Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The seductive threat of just being yourself

Much excitement is derived from the Jersey Shore's ghetto-style assault on professional culture in the US. For starters, professionalism is a mandatory form of socialization insofar as anyone hopes to meaningfully "succeed" in US society; it affords the only kind of social status and power made available to the working classes: a respectably elevated position within the social hierarchy; or, power over others.

Many people resent this whether they are professionals or not. From a very young age we are taught what we need to do if we want to have any kind of respectable life, and by and large this entails conforming not to our own standards of right and wrong but to somebody else's. Somebody else, after all, has in their possession what we need to live respectably, and we have to get this through them. We do not learn that we can be respectable by "just being ourselves" in a comprehensive way.

The appeal of the Jersey Shore comes precisely from the notion that the cast members are "just being themselves" in spite of the fact that this often exceeds the scope set by the idealized norms of professionalization. No one in their right mind is supposed to "just be themselves" if this is likely to antagonize a potential employer. US audiences understand this implicitly, owing to the experience of class in their lives: if they behaved like someone on the Jersey Shore, or merely like "themselves," they could lose their social standing altogether. Any population so dependent on external sources of legitimation is subsequently enthralled by apparent examples of individuals who don't give a damn.


Todd S. said...

Your analyses of Jersey Shore are very intriguing. I'm almost tempted to watch it, but I think I'll just continue learning vicariously through your viewing.

George Jones said...

haha, i liked this a lot: "Any population so dependent on external sources of legitimation is subsequently enthralled by apparent examples of individuals who don't give a damn."

Brian M said...

I am going to be the contrarian (again)

Interesting post...And yet....and yet...no man is an island and all that. The thrill of seeing someone sticking it to convention is not 100% virtuous or even 100% healthy. It is somewhat juvenile sometimes.

I just cannot see people as stand alone islands of pure shining individuality. How can human beings exist except in a social milieu? Would you celebrate the crowd of fat priveleged white guys who have decided they are oppressed by clothing and so wander around starkers in the middle of a neighborhood? The neighbors are not so amused.

Sometimes one is not saying "fuck you" to "the man" but to one's neighbors and friends. Is that really a worthy philosophy of life? I am very skeptical.

Are you saying there should be no social standards? If not standards imposed by "the market" what about standards imposed by puritanical religion? Or "tradition"? Tradition and religion can be pretty restrictive and oppressive as well.

Besides, is the Jersey Shore ethos really more independent and daring and free than "professional" culture? Is this type of "working class" culture automatically superior? I am, again, skeptical. These subcultures often exhibit racist, sexist, often violent, views.

Plus, is not the focus on "bling" as materialistic as any professional yuppie? A Monster Truck or a Harley (another "rebellious" subculture) can cost as much or more than a BMW with the added thrill of waking your neighbors at 3:00 a.m. because you are too bad to use a muffler. Or ramming your souped up Mustang through an oppressive stop sign hitting a school kid?

JRB said...

Brian M.:


On these questions I don't think I've said anything yet.

But they're good, and I intend to get to them.

You always seem to be pushing me in the right direction -- so thank you for that!

Brian M said...

LOL. Don't want to come across as a concern troll or anything like that. You make me think...make me question assumptions...and I enjoy that.

biggayslut said...

Your Jersey Shore postings might be much improved by YouTube clips or quotes, either from the show or from critics/supporters of the show. Otherwise, those of us who don't watch it or read about it are required to accept what look like EXTREMELY dubious assertions on faith alone.

I find it extremely hard to believe, for instance, that Jersey Shore constitutes an 'assault on professional culture' and I'm at a loss as to who, exactly is feeling the 'much excitement' that is derived from same.

A lot of what I am reading here suggests a porousness of mainstream culture to rebellious influences that I simply don't accept without evidence.

biggayslut said...

BTW I agree with a lot of what Brian says and would add that 'being yourself' on reality television always takes the same very predictable and entirely non-subversive form: being unrepentantly crass, temperamental, and materialistic and living out the worst stereotypes of your gender.

Has there ever been a reality show participant who reads Marx - or reads at all for that matter - or who has any political or philosophical convictions more unique or subversive than run-of-the-mill identity politics or seems genuinely critical in their view of the world and themselves?

Also, you seem to conceive of the professional classes as good deal less vulgar and crass than they are. Perhaps you should be watching the Real Housewives series to round out your studies or meet a few of the folks who work on Wall Street.

biggayslut said...

his type of "working class" culture automatically superior

It's really bullshit to locate this 'culture' in the working class, btw. I grew up in the working class and there was a wide variety of people, including a fair number of kids with an intellectual bent.

Brian M said...

biggayslut: I agree with your comment on 4/24. There is no single working class culture. I guess I just see Jersey Shore is as much of a product as any stereotypical profession culture.

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