2009 has been a banner year for a number of groups: Kardashians, vampires, sellers of Michael Jackson memorabilia. (Come to think of it, Bruce Jenner might actually be all three.) But no other group has captured our collective fancy more this year than the people of New Jersey. Of course, we don’t mean *all* the people in New Jersey—just the loud-mouthed, fake-baked “Joisey” stereotypes that are seemingly everywhere on TV right now.
But this is no fleeting romance; TV’s affection for the Garden State runs deep. HBO’s ‘The Sopranos’ stands as one of the medium’s greatest achievements. Earlier this year, Bravo’s ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey’ set ratings records for the franchise. And now with MTV’s new reality show ‘Jersey Shore’ premiering this week, and promising to deliver the “hottest, tannest, craziest guidos” (don’t threaten us!), New Jersey has officially become TV’s favorite place on the planet.
So what is our fascination with New Jersey about, anyway? We came up with ten of the hottest, tannest, craziest theories you’ll ever hear.
Because of the economy, stupid.
In case you didn’t notice, money’s a little tight these days. But you wouldn’t know it by watching ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey:’ These women need chunky gold jewelry and designer bags like we need air. In these tough financial times, it’s a nice voyeuristic escape to step away from the mounting pile of bills and watch Teresa fill her cavernous new home with gaudy faux-Greek “columns,” or the lunkheads of Jersey Shore drop hundreds of dollars on a night of drinking. Hey, somebody’s gotta keep the economy going, right?
Because we think they’re all criminals.
‘The Sopranos’ put Jersey on the cultural map back in 1999, fueling a perception of Jersey residents as scuzzy, low-level mobsters that persists to this day. (We still can’t hear a husband described as a “contractor” or a “waste management specialist” without snickering.)
And with ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey,’ Bravo gleefully perpetuated this stereotype, flaunting the wives’ tacky displays of wealth and never fully explaining what their husbands do for work. We know, we know… they’re not really all criminals. But when matriarch Caroline says her family are “as thick as thieves”… we’ll take her word for it.
Because they have a sense of humor.
Jersey takes so many shots, they have to be able to laugh at themselves a little. So when Conan O’Brien poked fun at Newark on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’ this fall, it was nice to see Newark mayor Cory Booker return fire. He banned Conan from Newark Airport, putting him on the “no fly” list. The feud raged for weeks until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to be called in to broker a peace treaty. We like it when a national punchline like Jersey fights back for once.
Because they have their own language.
We learn more words from our Jersey TV shows than boring old Jeopardy! could ever teach us. The Sopranos, of course, introduced every non-Italian in the country to the succinct pleasures of “fuhgeddaboudit.” Real Housewives’s Jersey edition did its best to coin a new term for women’s breasts with the omnipresent “bubbies.” And the show’s explosive finale treated us to the charming epithet “prostitution-whore.” Go ahead and trot that one out at the Christmas dinner table… Aunt Sheila will love it!
Because they can even make cake decoration worth watching.
Let’s face it: If baking cakes were inherently interesting, our grandmas would all have their own TV shows. But it’s just not—unless you add a little Jersey flavor to the mix. TLC’s ‘Cake Boss’ (note the title’s Mafia implications) follows Hoboken cake maker Buddy Valastro and his big Italian family as they build incredibly elaborate cakes—and curse each other out along the way. Just goes to show: If you want to spice up your cake show, throw a few “friggin”s in there, and you’re in business.
Because they’re bringing the fist-pump back.
Jersey Shore’s preview promises plenty of binge drinking, plenty of fake tanning—and plenty of fist-pumping. The fist-pump, for the uninitiated, is the go-to dance move for the Jersey male; they somehow find a way to pump their fist to every song ever composed. (“‘Happy Birthday,’ bro! Yeeeaaahhh!”) So get ready for the most fist-pumping TV has seen since Arsenio went off the air—and get ready to duck.
Because we can spot them from a mile away.
TV loves a character that stands out, and Jersey is more than happy to oblige. Jersey Shore reveals the unofficial Jersey bro uniform: too-tight Ed Hardy T-shirts (to show off the guns, yo), wraparound shades (even at night? *especially* at night), pumpkin-orange tan. And of course, there’s the hair: One Jersey Shore character confesses (or boasts?) that he spends 25 minutes a day on his gelled, spiked porcupine ‘do.
The girls are just as distinctive, with their mile-high hair, talon-like nails, and their “bubbies” out for all to see. Jersey Shore almost seems like a nature documentary, like we’re learning about the strange customs of a native tribe somewhere along the Amazon. See, reality TV *can* be educational.
Because they couldn’t care less what you think.
With all the Jersey hate out there, it’s natural that the state’s residents can be a bit defensive. In fact, we recently saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that said “New Jersey: We Hate You Too.” See that? Go ahead and hate them! They hated you first!
That eff-you attitude is on full display in Jersey Shore, with one meathead declaring, “If hating is your occupation, I’ve probably got a full-time job for you.” Keep on hating, America: It only makes New Jersey stronger.
Because they yell and fight a lot.
More than anything, TV (and reality TV, especially) loves drama. No one’s rushing home to watch The Polite, Prim Housewives of Connecticut. And Jersey delivers the drama we crave in spades.
The Jersey season of Real Housewives packed so many gasp-worthy moments (the Book! the Dinner! the Table Flip!), it made previous seasons look dull by comparison. (You could even sense the most recent Atlanta season trying to ratchet up the conflict to keep pace.) And Jersey Shore doesn’t disappoint, with fistfights and arrests galore. Reality TV and Jersey: two great tastes that taste great together.
Because really, we know they’re not all like that.
From the moment the Jersey Shore preview hit the Internet, the protests began: “We’re not all like that!” In fact, real New Jersey residents make fun of these people as much as the rest of us. While MTV opts for the catchy (and possibly offensive) term “guidos,” locals call them “bennies” or “shoobies”: out-of-towners who come to the shore to let loose. (In other words, “not us.”)
So yes, we hereby acknowledge it: Not all residents of New Jersey are like that. But even if the “Joisey” character is a media creation… we still can’t get enough of it.
Got some insults to hurl at New Jersey? Wanna stick up for the Garden State? Don’t fuhgeddaboudit—let your fists fly in the comments.