Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Who'll Get Punched on 'Jersey Shore' Tonight?

If only Brad Ferro, a 24-year-old former gym teacher, had, while drunk off shots the color of stop lights, hauled off and smashed in the tanned faces of someone named Ronnie or Vinnie, perhaps then he'd still have his old life. If only he'd taken a step back from that Seaside Heights nightclub bar, dropped his shoulder and thrust his fist violently into the famous abs of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino. Or, you know, if only he'd decided not to hit anyone. Perhaps then he wouldn't have been fired from his job, convicted of assault, forced to attend anger management classes and finger-wagged into begging for forgiveness in whatever outlet would have him. But Brad Ferro didn't do that. Brad Ferro hit Snooki instead.

As a certain demographic will know, calls for Ferro's head were instantaneous. Save for a few websites–ones frequented mostly by jock party animals–which had some mean-spirited, misogynistic laughs at Snooki's plight, by and large the public opinion was one of outrage. "How could someone do such a thing?" I remember my co-worker asking, his eyes narrowing as if in deep thought. On one of the countless blogs that weighed in on the Snooki Punch, someone posting as "Brad's Nightmare" wrote, "Brad Ferro is a fuckin bitch. Any guy that punches a girl has got a small dick and cant fuckin fight in the first place."

Eventually things got macro. The accusations grew to include both Ferro and MTV, which had profited off the subjugation of women for years, but never so openly. "[S]hould MTV have used the footage?" asked Jezebel's Irin Carmon. It turned out that the answer was no.

After initially airing Snooki's attack in a sneak preview of the season, MTV, amid fiery charges of sponsored misogyny, decided to stop showing that bit of violence entirely. It even went so far as to fade to black when the punch finally happened in episode four (not edit it out, mind you, but fade to black). Later, that episode was appended by a public service announcement. It read, "Violence against women in any form is a crime. If you or someone you know is being abused by a boyfriend, family member or total stranger, please call 911."

At first, this all made sense. But then came episode six.

Titled "Boardwalk Blowups," the centerpiece of episode six was Ronnie–the Magilla Gorilla to The Situation's Yogi Bear–beating the blood out of a guy in the middle of the Seaside Heights esplanade. MTV did not fade to black on this altercation; it instead zoomed in, the better to see Ronny knee his enemy in the face and, while straddling his chest, drop heavy blows into the man's jaw. (Editors did make sure to cut the parts where Ronny called his victim a "faggot" and a "queer," epithets later uncovered by TMZ.)

At the end of the episode, where a PSA warning against violence had been just two weeks prior, there was a beer commercial.

From there, the fists flew. In episode seven, J-Woww, in a drunken rage, gives a roundhouse hammer punch to The Situation's face. Episode eight found Ronny back at it, knocking a man unconscious as he and the castmates stumbled home from the clubs. "That's one shot!" Ronnie screamed victoriously as he literally skipped away from the body he'd just rendered lifeless and prone in the gutter.

MTV thought that was so cute that they ended up calling the entire episode "One Shot."

We're now just a few episodes into the Jersey Shore's second season, and already we're reminded of that old chestnut: You can take the Jersey Shore cast to Miami, but you can't stop them from assaulting each other and strangers nearly every day. Thus far, Angelina has smacked Pauly D in the face for not returning her affections and J-Woww has threatened to attack Angelina in her sleep. Previews of upcoming shows reveal that J-Woww and Sammi will tear one another's hair out in the kitchen. Also, J-Woww–she's really getting after it this time around!–and Snooki are currently the defendants in a lawsuit brought by a woman claiming they beat her in a Miami club in May. Throughout it all, since the Snooki punch, MTV has either done nothing or intentionally highlighted the brutality.

Based on MTV's censoring decisions in relation to the show, viewers can infer the following: a man hitting a woman is never OK; a woman hitting a man is fine, especially if she's drunk or emotionally vulnerable; a man hitting a man isn't just fine, it's exciting, and practically a matter of course when "queers" are talkin' shit; also–and this is the most important point–despite what was said earlier about calling the police if ever you see a woman being attacked, a woman hitting another woman is totally alright. They'll probably hug when they're sober!

