The Snooki Universe is expanding far past the Jersey Shore – and, sadly, way beyond the real world.
When "The Real World" premiered nearly two decades ago, the cast was the MTV Generation version of a Warner Bros. foxhole.
Instead of the standard set of characters in World War II flicks of yore – the smart-aleck Brooklyn kid, the sheltered country boy, the tough-as-nails sergeant – we were treated to the naïve Southern girl, the gay painter, the dangerous pretty boy, the writer who challenged his roommates on perceptions of race.
If being plucked from obscurity and tossed into a Manhattan loft bore little relation to reality, the setup at least removed the cast members from their various closed worlds, and made for some TV-friendly conflict. But like with many so-called Reality TV shows, the first season proved the most effective, and no shift in lineup or location could quite recapture the original chemistry.
In December, "Jersey Shore" smashed the long-running “Real World” model with constant fist-pumping – powered by a largely Italian-American cast that shares a love for muscles, tanning and partying, and a predilection for proudly describing themselves with a slur.
Now the success of this “Real World” mutation reportedly is spawning limited-gene-pool imitators – everything from a Russian-American version to an Asian-American version to a Persian-American version.
We could be in for a bizarre Balkanization of reality shows where the primary commonality is young people trying to out-stereotype one another to get on TV. These probably are not the folks you would want to be in a foxhole with – unless you needed to get to the nearest tanning salon to save your life.
Perhaps what’s most disturbing about “Jersey Shore” and its ilk is that the usual Reality TV credo of bad or silly behavior as a path to what passes for fame is being attached to a twisted conception of ethnic pride. At least in most Reality TV shows, we see people from a variety of walks of life making fools of themselves, instead of an hour-long, constant reinforcement of a particular stereotype.
But hey, take a look at the bright side: perhaps down the line there will be an all-star show with characters from “Jersey Shore” and the various planned ethnicity-based reality programs. They can call it “The Real World: Snooki Rules.”
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, Miltie-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.