David Showalter is no fist-pumping guido.
Yet something about Jersey Shore’s coterie of titian-skinned specimens struck a chord with the University of Chicago senior when the MTV reality spectacle premiered in 2009. “It’s a really fascinating show, in ways that are sometimes difficult to explain,” says the 21-year-old who’s focusing on crime and punishment in the university’s tutorial studies program.
On Friday 28, Showalter will get lots of explanations as more than 30 academics from 13 universities give Snooki, the Situation and company the scholarly treatment at the U. of C. Conference on Jersey Shore Studies. Showalter organized the event, inspired by an online spoof advertisement he saw on April Fool’s Day promoting a fake Shore conference. Taking advantage of the university’s Uncommon Fund, a pool of money designated for students with quirky ideas, as well as the Dean’s Fund for Student Life, he gathered a budget of $4,580 for the forum and announced an open call for papers. “Over the course of a few months,” he says, “I received about 50 abstracts, ranging from undergraduates to full professors.”
The free, daylong conference is divided into four sessions with themes such as “Guido Cultural Signifiers,” “The Construction of Guido Identity” and (surprisingly) “Morality and Ethics.” The titles of the academic papers are almost as ridiculous as the show itself: “Foucault’s Going to the Jersey Shore, Bitch!” (Ellie Marshall, McGill University), “ ‘SHOTS!’ An Analysis of Italian, American, and Italian-American Beverage Consumption in Jersey Shore” (Alexandra Reznik, Duquesne University) and “ ‘You Dirty Little Hamster!’: The Abject and the Monstrous Feminine in Jersey Shore” (Julia Sirmons, Columbia University).
The authors, however, insist the symposium is serious and that Jersey Shore has a place in academic discourse.
“I think [the show] has real implications, especially given the state of the economy at the moment,” says Alison Hearn, an associate professor of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario. “The fact that people can’t count on long-term jobs anymore [makes it seem] like going on a reality show is just as good a path as any other.” A keynote speaker, Hearn will discuss her paper titled “The Monetization of Being: Reputational Labor, Brand Culture, and Why Jersey Shore Does, and Does Not, Matter.”
Candace Moore, an assistant professor of screen arts and culture at the University of Michigan, says she’s been practicing GTL (in Shore parlance: gym, tan, laundry) in preparation for her talk, “Guidosexuality.” “It’s sort of a twist on metrosexuality,” Moore says. “I’m talking about gender and sexuality being increasingly regionalized.”
Not all the speakers are academics. Onion A.V. Club critic Nathan Rabin is scheduled to speak, as is Gawker editor Brian Moylan, who’s posted lengthy, contemplative recaps of the show since its inception.
“A lot of people may think [Jersey Shore is] trashy or stupid or not worth studying, but if it is making an impact on the culture, then I think we should look at it rather than just turning up our nose about it,” says Moylan, who titled his paper “ ‘You’re Not Even Italian’: Stereotype, Authenticity, and the Warped Reality of Jersey Shore.”
About 100 people have registered for the conference, but Showalter suspects there will be more; the event’s Facebook page shows more than 800 “attending.”
As for the Jersey Shore cast—they didn’t get invitations. “I don’t think they would enjoy it,” Showalter explains. “Just a bunch of people talking about them all day.”
The Conference on Jersey Shore Studies kicks off Friday 28 at 9:30am, at Ida Noyes Hall (1212 E 59th St). Register at striking.ly/s/pages/jersey-shore-conference.