Michele Catalano really does not like the new MTV reality show Jersey Shore:
“That MTV glamorizes this decadent, risky, and abhorrent lifestyle shouldn’t be a surprise given some of their other programming, but I’m still shocked at just how bad this show is. If it’s not the drinking and sexually promiscuous behavior that’s going to set a horrible example for MTV’s young viewers, then it’s the physical violence.”
“But, one has to wonder, who is watching this show and why? I’m sure other people who live this lifestyle are glued to their televisions, but who else watches this? People who like train wrecks, presumably. They don’t concern me as much as the young, impressionable kids who are watching this garbage. To see the “guido” lifestyle of wanton sex, binge drinking, and valuing yourself for your sexuality and looks displayed like its something to strive for saddens me. Teenagers and young adults have so many mixed messages thrown at them already in the form of advertisements and entertainment. Adding this popular television show to the mix only makes heavier the burden parents and educators have to steer kids in the right direction.”
On the one hand, I am not the least bit surprised. MTV makes shows like this all the time, principally because they are both titillating and cheap. No-name bozos don’t cost much. They might even debase themselves for free.
Part of me says this is no big deal. This kind of TV junk food has been around since the 60’s, and certainly since MTV came along in the early 80’s, and most kids still grow up all right in spite of it all. I know that crap like this didn’t tempt me. If anything, my repulsion of it propelled me into going in the other direction further than I otherwise would have.
On the other hand, economics teaches us that all decisions should be made on the margin. By this I mean that Jersey Shore should not be judged by its lack of effect on the majority but on the pernicious effect it has on the minority. That it has no effect on most young people is irrelevant. What is relevant is that there are some young people whose lives are perilously balanced on the knife’s edge between middle class respectability and loserhood. When they are pushed off the cliff by the show’s hedonistic message they become its real victims.
One reason western civilization developed when it did was the effect of the Protestant work ethic that developed by the Reformation. The work ethic is the thesis that your life’s worth is determined by the work you do and accomplishments you achieve in your life. Modern civilization is impossible without it. It is revealing to note that those non-western societies where something similar developed - think Japan, but also China and India - have tended to adapt best to modernity. And those places where it is absent - places like, say, Africa - remain a disaster area to this day.
So if the Protestant work ethic is so important to society’s success, why are we selling values antithetical to it?
dunno. But the message has been around for a while now. It first popped up in
mainstream culture in the 1950’s with Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, whose
book, On the Road,
glorified the rootless existence of people who wander about from place to place
without purpose. Instead of work and accomplishment, Kerouac teaches us to
value ‘experience’. You can see the same message in many song lyrics from the
1960’s, such as Me and Bobby McGee:
I dunno. But the message has been around for a while now. It first popped up in mainstream culture in the 1950’s with Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, whose book, On the Road, glorified the rootless existence of people who wander about from place to place without purpose. Instead of work and accomplishment, Kerouac teaches us to value ‘experience’. You can see the same message in many song lyrics from the 1960’s, such as Me and Bobby McGee:
“Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don't mean nothing honey if it ain't free, now now.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.”
The drifter lifestyle was also glamorized in the Bob Dylan song, Tangled Up in Blue.
Of course, such an ethos can only exist in a society that had become wealthy enough to allow people to indulge themselves without meeting ruin. Ordinary people could not live the wastrel life 70 years ago, let alone 200 years ago. Only the nobility could get away with living for the moment back then. Unfortunately, nothing remains stagnant. Things are either getting better or getting worse. The idea that life should be valued for the ‘experiences’ it brings rather than for the goals that one achieves is one of the forces pushing society downwards.
Getting back to Jersey Shore: the good news is that most of its viewers eventually come around. Work, money and marital life teach discipline to people who should have learned it first from their parents, their school and their culture around them. Unfortunately, you meet your employer, your wife and your bank manager later in life. By then, the Jersey Shore’s victims will have wasted a good 10 to 15 years of their prime doing nothing. As a result, their lives will be that much less meaningful for it.