Studying the ‘Jersey Shore’: Conference aimed at academics

Laura Donovan Contributor
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Calling all intellectuals, scholars and professors: There’s more to “Jersey Shore” than drunken brawls, underwear cat fights, and GTL (gym, tan, laundry) sessions. Really! University of Chicago student David Showalter will explore the multifaceted nature and sociology of the reality series in his upcoming academic conference on “Jersey Shore Studies.”

“Too often we dismiss shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ as mere drivel, but the sheer popularity of the show and others like it belies that quick rejection,” Showalter explained to The Daily Caller. “Pop culture across all mediums surrounds us and entertains us constantly. It is a fascinating part of our society, and deserves thoughtful consideration not just by scholars, but by everyone who partakes in it as well.”

The “Jersey Shore Studies” one-day conference will “interrogate the landmark MTV reality television show,” examine the popular program’s patterns and stars, hear students present research papers and challenge academics to view the show in a more scholarly light.

Gawker’s Brian Moylan, who will present at the October 28th conference, wrote earlier this summer that the event will be a debate on the reality show’s unusual dynamic; consider the meaning of the slang term “guido;” analyze Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s novel “A Shore Thing;” and pose unanswered gender questions such as, “Why do the guys [on the show] cook and the girls fight?”

The reality series, which follows the lives of several rowdy, often inebriated housemates in the Garden State, exploded onto airwaves in 2009, earning the network record ratings and spreading the word on the Jersey Shore itself. During any given episode, there’s bound to be a punching match, sob fest, trip to the tanning salon, or hook-up, much to the satisfaction of dedicated viewers.

Although Moylan described Showalter’s event as “brilliant,” the UChicago student claims to have been inspired to put on the gathering after seeing an April Fool’s spoof advertisement about a conference like this.

“I’ve been an avid viewer of ‘Jersey Shore’ since early in the first season, and as I watched the show more and more, I noticed many, many scenes and situations (seriously, no pun intended) that I thought deserved more sustained attention,” Showalter told TheDC.

“While there already exists a rich scholarly literature on reality television—to which the conference is very much indebted—very few academics have studied ‘Jersey Shore’ specifically. So when I came across the April Fools’ joke, I decided that I would try to organize a legitimate academic conference on the show,” he added. (RELATED: Snooki: Italy needs ‘more nail salons with Chinese people running them’)

Asked if he’d informed the “Jersey Shore” cast members of the conference, which has three scheduled keynote presenters, Showalter said he hadn’t reached out to the reality stars due to their obscenely high appearance price tags.

“[E]ven if I wanted to involve them in the conference, there is no way I could have afforded their appearance fees,” Showalter responded. “When Snooki spoke at Rutgers recently she earned $32,000, which is more than ten times the budget for the entire conference.”

Showalter, who began promoting the conference several months ago, has been pleasantly surprised by the national attention it has garnered.

“When I first began organizing the conference, I assumed that it would mostly be of interest to other UChicago students,” Showalter said. “I was very, very surprised when posts about the conference started turning up on blogs and news sites around the country. Since then, I’ve done quite a few interviews, written an op-ed in support of the conference, and been in contact with academics and authors from around the country.”

As Showalter is well aware, “Jersey Shore” isn’t taken seriously by many. Earlier this week, preppy retailer Abercrombie & Fitch implored the show’s cast not to wear its brand, attesting that the reality series could significantly damage the clothing company’s image.

Last year the The National Italian American Foundation declared the show’s cast members as “laden with promiscuity, debauchery, and violence” and called the program itself “a disgrace.” “Jersey Shore’s” Oompa Loompa Snooki was arrested last year for disorderly conduct and consequently dubbed “a Lindsay Lohan wannabe” by a judge. (RELATED: Snooki in custody after crashing into cop car in Italy)

In spite of the criticism about the mores displayed on “Jersey Shore,” Showalter wants scholars to keep their eyes open for the series and consider its influence.

“I hope that the conference helps to draw more scholars’ attention to ‘Jersey Shore,’ which by any measure is an incredibly successful and important show,” Showalter said. “To that end, the conference will showcase a lot of new work and thought about the show from a wide range of scholars and authors. But more generally, I hope that the conference encourages people to be more thoughtful consumers of media and popular culture.”

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