Triaging and then tolerating certain random, relatively minor acts of violence in this manner isn't just problematic for the Jersey Shore cast and everyone in its immediate vicinity; it's also a profound reflection on what American society tolerates when speaking of much grander, much more despicable crimes. It's resulted in the degradation of the male body as an inherently brutal entity, something that, if not deserving of violence, should at least be prepared for combat at a moment's notice. The female body, on the other hand, remains sanctified, so much so that, at least on "Jersey Shore" (and "Teen Mom"), women hit, kick and choke men with impunity.

If you look closely, there's a sturdy bridge between J-Woww casually smashing The Situation in the jaw and the nonchalance with which people in polite society make rape jokes every time a male celebrity goes to prison. Try and imagine sketch comedy shows making light of a husband slicing off his wife's vagina the way they did when John Wayne Bobbitt was butchered.

Writing at Jezebel, I once asked, "Why is random violence-not premeditated, protracted violence, like war rapes and domestic abuse-something MTV should consider not showing when against women, but air at will when it's against men?" I was told a lot of things, but mostly that my thoughts were "patronizing" and "reeked of male privilege." I was told that I didn't understand the "structures of power" that apparently dictate why men hitting women is markedly worse than men hitting men. I was told, in bold letters, "The widespread socialization of men as violent and women as receptacles for that violence is why this violence is different." (I was also told to never come back.)

About a year before I asked that question, a man in Australia was killed when his wife set his genitals on fire while he was asleep, burning him alive in perhaps the most awful way possible. A writer at Jezebel briefly covered the murder, illustrating the post with the picture of a hot dog engulfed in flames. Beneath it, one commenter wrote, "That puts a new spin on 'fire crotch.'" Another wrote, "I am honestly kind of horrified at the levity with which this is being treated." And yet another opined, "Obviously this is NOT an amusing tale; however, here I am laughing at my work computer, trying to be quiet, with tears running down my face."

Cord Jefferson also writes at The Root.

30 Comments / Post A Comment

Jesus, two overlapping posts in 24 hours and now a meditation on Jezebel?

Be less stupid.

This is a fantastic little piece.

We've really progressed now that violence and assault are no longer wrong in themselves, but wrong because of the 'optics' and the 'message they send'.

Mindpowered (#948)

______________ Bait.

Do we have a huge fetish for most forms of violence? Yes.

Does it sell, provide endless entertainment as long as it fits within our perception of our norms?

You betcha.

Is MTV's portrayal of violence a lineal descendant from those photo's from the 1940's and 50's of all those smiling people with "Strange fruit" hanging from the trees?


Does this post come off slightly peevish at the end? Unfortunately, yes.

It may be a cherished notion of the blogoshpere that probing questions which force readers to re-evaluate their norms are welcome and a rational discussion will come up with an ideal solution, but we know that self re-enforcing group-think will carry the day in anonymous forum. As it ever was.

There are only certain liminal blogs where contradictory points of view can be expressed and matters debated. Unfortunately these are becoming rarer as partisans of one cause or another colonize various forums around the net.

To go into the one of the most vociferous public forums of American feminism and to try and expose their "hypocrisy" is naive, for a woman and laughable by man. Like all communities from cells on up, they band together against the intruder and force it out.

Cord, you're a smart guy and you know this. We know this.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

If Jezebel comments are representative of "American feminism," I want out of this country.

Mindpowered (#948)

In the land of the "SCUM Manifesto" is one of the more lucid manifestations.

Mindpowered (#948)

"it is"

@Mindpowered: I don't know what Jezebel is like, but over at Feministing there's been a successful push to acknowledge MTF transgender issues as feminist issues. And an effort to educate how "ableism" is unhealthy to feminist thought.

