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Sunday, March 7, 2021

An Uncomfortable Undercurrent at the “Jersey Shore”

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Stacey Schiller
Stacey Schiller
Stacey Haddock Schiller is a marketing maven and consultant with Stacey Ink Marketing & Communications, LLC. A native Delawarean with downstate roots, Stacey is a triathlete and lover of all things Springsteen.

While I’d like to say that TV viewing in the Schiller household is limited to “acceptable” programming like Law & Order reruns and Phillies games, we occasionally like to take in something a little…lighter. And for the past four seasons, “Jersey Shore” has been our go-to guilty pleasure.

 

For those whose favorite channels don’t include MTV, “Jersey Shore” follows the lives of eight New York/New Jersey/Rhode Island 20somethings rooming together first at the Jersey shore, then in Miami and Florence, Italy.

 

Anyone who has summered at a group rental in Dewey knows housemates can make or break a summer. But the best of Dewey doesn’t hold a candle to the Jersey Shoremates’ drunken debauchery, indiscriminate flings, terrific one-liners and catchphrases and an undeniable chemistry that draws millions of viewers each week.

 

In a recent episode, on-again/off-again couple Ronnie and Samantha (Sammi) reconciled, only for their short-lived bliss to dissolve into an epic brawl.  That’s nothing new for this couple, whose previous fights in New Jersey and Miami are legendary. Screaming, profanity and furniture-tossing frequently escalate into physical violence on both sides.

 

As they hurled insults at one another, I was struck by how the abusive nature of Sammi and Ronnie’s relationship doesn’t seem to raise any eyebrows, either in the house or among the audience.

 

There’s no doubt that this roller coaster relationship is a major draw for viewers. It provides a consistent dramatic storyline, and the other housemates inevitably get drawn in, taking sides and stirring the pot.

 

But I wonder about the message this televised drama sends to the show’s target demographic of 12-34 year olds.

 

Dating violence can take the form of verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse and affects one in three teens. On college campuses, nearly one in five students are in abusive relationships.  And those who are involved in abusive relationships as teenagers are more likely to experience intimate partner violence as adults.

 

Sammi and Ronnie’s on-air relationship raises several red flags that can indicate an abusive relationship, including:

 

Abusers – male and female – may accuse partners of flirting or cheating.

Sammi and Ronnie’s fights stem from accusations of flirting and infidelity, real or imagined, current or in the past.

 

Abusers may drink or take drugs in excess.

Let’s face it: “Jersey Shore” wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if the housemates weren’t drinking, thinking about drinking or recovering from drinking. Sammi and Ronnie’s altercations often occur during or after an evening out clubbing, when one or both have been drinking. Ronnie’s rumored steroid use, if true, would certainly exacerbate an already abusive relationship.

 

Abusers insult their partners.

A typical Sammi/Ronnie interaction can include:

 

“Stay away from me, you @#$% psycho!” (Sammi to Ronnie)

“You’re a spoiled, useless @#$%!” (Ronnie to Sammi)

 

Abusers isolate their partners from friends and family.

It’s a form of control, and both Sammi and Ronnie employ it regularly. Sammi punches Ronnie after he resumes a friendship with another girl in the house. Ronnie tells Sammi he is her only true friend in the house. When Sammi and Ronnie get back together, the other housemates complain that they only spend time with one another, ignoring the rest of the group.

 

Abusers can engage in physical violence.

Nearly every Sammi/Ronnie argument ends violently. Sammi punches Ronnie. Ronnie destroys Sammi’s room. Sammi clings to her mattress as Ronnie attempts to flip it.

 

Abusers try to make amends by showering their partners with attention.

Following the blow-ups, there are tears, apologies and gifts to make amends, and the housemates respond with eye-rolls, jeers and relief that the latest storm has passed.

 

Delaware therapist and Project P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Respect In Dating Experiences) founder Dawn Schatz, LCSW describes this as the third phase or “honeymoon” of the abuse cycle, which begins with a build-up of behaviors and culminates in an explosion when the abuser lashes out.

 

As viewers, then, what is our responsibility? Do we boycott the show? Petition MTV? If “Jersey Shore” no longer airs, does that mean that dating violence is no longer a concern? Of course not.

 

Dawn suggests that parents and friends use these situations as opportunities for open dialogue (not lectures) about dating relationships, expectations and realities. To assist with those conversations, she recommends several local resources, including the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s site, dcadv.org, along with safeandrespectful.org and loveisrespect.org, which offers a dating abuse live chat and includes several articles about the abuse seen on “Jersey Shore.”

 

While it’s disturbing that intimate partner violence airs on TV, what’s scarier is that audiences either don’t recognize it or don’t want to talk about it. And it’s a conversation worth having.

 

Author’s note: Special thanks to Dawn Schatz, LCSW for her contributions to this piece. For additional information or to contact Dawn, please visit www.appocounseling.com.

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