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October 31, 2014

TV 101: 'Jersey Shore' And Philosophy (OR The Tao of GTL)

by Jay Black, posted Aug 12th 2010 3:00PM
The cast of the 'Jersey Shore' - believe it or not, people of the future, but these are actual human beings!The other day I was Googling for pictures of Christina Hendricks naked researching 'Mad Men' online and discovered that there's a new book called 'Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems'.

'Mad Men' thus joins the ranks of 'The Sopranos', 'The Simpsons' and 'Lost' as TV shows that have earned their own '...and Philosophy' books. If you've never passed the "New and Noteworthy" table at Barnes and Noble, here's how the books work: they use characters and situations from pop culture as jumping-off points to discuss different philosophical ideas.

It's a great racket. Other than drug-dealing or arms-manufacturing, there's no better way to make money in America than by helping pseudo-intellectuals pseudo-learn something. I want a piece of that pie!

So that's why I've written a new book 'Jersey Shore and Philosophy: How to GTL Yourself to a Better Life.' Read on for some choice passages.

Some of you might be questioning my pick of 'Jersey Shore' as a viable choice for an '...and Philosophy' book. You might think that the antics of eight orange reality show cast members so full of synthetic testosterone and silicon implants that they stretch the definition of the word "human" to its limits might not be worthy of a philosophical study.

But you'd be wrong. I contend that the cast of the 'Jersey Shore' isn't just a good jumping-off point for a discussion of philosophy, but that they actually live their lives by philosophical ideals that we could all benefit by emulating.

For instance:

1. GTL

Anyone familiar with the show knows that GTL -- "Gym, Tanning, and Laundry" -- is the cornerstone that the men of the house build their life around. In order to be a good "gorilla juice-head" you need to make sure your abs are defined enough to have their own nickname, your skin is orange enough to qualify you for benefits at the Willy Wonka factory, and your clothes are clean enough to fully capture every last molecule of your AXE body-spray.

From a distance, GTL looks like a simple exercise in narcissism. The philosophy seems to be built around outside appearances: "I'll make my outer shell look good so that women (with hopefully only minor STDs) will have sex with me."

But look closer. GTL isn't about the result (hard abs, weirdly-colored skin, crisp Ed Hardy shirt), it's about the process. GTL is the 'Jersey Shore' equivalent of a Zen Rock Garden or a Buddhist Sand Painting: a ritual that focuses the mind and cleanses the soul. The idea behind many zen practices is to "quiet the conscious mind" through repetitive, meditative acts. Well, what's more repetitive or meditative than repeatedly lifting weights? Or quietly contemplating life in a tanning bed? Or listening to the steady thunk of a washing machine getting your favorite "Affliction" T-shirt clean?

GTL is all about "quieting the conscious mind" and its proponents are so good at it, it's hard to find any evidence of consciousness at all in any given episode of 'Jersey Shore'.


2. I Smoosh Therefore I Am

Here's a fact: 'Jersey Shore' is promoted (and generally believed to be) about eight Italian-Americans from New Jersey who spend their summers acquiring and trading herpes with each other.

But here's the interesting thing, Wikipedia claims that only five of the eight are actually of Italian ancestry and only one of the eight is actually from the State of New Jersey. (Incidentally, Wikipedia has no information about the acquiring and trading of herpes, but I'm not sure we really need Wikipedia to tell us whether or not that's true).

Some viewers might mistake this false promotion as MTV using preconceived negative stereotypes about Jersey Italians as a way to get people interested in the show. But again, those viewers just aren't looking hard enough.

Once you realize that nothing about what anybody "knows" about 'Jersey Shore' is actually true, you're forced to question not only what you know about the show itself, but also what you understand about how you acquire your knowledge. Philosophers call this epistemology. Except philosophers debate epistemology in the dusty, tweedy corridors of college, whereas 'Jersey Shore' watchers do it every time The Situation (age 27) and DJ Paulie D (age 28) refer to themselves as "kids."


3. It Happens

Recently, breakout 'Jersey Shore' star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was arrested after getting black-out drunk on tequila. Luckily for her and her family, she was wearing a hot pink shirt with "slut" written across the front of it, so at least she didn't have to be embarrassed by the paparazzi photos that were taken of the incident.

When asked at the Television Critics press tour about the events of that day, The Situation and DJ Paulie D both responded with simply two words: "it happens". Now, to the untrained philosophical eye this response is reflective of undisciplined lifestyle. It seems to say, "Hey, my drunk friends and I get drunk so often that we always fall down drunkenly and get arrested for being drunk."

This isn't the case. Again, look closer. The Situation and DJ Paulie D are showing their deep understanding of stoicism, a philosophy whose basic tenet is that nature is uncontrollable. A stoic knows that a wise man doesn't try to change the world according to the whims of his will, but rather understands that he must change his will based on the whims of the world.

The Situation and DJ Paulie D know that Snooki is an uncontrollable force of nature; changing her would be impossible. They must therefore accept her. "It happens."

To paraphrase Epictetus, a stoic is "sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, and in a hot pink slut t-shirt arrested while so conked out on tequila that your liver seriously just tried to get up and leap out of your body to save itself... and yet happy".

--

I could go on, but unfortunately my AOL contract limits me to 1,000 'Jersey Shore' words per six months. That doesn't mean I don't want to hear from you in the comments, though. Got a good philosophical moment from 'Jersey Shore'? Post it!

Oh, and please buy my book 'Philosophy and the Jersey Shore' when it comes out. I plan to use the money to buy my own tanning bed.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, visit his website at www.jayblack.tv)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]



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NightOwl

Hilarious stuff,Jay! And to think that all this time I have been avoiding this show because I thought it was about the antics of a tribe of talentless, self-involved boneheads, spewing their arrogance,immaturity and STDs among an unsuspecting populace that is dazed and rendered credulous by a blitzkrieg of ceasless hype and undeserved notariety. Now, astonishingly, I find out it is a show with deep philosophical meaning, a nascent classic hidden behind a fascade of vapid nonsense. How did I miss that? Next thing you know, I'm going to find out that the Kardashian sisters are a bunch of transexual rocket scientist who are desperately trying to escape unwanted publicity. Just when you think you know what the hell is going on...
Seriously though, this is a funny, very well written article, as usual. I always look forward to reading your work.

August 14 2010 at 8:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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