Saturday, March 20, 2010

Being and Snookiness

Being and Snookiness
Michael Maynard
March 20, 2010

In my youthful desire to rule the world, (and rightfully so) I had a triple major in college: Business Administration, Psychology and Philosophy. All three have proved valuable in my career as a management consultant and journalist/columnist/writer. I can analyze your business operations, assess how effectively your employees work together, and tell you what and how you and your company add meaning and context to the spiritual world. Forget Tim Geithner and Hank Paulson, I can really straighten out these financially and morally bankrupt companies.

The summer before my senior year in college, I undertook a major extra-credit research project in order to graduate early. I wanted to have a head start of my fellow classmates in starting my path to the top. The top of what was unclear, but it had to be the top. My research project was to read the writings of the major German philosophers: Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel and Martin Heidegger and write an analysis of their works and how they apply to modern life.

As a result of that summer’s tedious work, I can launch into a major dialectic on almost any subject and take either the for or against position, sometimes switching sides in mid-argument. I can discuss what we know, how we know, and what we know when we know it. I got so immersed in Heidegger’s analysis of our Dasein ( the question whether we really exist or all existence is illusional), Being and Time, to the point where my own existence that summer was in question.

In contrast, I’m sure none of the above has ever concerned Snooki and the Situation, whom my age, if they have ever analyzed their reason for being, have concluded that they are on VH1's television show, The Jersey Shore, therefore, they exist, they should exist and they will continue to exist, however unfortunately. I’ve watched episodes of this “reality” series and know firsthand the agony Heidegger must have gone through in trying to conclude why there is value in human life. If I had to co-exist with these people daily, the Atlantic Ocean would claim one more body to sink to the bottom. .I’m willing to bet that epistemology is not a concern for them and their friend, J-Woww. If Snooki and the Situation think about Dasein, it’s any place that isn’t hot until they show up.

How do these people lead so meaningless lives? What did they do for a living before the show? What could they do for a living, if they didn’t have the income from this show? How could a certified teacher allow them to pass the 3rd grade? But the biggest question is: Why are they on TV at all?

I haven’t become an old fogey and I’m not going to tell you that modern civilization is coming to an end, as my mother told me when the Rolling Stones first became popular in my early teenage years. It’s not that the Jersey Shore people are evil or wrongdoers, it’s just that they are chooches. (Translation:from the noted source, Urban Directory, A chooch is Italian slang for hardhead,, blockhead,, any of a number similar insults pertaining to one's stubborness or limited use of common sense.) If you stick your tongue down a different guy’s throat each week and “go home with them”, there is good reason to for others to think that you’re a slut. If you don’t recognize that this is slutty behavior, than you’re a chooch. If you go to bars, get drunk each time and pick fights with bigger guys, who can obviously knock the pasta faguli out of you, and you go home beat up often, you’re a punching bag and a chooch..

I accept that fact that we, as a nation, (myself included) first became TV voyeurs, when PBS showed the life of the Loud family. Yes, it is the same viewer funded, highbrow quality programming Public Broadcasting System, which brings you Sesame Street, Nova, Bill Moyers’ Journal and many hours of intelligent TV programming, who introduced the first “reality” show in 1973. We watched with fascination and horror, that what seemingly was the prototypical happy American family had to deal with their son “coming out of the closet” and the breakdown of the marriage, leading to separate residences and ultimately, divorce. I know as a teenager, when I watched the Loud’s, I thought I was watching different world than the one I knew. In retrospect, their world wasn’t that different, it’s just all of this behavior was kept behind closed doors in the world around me.

So how did we regress from the real suburban upper middle class Loud family to the mugging for the camera likes of Snooki, J-Woww and The Situation? Not only are the once closed doors open, it’s now a non-stop open fraternity house.

The economics of “reality television” versus professionally scripted and acted programing is inescapable. Reality TV costs 60% to 70% less to develop and produce. There are 200+ national television channels now versus 4 channels in my youth.. The term “narrowcasting” is predominant. VH1, where “The Jersey Shore”, is broadcast, competes against, CNN  and MS-NBC for news junkies, the Fine Living Channel for Martha Stewart wannabes, the Speed Channel for gear heads, G4 for teenage boys and tech heads, various Spanish speaking channels for Latino and heaving low-cut bosom watchers, and channels for virtually any subject which has some kind of group interest. There are more and more channels competing for less and less audience. Bruce Springsteen was correct - there are 200+ channels and there’s nothing on.

So maybe “The Jersey Shore” was really targeted for the chooch audience segment?

Who knows? Maybe there is 24 hour Jersey Shore channel in the works. Snooki and the Situation appear not to need any sleep now, despite the extensive amount of mattress time already they spend, they certainly wouldn’t sleep if they know a camera is always watching them.

So any programming that can generate ratings improvement, even marginal, and costs less to create is going to be broadcasted, no matter how unintelligent. There’s going to be some audience who will watch it. Maybe this is the fulfillment of Marshall McLuhan’s ominous warning “Everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.”

Even Snooki, J-Woww and The Situation. In their case, Heidegger may have been absolutely right and simultaneously wrong - they are illusional but not illusions until we turn off the TV or change the channel.

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