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."