GTL at NYSE: MTV's Jersey Shore Is Back: But Where's the Reality?

The cast of Jersey Shore rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, and sadly, I was a little disappointed by their performance. Sure, they all looked good, nary an Ed Hardy T-shirt to be seen, and they did a damn fine job with that bell. I'm not sure if they made it through the gym, tanning, and laundry regimen before the 9:30 a.m. event, but in any case, they were quite sharp. (The Situation didn't announce either way whether he'd been able to work out or not, so it was difficult to discern if the 'G' portion of GTL had been fulfilled.)

Still, up on that balcony, something was off, something potentially problematic for the Season Two premiere on Thursday night. They weren't actually at the Jersey Shore. This wasn't Jersey Shore; this was the cast of Jersey Shore. Removed from their definitive Seaside Heights milieu, the cast is but an abstraction, an intellectualization of themselves. If the "reality" is on television, then what's not on screen must be facsimile. When you play yourself on television -- and the Jersey Shore castmembers are most certainly "acting" when they're on camera -- who are you when you're left to stand nakedly without your nurturing, all-encompassing -- and ultimately explanatory -- environment? What will happen when, as MTV is promoting, "GTL meets FLA" and the cast sets up shop in Miami?

Take Mike, for example. As The Situation -- essentially a biological embodiment of a real, geographic setting -- Mike isn't a 'what'; he's a 'where'. So when NYSE traders determine the situation in which "The Situation" finds himself, then, what are we supposed to make of him? We do not, as Mike is wont to say, have a situation here; we have The Situation playing a meeker version of himself -- "the situation," maybe. As far as his identity is concerned, he's lost his precious free agency. Away from the Shore, we don't know who this guy is -- and deprived of the ability to define himself by his context -- as he prefers to do -- neither does he. On Wall Street, he's presented with a situation that has neither a time nor a place in which he can ground himself. Can The Situation really exist if he's robbed of the opportunity to actually author his personal situation? After all, when Tom Cruise finished up with his Maverick character on the set of Top Gun in 1986, Mav ceased to exist, and our favorite naval aviator went back to being plain old Tommy C. Without the Shore or the show, The Situation is Mike Sorrentino from Staten Island, who may or may not be fabulously interesting. I can't tell.

This strange tension between reality television and reality was further made clear by the expected corporate presence at the bell-ringing. Back at the stock exchange, large video screens flanked the octet, reminding us that Vinny and Sammi "Sweetheart," J-Woww and DJ Pauly D are, at their basest, employees and entities of Viacom. Now, I understand that just as Bob Costas gets his NBC Sports checks from GE, the Jersey Shore crew obviously receives compensation from the media conglomerate that is MTV's parent company. But their presence on Wall Street seemed to strip away some of the zaniness from their delightful idiosyncrasies. On the show they portray only themselves; at NYSE, they're corporate drones, reality stars who, for one morning have to actually play roles and act as themselves.