Is Boston the New New Jersey of Reality TV?
Boston is a city that is historically recognized by its brilliance. With MIT grazing the other side of the Charles, Mass. Gen. being the number one medical center in America, and Zuckerberg’s original Facebook algorithm on a Harvard dorm window somewhere, this statement is both undeniable and celebrated. According to Fast Company and Forbes, Boston is one of the smartest cities, if not the smartest city, in the nation.
Intellectual people are from here. Barbara Walters is from here. Ben Affleck is from here. Mitt Romney seems to think he’s from here. So why, of all the major cities in America, is Boston the media’s latest target as an exhibit for moronic and sleazy behavior? And more importantly, why are common Americans indulging in this misrepresentation?
They say history repeats itself, but four years seems much too soon to already be pointing fingers. Nevertheless, America is much too familiar with trashiness and stupidity in the media, especially in terms of a certain demographic on the East Coast—the New Jerseyans.
In May 2009, the country was introduced to a handful of big-haired, tan-skinned, and really wealthy Jersey ladies whom we now know as The Real Housewives of New Jersey. MTV’s Jersey Shore premiered in December of the same year, when Snooki’s poof and the rest of the cast became the most famous figures of reality TV in the country.
The New Jersey phenomenon was such a strange culture shock: cheetah prints, tanning beds, fist pumping, and blowouts were so important to everybody. Every TV network had to get its taste of this Jersey-obsessed experience, from the Style Network’s Jerseylicious to Oxygen’s Jersey Couture. Suddenly “Gorilla Juiceheads,” “Meatballs,” and “Guidos” were considered acceptable and complimentary terms to call people. The “Dirty Jerz” was definitely really dirty.
Now jump ahead to present time four years later, and Real Housewives’ Teresa Guidice has filed for bankruptcy and Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi is engaged and a mother to a seven-month-old son. America is over them. Why would we want to watch party animal Snooki play house with her new family? Why would anybody want to watch the richest housewife pretend to adjust amongst us regular, middle-class folks? How are we supposed to live vicariously through these reality caricatures if they are actually doing regular American things?
We will abandon them and create stupidity in another place! is what I imagined the creator of A&E’s reality show disaster Southie Rules said.
The new “reality” series follows the unlikely escapades of a large and homely South Boston family, living all of their 18 lives under one single roof and “paying” their bills in ways that don’t make sense to any real person. Since its premiere in January, Southie Rules has faced some well-deserved backlash due to its clearly scripted scenes and unrealistic portrayal of not only Boston, but of functioning people in general.
Naturally, Boston natives have not been receptive to this show. Take this tweet for example:
This ‘Southie Rules’ show is going to destroy our towns reputation
— Southie Rules Sucks (@SouthieRulesSux) January 3, 2013
Unfortunately, it’s not just Southie Rules that has Boston folks worked up.
Just when we thought Southie Rules was winning the race toward becoming Boston’s worst reality show, VH1 swooped right in with its recent gem Wicked Single. As The New York Times so kindly put it, the “youthful inhabitants” that make up the cast of Wicked Single make Snooki, JWOWW and The Situation look like geniuses. Insulting, yes, but also fair. And of course, the Internet responded really well to this show, even before its St. Patrick’s Day premiere.
In spite of Boston’s terrible perception on TV, it seems that the city’s A-list celebrities are resisting the phenomenon. Ben Affleck wrote and directed Charlestown-based blockbuster The Town, which was a fair portrayal of crime and lifestyle in this city. We also respect the presentation coming from a native, for whom accuracy plays a key role in his creative intentions.
We can also say the same about Donnie Wahlberg, who offered me a similar opinion as the producer of TNT’s newest docu-series Boston’s Finest:
There’s such a fascination with this city right now, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down, with all these Whitey Bulger movies being made and everything. I think for the Bostonians who are doing these things, we are proud of this city. We love this city, we want to celebrate our city. All the time. We go to Celtics games in foreign cities, we go to football games and support our teams through and through. And for us, it’s a badge of honor. But for other people, we don’t know what their agenda is. We can only thank them for bringing jobs to the city, and hopefully put an end to their stuff if it’s no good.
So the media’s fascination with Boston doesn’t seem to be slowing down, but is this a phenomenon that will have lasting significance and enduring impact on how Boston is forever perceived? Based on EW’s cultural assessment of Jersey Shore’s series finale last year, it looks like Boston has little to worry about:
We live in an age that strives to find meaning in anything that attains a mass audience. A time when “so bad it’s good” is an aesthetic category; when any TV show that incites protests is deemed to be of intrinsic value for what it says about “our times.”
So yes, Boston is a unique place full of proud people with loud mouths, and it’s no secret that we are at the top of the media’s radar for morons. Yes, we drink excessively, and yes, we are emotionally dependent on our professional sports teams.
But unlike New Jerseyans, we are fortunate enough to have locals like Matt Damon, the Afflecks, and the Wahlbergs working hard to convey real Boston authenticity. So we will support those who want to get behind us, and because some things really never change, maybe we’ll sit here with our Dunkin’ Donuts and yell nasty things at the rest of them.
In the words of Amy Poehler at Harvard’s 2011 commencement, “Just because you’re wicked smaht doesn’t mean you’re bettah than me.” Because remember, actually, we are smarter than you.