The cynic in me says that you can always overcome that groupthink by incanting the correct gender studies jargon.

Wasn't MTV's censorship of Snooki getting punched really just the network taking a stand against bodysnarking?

Who's been bodysnarking at Snooki? I'm going to have to have a little "talk" with them.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I think you're probably overstating the degree to which the female body is sanctified, bro.

Danzig! (#5,318)

Women's bodies are often reviled and sanctified at once. The best examples of this come from the influence of the Religious Right. An example might be a case in which a conservative claims Muslim women should have the "freedom" to not wear customary coverings yet all women should, at the same time, not have the right to control over their reproductive functions.

Likewise I noticed when growing up amongst the numerous evangelicals in rural Colorado that the pious youth group boys would be quick as lightning to demean any girl they deemed slutty, while always thinly veiling their barely repressed desire to fuck any and every girl they knew. Usually this was expressed through a particular strain of juvenile humor.

In any case, women's bodies are a lot like classic sports cars – the object of much neurosis, valuable insofar as they can keep from visibly deteriorating and / or the extent to which exclusive ownership can be claimed over them.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

But we're not talking about evangelical Christians, we're talking about American society, which spawned a chain of successful restaurants called "Hooters."

I don't know, how did head-to-head violence spectacles go from boxing and wrestling to mixed martial arts?

There is definitely a class issue though: Bum fights are beyond the pale for most of us, because they're instigated from above.

And in another way, it celebrates the last resort of the powerless – a different dynamic than male-on-female violence. And it shouldn't surprise you that it's seldom directed at the people who hold the power.

Multiphasic (#411)

I would also point out that, to imply that the violence in Jersey Shore is lauded is to imply that anything these people do is projected as laudable. Most people are sneering at, not cheering on, J-Woww and Ronnie.

Now, if you want to imply that Jersey Shore is somehow meta-enabling, well…

cherrispryte (#444)

I was told a lot of things, but mostly that my thoughts were "patronizing" and "reeked of male privilege." I was told that I didn't understand the "structures of power" that apparently dictate why men hitting women is markedly worse than men hitting men. I was told, in bold letters, "The widespread socialization of men as violent and women as receptacles for that violence is why this violence is different."

Yeah, that's all correct, actually. People shouldn't be hitting each other at all, obviously, but men hitting women is far worse than women hitting men, women hitting women, and men hitting men. It is about power and priviledge and a fundamental historic and cultural inequality, and if you don't see that, well, enjoy sitting back with your biases. No one ever explained the concept of a fair fight to you?

Jezebel and her commenters are fucked up 8 ways from Sunday, but they've got a point here.

And enjoy disagreeing with me, feminists, Jezebel, etc. I'm done here for the day. This day has sucked too fucking hard for me to educate all of you on this bullshit.

Kevin Allan (#7,008)

When you load the Awl homepage, the browser line reads: "The Awl – Be less stupid." So okay, good advice. Giving such a maxim as a tagline of course means that the people imploring you to be less stupid are also in a position to help, in this case by filling the intertubes with worthwhile, measured, considered articles of some importance or wit or smarts.

That works, except when The Awl publishes shit like this. Because outside of not understanding the incredibly simple idea that males beating up females in unacceptable, the author also can't wrap his mind around the idea that MTV isn't consistent. Both of those premises are simple enough, so it's even more impressive when the stage upon all of this is set is called the Jersey Shore.

So, to sum up: An author, unable to understand why a woman getting punched by a man is different than a man fighting a man, as differentiated by the network MTV, who does not show footage of the first type of violence after a minor PR dust-up (which is of course the whole goal of the show at all) when it's glimpsed in a promo reel. The author then catalogs the violence in the rest of the show "Jersey Shore", and cherry picked some insensitive internet comments.

Seriously this entire page is one big piece of shit. Go back to Jezebel.

