Contributor: Colleen Nelson
Over the past decade, children’s idols have drastically changed shape. The once revered Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear have been replaced with reality TV stars. The cast of shows like Jersey Shore have invaded the homes of American families, and their actions have begun to influence our children in many ways. Children’s vocabulary, clothing, actions, mannerisms, and ideals have all transformed to mimic these TV idols.
“The Jersey Shore” is a reality TV show, similar to the famous “Real World,” which premiered in December of 2009 on MTV. In the four seasons it has been on air, the cast of 8 housemates has spent their summers at the Jersey shore, Miami Beach, and Italy. Season five is scheduled to return in 2012 back at Seaside Heights, the large mansion on the Jersey coast. The cast members are all Italian-Americans from the New York area who like to party hard, and rage harder. Known for their fake tans, unnatural muscles, poofs, and fist pumps, these characters have taken children’s culture by storm. Girls are going to Halloween parties dressed up as Snooki (Nicole Polizzi), and boys are using words like grenade and DTF in their everyday conversations. I am no exception to this widespread epidemic.
Yes, I too was fixated by the outrageous behavior of the Shore cast. For the first season, which aired when I was an early teen, I was glued to the TV. No one criticized my obsession more than my mother. She refused to let the show play on her television, and constantly chastised the characters for their immature and reckless behavior. I was forced to watch the latest episodes when she was not at home. When asked why this show was such a disgust to her, the answer was clear; “Any show where people act like animals, is not allowed in my house.”
My mom is not alone when it comes to disapproving of the MTV hit show. Many parents agree that “Jersey Shore” glamorizes actions that could be considered “animalistic”. Having frequent, meaningless sex, dancing on tables, scantily clad girls getting sick from drinking too much, and crude language is not something that most parents want their kids witnessing. And to make it all worse, these people are gaining fame and fortune from their bad behavior. Kids see that Mike, Snooki and the rest of the gang are getting attention for their outrageous shenanigans, so they mimic them. Alizah Salario put it well in her review “The Jersey Shore: A Critical Analysis”: “I’m worried about everyday people who opt to become their media-created persona – fantasy becomes their reality”. Reality shows are presumed to portray real life, but the “Jersey Shore” is far from it. Most of the scenes in the show are embellished to add drama, and increase ratings. It makes it appear as though all young adults act this way. Children are gaining a false sense of reality from these shows.
One of the biggest problems in our culture is the obsession that young adults have with their appearance. It is no secret that body image and materialism is a major problem facing US teens. Shows like “Jersey Shore” magnify this fixation. Mike, also known as the Situation, is drooled over by girls of all ages (yes, even my mom has to admit that his washboard abs make her swoon). His abs, which are almost orange in color from spray-on tans, are on the front page of magazines everywhere. He even released a workout video in 2010, “The Situation Workout.” When young boys are exposed to images of Mike’s unnatural looking stomach, their self esteem automatically suffers, and they strive to “be like Mike”. The writers of “DoSomething.org” have recently shed light on the facts about teen self esteem that often get overlooked: boys have just as many problems as girls do. They pointed out that “45% of Western male teens are unhappy with their bodies – 25 years ago, only 15% were unhappy with their bodies”. Well, 25 years ago, Mike the Situation was not all over the radar of American Teens. The body of this reality star is just not realistic, and kids don’t understand that.
While we are on the subject of self esteem, let’s talk about grenades. The term “grenade”, coined by the boys of the Shore, is used generously throughout the five seasons to identify an overweight, unattractive girl. This term has weaseled its way into the vocabulary of many teens across the country. What kind of message does this send to young women? On many of the episodes, the term grenade is used for average looking American women. By no means are these girls, who unfortunately stumble onto the set of the “Jersey Shore,” ugly or overweight. When an average looking high schooler sees a girl who resembles herself and her peers being called a “grenade,” the ego takes a hard blow. In a study done by Johns Hopkins University Press, it was found that the number of 18-year-old women who went through breast augmentation surgery had tripled in just one year. This statistic parallels the surge in reality TV. In a study done by Newsweek, it was found that the number of young women that suffer from eating disorders has “almost doubled nationally” in the past few years. There is no question that the media and shows like “Jersey Shore” have played a major role in this startling epidemic.
If my mom had it her way, reality shows would be taken off the air, and these TV stars would be forced to go back to their normal, average lifestyles. Maybe then, the false advertisement of life will cease to influence the youth of America. Unfortunately, my mom does not have the power to do this, nor did she have the power to stop her own child from watching the show. So, is there any hope for young adults to escape the contamination that is reality TV? No. Lets just hope that the carbon copies of Snooki stay at the shore.
 “Jersey Shore (TV series) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, n.d., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Shore_(TV_series).
 “‘Jersey Shore’ glossary: This dictionary of terms will get you (fist) pumped for season two”, n.d., http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/television/2010/07/28/2010-07-28_jersey_shore_glossary_this_dictionary_of_terms_will_get_you_fist_pumped_for_seas.html.
 “The Jersey Shore: a Critical Analysis | Alizah Salario”, n.d., http://www.alizahsalario.com/2010/01/the-jersey-shore-a-critical-analysis/.
 “Amazon.com: The Situation Workout: Mike Sorrentino, Andrea Ambandos: Movies & TV”, n.d., http://www.amazon.com/Situation-Workout-Mike-Sorrentino/dp/B003XTO330.
 “11 Facts about Teens and Self-Esteem | Do Something”, n.d., http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-teens-and-self-esteem.
 “Urban Dictionary: grenade”, n.d., http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=grenade.
 “TV Reality Shows Destroy Women’s Body Image and Confidence”, n.d., http://healthyurbankitchen.com/blog/tv-reality-shows-destroy-women%E2%80%99s-body-image-and-confidence/.
 “Rethinking the Freshman Fifteen – The Daily Beast”, n.d., http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/15/rethinking-the-freshman-15.html.