enforcement—they wanted to beat him up in retribution. Somehow answering male-on-female violence with male-on-male violence would avenge Snooki’s bruised and swollen face and set right the assumptions made about men and women that the puncher’s actions disrupted. Maybe this works for the cast of “Jersey Shore,” but we’re still left with the problem of the social acceptability of certain forms of violence.

Unlike it’s other reality shows, like “The Real World,” where if a cast member gets into fisticuffs, they are given the boot, “Jersey Shore,” for some reason does not have the same standards.

Case in point: in the very next episode, Jenni aka J-Woww starts her own fight when a female club patron calls Snooki fat. Snooki, the victim of a bar brawl just the night before, tells the camera that she wanted in on this fight, and later, when she and J-Woww are in the confessional together, they retell the story of the fight with laughs and smiles. Clearly, for these two women, fighting itself is not a problem. Pending certain contingencies, fighting is actually fun and funny.

The difference for these two young women is clear—two women can fight each other but a man cannot fight a woman. They’re half right. It is wrong for a man to hit a woman, and given the pervasive problem of domestic and sexual violence against women, any hostile act by a man against a woman takes on added meaning. That acknowledged, it’s also wrong for any human being to hit another human being, regardless of the demographic characteristics of the parties involved.

No one was hurt in the fights between J-Woww and the name-callers in the bar or Snooki and the young (and very misguided) women Mike aka The Situation brought home, but in the final fight of the season, Ronnie managed to do some serious damage. In this incident, the cast was being taunted as they were walking home from a club. The jeering proved too much for Ronnie, and for the second time in the series, he threw a punch. And this time, he knocked out his opponent—cold.

Shortly thereafter, he was apprehended by the police and was rightly thrown in jail for the evening. And yet, no one seemed terribly upset by Ronnie’s actions, least of all Ronnie himself. Upon his release, he told the cameras that he did not regret his violence. He only regretted being caught. And The Situation, with his characteristic smirk, told the camera, “that’s what you get for talking shit.”

This attitude is not acceptable. Much has been written on the culture of male violence wherein young men are raised to believe that violence makes and maintains the man and “Jersey Shore” offers us a concrete example of the damage this belief causes. If MTV is so concerned with being socially responsible, as they attempted to be in the case of the Snooki punch, they should put an announcement at the end of every episode decrying bar fights, boardwalk fights and balcony fights. Violence doesn’t suddenly become acceptable because it’s between members of the same sex or individuals with similar muscle mass.