Mamarama: Learning Lessons from Snooki

I remember reading that John Waters loved when his subscriptions to The Atlantic Monthly and the National Enquirer arrived on the same day. As though the mail carrier might take note of Mr. Waters’ unlikely combination of high and lowbrow reading material and be duly impressed.

With that in mind, I’m not going to make any excuses for my watching Jersey Shore. OK, I’ll give one rather grandiose reason: watching the Italian-American crew in their homeland provides an unusual anthropological window into pop-culture icons and their impressions of a culture with which they strongly identify. Wordy as it may be — it’s true — I was curious about how the cast would respond to all things quintessentially Italian — and whether or not “tanning” as a daily activity might wane in its importance for the bunch.

For many Italian-Americans going to Italy for the first time is a culturally affirming experience. You are witness to the history and culture that sowed your seed; you may discover your inner ties to that culture in ways you would never have otherwise realized. Many Italian-Americans get a powerful sense of cultural identity and confidence when they hit Italian soil and are forever changed by those revelations.

Not so with the Jersey Shore crew, it seems. The majority of the cast may as well have been dropped in a biosphere with house music. Their surroundings are mere streets to navigate on their way to the gym or to the next club.

I suppose it should be no great surprise that the Jersey Shore kids had virtually zero interest in the culture and customs of their homeland. To them, Firenze appeared to be a Disney set (as one of them compared the architectural beauty of Florence to) for which they acted-out the same mundane activities and pursuits as before. It could be Miami, New Jersey, Italy or perhaps Dubai — but the daily endeavors of working-out, doing laundry, getting tan, and then partying long into the night would still prevail.

In the midst of a recent episode’s drunken misadventures of Snooki, my daughter suddenly joined me in bed claiming “insomnia.” While it may have been prudent to simply turn off Jersey Shore, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Instead we watched together while I narrated what she was watching: “This is what happens when people drink too much. See how messy and blubbering she is? Her friends are mad at her, her boyfriend is horrified by her behavior…and now she’s falling down crying and ruining everyone’s night.”

My nine-year-old watched, mesmerized.

“So, how do you think she’s going to feel the next day?” I asked, like a school teacher. “Do you think she’ll bounce out of bed to go to class or work?”

“Noooo,” my daughter answered. “She’s definitely going to feel sick — and probably bruised from falling down so much!”

A “Teachable Moment” brought to us by Snooki, herself — the very icon of drunken, disorderly behavior. “Teachable Moment” is a term I’ve used before, and perhaps it’s just a catchphrase for any event that is uncomfortable or possibly inappropriate for children. You turn that moment into an example your child can learn from – an illustration, an example of any lesson you choose to impart. These moments are all around us every day – including Snooki tottering in her high heels on centuries-old cobblestones.

Watching Jersey Shore through the parental prism could provide us with a whole array of behaviors and situations that we’d like to steer our children away from. An overall lack of geographical knowledge, for example: “Italy’s like that big country…no, no…EUPOPE’s that big country – and you have Britain in there, and England, and Italy. I know no idea where Italy is on the map – but I do know it’s shaped like a boot.”

(Went out to Bed, Bath & Beyond and purchased a world map shower curtain, just for good measure.)

“Looks like a Domino’s version of Italy pizza.” “I love Italy wine.” “It’s decorated all Italy style.”

(Reminder kids: “Italian” is the adjective; “Italy” is the noun.)

“Is that The Vatican? Yeah, isn’t it beautiful?”

(Vatican City is not in Florence, it’s in Rome; and that beautiful church you see is the Duomo — no pope involved.)

So while I’ll never make a habit of sharing my Jersey Shore viewing time with my kids – I do hope that one snippet of debaucherous behavior on Snooki’s part will provide ample reason why one shouldn’t drink to excess and topple off one’s own heels in the streets of Florence (while thinking you’re actually in Rome.)

And maybe it will provide another lesson on valuing education – and actually knowing things. It’s good to know another language besides English; it’s helpful to understand geography, art and literature. And it’s especially prudent to know stuff when you’re on international television for all the world to scrutinize and blog about.

Basta e ciao, ragazzi!

Jayne Freeman

is the host of the long-time public access show Mamarama as seen locally on Comcast Cable (channel 51) and on YouTube. In addition to her parenting program she is a certified childbirth educator and regularly writes about the parental experience.