What’s Wrong with Jersey Shore?

When one hears or uses the term ‘Guido,’ one is usually referring to an Italian-American man, generally one associated with aggressively masculine behaviour, ignorance of social manners, incorporated vanity, indescribable fake tan, enormous amounts of hair gel, and macho-inspired clothing. This term, which many rightly consider to be derogatory, in that it not only portrays a working-class stereotype, but does in fact, put all Italian-Americans in one basket, has lately sparked a media-related controversy.


Tony Manero (John Travolta)


It is unclear where and how the actual term originated, however it is mostly attributed to the 1970s and 1980s. It seems to have been inspired by characters such as Saturday Night Fever’s (1977) male lead Tony Manero (John Travolta) and Grease’s (1978) Danny Zuko (also Travolta), the ultimate Guido, as well as popular characters like Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972). We should also mention other well-known movie characters portrayed by Italian-American actors, such as Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Danny De Vito. What is certain is that the idea of the ‘Guido’ has continued to permeate society, illustrating the fact that racism can be a broader concept than we might think.


Al Pacino’s (Michael Corleone)


To be clear, in this case the word ‘racism’ itself is not used to specify an actual race, but to group a discriminatory and derogatory mentality aimed towards a specific strata of society, i.e. Italian-American working class men.

Generally portrayed wearing tight zipper shirts, tracksuits, tiny hoop earrings, fake gold chains, pinky rings, heavily gelled slicked-backed hair, fake tans and unbuttoned tacky shirts, Guidos are considered to be a comical joke. They are an example of macho-behaviour and vanity gone wrong, working class idiots stumbling along blindly, proclaiming loud epitaphs at a society which looks at them with patronising, superior smugness.

Gina Barreca, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, calls the Guido subculture a ‘crisis of masculinity’ and ‘a celebration of ignorance,’ during an interview with TIME magazine.

The focus on the Guido lifestyle generated a particular controversy after it was promoted by TV popular channel MTV during its reality show Jersey Shore, which was first aired in 2009. This show is distinguishable in that all the characters portrayed are Italian-American who love to proclaim loudly, clearly and often, that they are self-styled Guidos and Guidettes.


The cast from ‘Jersey Shore’


If the channel expected applause from the Italian-American community with this gimmick, it was very much mistaken. After the first episode went on air, during which the female stars of the show shrieked again and again about how much they wanted ‘a hot Guido’ as they were real ‘Guidettes’, the three main Italian-American communities in the area, including Unico National, the largest Italian community organisation in New Jersey, started to make themselves heard. Andrew DiMino, the president of Unico National, is quoted as saying in an article in The Guardian, that ‘Guido’ is ‘a term used to insult us, implying we are all uneducated people without social graces,’ after which New Jersey State Senator Joseph Vitale maintained that the show ‘promotes hatred and insults women of this state,’ saying that ‘if this were the same with African-American or Hispanic or Polish kids, there would be hell to pay.’

DiMino likened the use of the ‘G’-word to the use of the ‘N’-word, saying that just because Italian-Americans (just like African-Americans) used it to refer to themselves, it did not make it right to propagate such ideas of self-loathing. In other words, just because the cast of Jersey Shore sees itself as being fake, vain, ignoramuses with no manners, too much gel, and right in your face twerps, does not mean that the whole of the Italian-American community is like that as well.

In the end, MTV had to replace to word ‘Guido’ with the word ‘roommates’ though the cast itself continued to use the word. After all, the more controversy a reality show generates, the more the ratings go up and considering the popularity of Jersey Shore, which I personally find unfathomable, I’m guessing that unfortunately it does portray a bigger slice of society than we might think.

If you would like to become a Guido, feel free to peruse Jersey Shore’s website for a practical guide to ‘Jersification’