'Jersey Shore' series finale: The death of the Duck Phone and the face of the new America

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Image Credit: MTV

The final episode of Jersey Shore – the highest-rated series in MTV history; the first important artifact of the Meme Generation era, when catchphrases and plot points became hashtag fodder; the show that accidentally assembled a cast that amounted to a reality-character Trope-Superteam, recalling that old Umberto Eco line about Casablanca, “the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion,” except that these clichés were real people before they disintegrated into self-parody; a show that, in fact, seemed to argue that the whole process of “growing up” in America has been replaced by a process of active self-parody, as if the rise of social networking has transformed us into a nation of brands hunting for recognition, as if we have all become TV characters on a long-running sitcom that stopped being good seven years ago but still scores high in a key advertising demo, as if we’re all trapped in the ninth season of Friends when no one was funny and everyone was pregnant but at least they all had better hair and more expensive clothes — was pretty boring.

Jersey Shore has actually been very boring since roughly the midpoint of its third season, since the apocalyptic Sammi-Ronnie breakdown, the last event in Jersey Shore history which seemed rooted in some recognizable emotion, that didn’t seem to exist in the bizarro meta-world of reality television. Creating a docuseries is tricky. It requires a group of people who are bad actors but great exhibitionists. It requires, also, that those people not particularly care how they come off on camera. After Shore‘s third season, signs of thematic bloat were everywhere. The cast became more muscular. Faces evolved in curious new angles. A couple castmates — Snooki especially — seemed to treat the camera like an annoyance, instead of the whole purpose of their being.

So nothing much happened on the series finale. The Situation ate a birthday cake from a spurned lover, and it emerged that said birthday cake’s taste may have been negatively impacted via an interaction with an anonymous gentlemen’s private parts. When The Situation found out about this, he called his lover on the Duck Phone. She pretended that she could not hear him — as if the good and noble Duck Phone had ever done less than provide perfect service.

In his rage, Sitch smashed the Duck Phone into little pieces. There has always been a weird undercurrent of violence in Jersey Shore. You might think that everyone goes to the gym just to preen, but there’s an implicit mission: You need to be strong enough when you get into a fight, to protect yourself and your own. Recall that the show’s whole pop-culture origin story, and the incident that brought the cast together as a family, is rooted in violence: The #SnookiPunch heard ’round the world.

Sammi and Ronnie also got into a fight. (Have you heard this before?) In their own weird way, the warring couple became the last part of the show that still felt unaffected by artifice. Snooki and J-Woww have their own TV show and treat everyone about the same way that Beyoncé treats the rest of Destiny’s Child. Pauly D has been living in his own TV show since the day he was born. Deena, the latecomer, has spent her entire Jersey Shore life trying to get everyone’s attention, like the youngest child in a Catholic family of 12 who hits adolescence right when Mom and Dad go on auto-pilot. The Situation might be the show’s first casualty: He went to rehab, which is admirable, but then he came back on the show, which is not. (He’s a millionaire casualty, but money can’t buy you happiness, Frankenstein.) Vinni has his own TV show, too, and if the preview that played last night is indicative, the show is basically Vinni staring at the camera saying “I’m Vinni! This is Lil Wayne! He’s in my house! I’m Vinni!”

But Sammi and Ronnie are still together, despite it all. They came out together for the live cast reunion. The blonde robot who interviewed them asked if they were still together; Ronnie pointed at his watch and made a joke about how there was still time before the reunion ended for them to break up. He made an almost identical joke (“What time is it?”) when I asked him the same question last August, at a press junket held after the cast was done filming Jersey Shore season 5. It was a good line, and a good dodge. At the time, they seemed to be together, or anyhow, they made each other laugh. It could be that they’re not a couple, that they haven’t actually been together since season 3; it could be that they’re just pretending, because their brand recognition is stronger as a couple. Who knows? Famous people live interesting lives, and people who got famous on reality TV live boring lives that the camera tries to make interesting.

The live reunion was a horrorshow, really. The whole cast was there, answering questions about the worst days of their young lives and watching those moments replay on camera. It was like a demented vision of the afterlife, without moral judgment or purpose. It suggested that, in the future, everyone will be famous just long enough to watch a montage of their drunkest moments with snarky narration provided by MTV. Pauly D said “Yeah, Buddy!” about 50 times. Snooki looked bored. The Situation sat in the corner, looking unrepentant and unforgiven. (It’s possible he’s the only cast member who feels bad about anything he did on the show.) Pretty much everyone looked happy to be there. And maybe happy that it was all over.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

Read More:
The legacy of ‘Jersey Shore’: How will cultural history judge Snooki and her spawn?
The curiously therapeutic thrills of ‘Jersey Shore’ season 6
Darren Franich’s ‘Jersey Shore’ recaps

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