‘Jersey Shore,’ the State’s Reputation, and the ‘Guido’ Issue

It was journalists and bloggers versus anti-defamation reps this morning, as writers from The New York Times, Star-Ledger, BaristaNet, and this PRNewser gathered at Seton Hall to discuss what impact the MTV hit “Jersey Shore” has on the state’s reputation. The panel was organized by Joe Cohen, president of the PRSA’s New Jersey Chapter, and consumer group VP at MWW.

The Times’ TV critic Neil Genzlinger was on hand to defend his cheeky review of the show, “Surf, Skin and Jersey. What’s Not to Love?” Genzlinger bemoaned critics for failing to understand satire, and laid out TV’s long history of capitalizing on stereotypes.

Debbie Galant of the hyperlocal Baristanet blog echoed the sentiment and like most people, wondered why violence follows the “gym, tan, laundry” crew wherever they go. A recent visit to a club in Galant’s hometown drew 2,000 people and the evening ending with four arrests.

It’s interesting to note that Galant and Genzlinger both held the New Jersey beat at the Gray Lady at different times. If you Google “New Jersey’s reputation,” Galant’s 2002 “What Reputation?” comes up first. I cited her column liberally in my comments (gunplay beginning with Hamilton vs. Burr, Ben Franklin’s quote, a “barrel tapped at both ends”), reminding the crowd that, depending on your demographic, most people above 30 associate New Jersey with corrupt politicians more so than TV shows.

The Star-Ledger’s Mark DiIonno feels that the Sopranos has a far more damaging effect, since it was hailed as art more than satire.

While I tried mightily to bring the discussion back to the state’s reputation as a whole, and not merely an Italian issue, I did make the point that pop culture matters. ‘Jersey Shore’ I explained however, is just another thing to add to a very tall heap of PR problems. I did point to my in-depth look at the Mormons and what amounts to reputation management on a scale of many decades for the church, even though they can’t wait till “Big Love” is no longer on TV. New Jersey doesn’t have the structure or impetus for extended image adjustment, and I suggested we all embrace our stubborn pride and buy the t-shirt, “New Jersey: Only the Strong Survive.”

UNICO National president Andre DiMino (video above) wasn’t buying. He believes the stereotyping not only negatively impacts Italian-Americans but the economics of Jersey as well. DiMino’s phones have been ringing with complaints of discrimination, and he recently spoke to realtors in Seaside Heights who say families have backed out of summer leases due to the show.

Is MTV to blame for the ding on the Garden State, or is it the self-professed Guidos and Guidettes on the show?

When the moderator Alicia Vitarelli, anchor of News 12 asked the final question, “entertainment or irresponsible?” the writers were unanimous: “Jersey Shore” is entertainment.