Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jersey Shore

During a recent trip of mine I was discussing the show “Jersey Shore” on MTV with a fellow traveler. For those of you who are not familiar with “Jersey Shore, it is a reality series on MTV featuring several young men and women in their early twenties living together in a house on the shores of New Jersey.
The point of the show? Well, on their website it is advertised as a reality series following the lives of 8 young people living together during the summer. The program allows us to view these young people experience a right of passage as they indulge in everything the summer and the night life of Jersey Shore has to offer including parties, friendship and love (This is the websites explanation not mine). The personalities on the show profess that their lives on Jersey Shore are about drinking, tanning, hair gel, hook-ups, working on their bodies and of course hopefully finding friendships even if that “friendship” only lasts one night.
All around me it seems that there is a “Jersey Shore” phenomenon. After visiting my daughter at college, I viewed signs advertising “Jersey Shore” parties where guys and girls can come as their favorite characters and live out the reality series. This series is so popular amongst young people that the season finale ratings were a 4.8 which is the highest rating that any cable network show outside of a sports event has ever been received..
So there I was, sitting in a Detroit Airport and next to me a fellow traveler, who was at least 10 years my junior. I seized the opportunity to pick his brain.
“So why do you watch Jersey Shore? I really want to know. Don't just give me the answer you think I want to hear, be honest, I want to understand.” I said hoping he would see that I was being genuine.
“I don't know, I guess I like the drama” he replied looking down embarrassed.
Although I did not watch the season, I became familiar with it's existence when Snooki, one of the girls on the show, was punched in the face by a man (closed fist) and it made national news. They replayed the man punching her over and over in slow motion. The video clip made me sick to my stomach and I dismissed the show as something that surely would be canceled. I was wrong. In fact, as of the end of January, the cast has held out for more money per episode and signed a new contract to continue the series with them making over six figures for their second season.
“Don't you think that the show glamorizes people sleeping around? I just feel like they are just ripping a precious part of themselves out and giving it away”. As I finished this sentence (and yes, I often speak to strangers in this manner) I looked up to see his response. What I saw was shock. I don't think he heard anyone speak like this before.
“I don't think sleeping with a lot of people affect a person's ability to love, it's just sex. “ He stated emphatically.
I could tell by his face he believed what he was saying to me.
“It is an intrinsic truth that all person are called to love and be loved. It is the truth that reveals our very purpose for being alive. The people on this show are really desperate for love not sex.” I told my new friend.
“There is no such thing as an intrinsic truth!” the man asserted to me as we walked down the ramp towards the airplane.
I shifted my bags and got behind him as we boarded the plane.
“Are you sure?” I asked with a half smile, trying desperately not to get too excited that he was setting himself up to be proven wrong.
“Yes, I am.” the man said again seemingly confident in his answer but still was watching my face to assess my answer. That is when I knew I had him.
“How can you say emphatically that there are no intrinsic truths? If you were right, then the statement there are no intrinsic truths, then becomes an intrinsic truth doesn't it?” I asked innocently.
The look on his face was priceless.
While programs like Jersey Shore fill the airwaves with their message that life is about using people and using things (The Situation should be renamed to The Objectification) people are still starving to death for purpose, for meaning, for love. In a world that can rationalize just about anything, it is my assertion that there are certain truths that exist in the universe that cannot be thwarted by any philosophical discussion or intellectual argumentation or television programs spouting the contrary.
One such truth is that all human beings share in the great need to be loved and to love something outside of themselves. This love is mysteriously intertwined within friendship and when we fall in love it is transformed into a love like that spoken of in the Song of Songs when the lover refers to his bride as his sister bride. Not an easy concept for some and I would guess any person on Jersey Shore would be dumbfounded by the concept of loving any women they encountered like a sister.
Love is a requirement for everybody and if you have a body then you too require love to fulfill your purpose. Like plants need sunshine, we need love to grow. This truth can be most easily seen when looking upon the faces of children. When love or touch (which is a conduit of love) is deprived from children, it's profound affects can be witnessed by resulting children with severe emotional, psychological and even physical disorders.
With so many desperate for love is it any wonder why the young people on this show are willing to give themselves away, willing to accept any touch, even if it makes them an object ? As the cast of Jersey Shore pass themselves around like pieces of meat I am reminded of the Conehead's from Saturday Night live and their mantra of “We must consume mass quantities”.
We long for good and holy relationships. By good, I mean the kind that love you in your weakest moments. They love you when you are unlovable. But this kind of love requires us to push past our emotions. It requires an act of the will. It also requires selflessness.
Jersey Shore does anything but glamorize sacrifice or suffering. Instead, it creates the facade that what these people are doing is worthwhile. After all if it were not, no one would be filming it right? The fact that MTV films the cast in all kinds of lewd acts (in fact many of the men on the show declare their goal to be sleeping with as many girls as they can) simply shows us that they have no qualms perpetuating the message that more is better and nothing lasts.
We see this attitude reflected in the divorce rate in the United States. It seems there is an inability to remain steadfast during difficult times. Instead, some seek out the good feelings of friendships that will bring excitement and fun. Once the friendship is tested or would require something more, the relationship is abandoned. Even I have been abandoned by persons who claimed to be my friends upon the first real test.
I had a science teacher in High School that called his tests opportunities. They were opportunities to change your grade for better or for worse. I always loved that word for them. Tests on friendships should be seen as opportunities to make the relationship better. If we do not see the opportunity when our friendships require sacrifice or suffering then our reaction may be; “I don't need this! I have no time for that!” Every encounter we have with another person will bring them closer or farther away from God. But when we abandon God, then it seems we have not only lost our purpose but our ability to be happy for if God is love and we all require love then without him, we loose our own purpose.
Our friendships should be dedicated to helping one another get to heaven. This kind of friendship strives to fortify one another through our adversities. An example of this would be my husband and I. I consider my husband to be my best friend in the whole world. If I had abandoned him when things were difficult, then I never would have seen our relationship grow to become such a beautiful thing on the other side. I am sure he would say the same about me. Sometimes it was him merely loving me when I knew I was unworthy of it that made me love him more. These kinds of actions convert hearts. People are more easily converted by observing the actions of others rather than by their words or intellect. This was so true for us.
The intrinsic truth is that we all share in one common purpose and desire: to be loved and love without limitations. So what do we need to know so that we can love and be loved better? We should know that love requires sacrifice. This reminds me of the line in Princess Bride, “Life IS pain Highness, if someone tells you more, they are selling you something”. Ahh, so true.
Our love and even our friendships require us to give a free gift of total self. We should not expect anything in exchange for it. We do however, return that gift with faithfulness. Our love can then swell up and becomes so magnificent it takes on a life of it's own and thus can bear fruit. This concept is talked about in Theology of The body.
During this Lenten season we meditate on how the love of the Father was so great that He, the giver, gave himself to us by giving his son to die for our sins. His Son, received this love and then returned the love to the father for us by his yes to God. In this reciprocated love, which required much sacrifice and yes, pain, the love between the father and the son became so great that it became like a fire that burned between them. The fruit of their love is the Holy Spirit. So it seems that perfect love is a triangle, not a heart. Let us try and love our friends more perfectly this Lenten season for we are all called to love and this truth is written on the human heart and stamped into our very bodies.