Danzig! (#5,318)

I don't really follow you. I mean yeah, fair point on MTV never being consistent, but you seem to take this hierarchy of thrown punch scenarios as self-evident. How did you come to this conclusion? Do girl fights stir up angry spirits? Is it in the Bible? Are women more delicate and beautiful than men and thus their disfigurement is a greater loss to Vague Concept of Collective Society? I'm not just going to take your word for it, or your daddy's word, or whoever told you that girls shouldn't fight because that's the way it is.

All of this brings up the question: When faced with an ostensibly wrong line of thinking, can we "Be Less Stupid" by being less belabored in wrongness just as we would by thinking correctly? Questions!

Bettytron (#575)

Read cherrispryte's comment above, and then do some research on the history of male privilege and look up some domestic violence statistics if you still don't understand why a man hitting a woman is that much more problematic than any of the other described scenarios.

Kevin Allan (#7,008)

Are you retarded?

Kevin Allan (#7,008)

(not @Betty)

Obviously, it's important for you to miss the point, so…congratulations!

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

I think the more important point is the herd mentality of otherwise self-described intelligentsia hoo hoo and haw hawing over the under class as they act like animals.

And then dissecting what a show that basically has the equivalent exposure to .0000005% of the American population (mostly the ones that matter – friends and frenemies) means as a greater sociological trend.

Get them fish ready Dicko.

Zach Bates (#5,537)

So, NFL=Racist and…. MMA=Sexist?

Connor (#4,136)

Did I miss something? When did MMA get brought up at all?

There's a huge difference between sanctioned fighting and random scraps on a boardwalk.

I don't know either of you, but, based on photos, I would say that you are more precious than Snooki. Also, conflicted on the message as I am opposed to this kind of violence, but I also really enjoy hitting people.

spanish bombs (#562)

One of the most worthless overreactions I have read in a while. Zero stars.

"It's resulted in the degradation of the male body as an inherently brutal entity, something that, if not deserving of violence, should at least be prepared for combat at a moment's notice."

Seriously? Did you get beat up by a girl?

Oh I see, because for the last 200,000+ years human males have spent the greater part of their daily lives prancing around in skinny jeans and guyliner while striving to convince themselves of the importance of their preciously banal and self-seriously shrill opinions.

Some are Being Less Stupid than Others.

oldirtybassist (#3,630)

"If you look closely, there's a sturdy bridge between J-Woww casually smashing The Situation in the jaw and the nonchalance with which people in polite society make rape jokes every time a male celebrity goes to prison. Try and imagine sketch comedy shows making light of a husband slicing off his wife's vagina the way they did when John Wayne Bobbitt was butchered."
Well-put. I think we should all spend a little more time meditating on why it feels so good to endorse or at least watch abuse in the context of it being opposite of "widespread socialization".

sigerson (#179)

This essay is actually a piece of shit. Seems like a sophomore composition class essay that I would have given a B-/C+.

Cord, you fail to address the obvious reason why there is a disparity between the societal views of (and legal consequences resulting from) violence against women by men and violence against men by women: men kill women far more often than the reverse.

Yes, there are the Lorena Bobbitt's of the world and this Australian story certainly seems fucked up. However, those are the rare exceptions.

You would have gotten an A from Professor Sigerson if you had noticed (and explicated) the problem that feminism has with violence. For the most part, feminism's central belief is that women are equal to men in all respects. Thus, there exists no basis for discrimination based on gender, whether it's employment, education, warfighting, Supreme Court positions, etc. etc. The problem for feminists is that the fundamental equality that they seek just doesn't apply when it comes to violence. Reality collides with theory.

katiechasm (#163)

Cord, I am a layydieee*~ and I agree with you.

The feminists here who are bringing up 'historical inequality' to support their argument that male-on-female violence is 'worse' are essentially saying that men's problems don't matter because women have it worse. I don't think this is necessarily true anymore – domestic violence/rape rates might be higher for women, but there are women's shelters, feminist groups, public support, etc for the victims, while men are laughed at for going through the exact same thing. Even on feminist blogs, as you mentioned.

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