So, this is as much as I know… MTV has a new hit show about some twenty-something supposedly Italian-Americans living together on the Jersey Shore. I know this much because my friend and colleague, Katie Adams, likes to fill me in on the show’s highlights. Katie is fabulous and hilarious; she makes the show sound like the television equivalent of Fluffernutter—sugary and satisfying because it has absolutely no nutritional value.
That’s why I was so surprised when a Facebook “friend” posted the following [unedited] update on his page: “just watched 10 minutest of “jersey shore” on mtv.com and thanks god i’m not italian-american or anyone on that show.”
I was angry. I’m proud of my Italian heritage and have even been to the town in Sicily where my family is from. More importantly, however, is that fact that I (and a few other Italian-Americans) went to high school with this person. He knows us; he knows our families.
What I did next might surprise you. I printed out his update, cut it out, and posted it on my desk. For me, his comment was less about whether or not television creates and/or nurtures stereotypes, and was more a strong reminder to avoid easy and/or rash conclusions. His offensive remark became a love note of sorts for smart research and intelligent analyses from good samples.
Much has been written about the potential social implications of “The Jersey Shore.” I don’t pretend to know why people are drawn to depictions of outrageous subgroups, but I do know that dubious conclusions based on a skewed sample can do great harm and can often reveal hidden, unfair, unsupportable, and often unconscious attitudes.
And it can seriously tick off your former high school classmates.