On the premiere episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore, Poughkeepsie, NY native Nicole, aka Snooki, aka Snickers, laments her inability to find love. Sniffling and pouting, Nicole—who resembles nothing so much as a bikini-wearing basketball with a bay horse’s mane—describes some of the qualities she hopes to find in a mate: “My ideal man,” she says, “would be Italian, dark, muscles, juicehead, guido.”
Welcome to New Jersey.
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Well, welcome to Jersey Shore: a show that has already sparked the ire of the National Italian American Foundation and the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau; a show that has already lost the backing of one prominent advertiser (Domino’s) due to its controversial content; a show that features eight tanned, taut, sex-focused, alcohol-fueled young men and women sharing a house in New Jersey’s Seaside Heights during the summer of 2009. These are young men and women for whom terms like “guido” and “juicehead” are not slurs or pejoratives, but points of pride; young men and women who wear too much hair product and too little clothing, who get into fistfights in neon-lit clubs, who groom their bodies to a Ken-doll sheen, who speak in concrete-thick accents, in language barbed with profanity, rich with flavor.
Again: Welcome to New Jersey.
Or not. Because, curiously, whether by accident or design, only one of Jersey Shore’s eight cast members is actually from Jersey. Which is also, as it happens, exactly how many Jersey Shore cast members are from…Long Island.
Both on the show and in real life, Franklin Square’s Jenni Farley is called Jenni WOWW, or J-WOWW: a nickname she was given by a DJ at East Quogue’s Neptune Beach Club. It’s a reference to her unnaturally curvaceous, titanium-hard body and ludicrously provocative style of dress, both of which are more in line with a Marvel Comics superheroine than an actual human being. The 23-year-old Farley claims to have experienced little culture shock in the transition from Long Island to Seaside Heights. And today, when asked if she knows anyone in the real world resembling her Jersey Shore cast mates, Farley’s response is definitive, and delivered in a throaty menthol rasp:
“Oh my God,” she says. “Hundreds. Thousands. Especially in this area: Jersey, Long Island, Staten Island, New York. I mean, they have clubs catering to this type of lifestyle. And parties—you know, the Winter Music Conference that’s in Miami every year in March is built to hold 100,000 of these juiceheads…”
Wait a second; just so we’re clear—in the sports world, a “juicehead” is a steroid user. A-Rod, for instance, might be called a “juicehead” when he is, say, being discussed on New England sports talk radio. There must be some semantic confusion here, right? So what is a “juicehead” in Jersey Shore parlance?
“The steroid-injecting types of guys,” says Farley, nonchalantly, offhandedly, without a trace of judgment, apology or defiance. “The ones that I come across are heavily into steroids, and tattoos, and injecting whatever it could be into their system that will make them bigger and better looking.”
Whoa. Wow. WOWW. Really?
“It’s definitely in our club scene,” she says. “Almost all my friends are into it—girls and guys. I have friends who will go on extreme diets for three months just so they can go to Vegas, Memorial Day Weekend, and in their quote-unquote words, ‘be shredded.’ Girls taking growth [human growth hormone], they inject tanner into their bodies—melanoma, or whatever it’s called [Melanotan]: It’s an injection, just like steroids, to get the perfect color skin… I’ve seen people go far beyond the extremes that were portrayed on the show.”
And the show does portray extremes: The four men of Jersey Shore, for instance, discuss their obsessive personal grooming with an enthusiasm and openness that is almost rapturous. DJ Pauly D, from Johnston, R.I., has a tanning bed in his house and orders gel by the case. “It takes me about 25 minutes to do my hair,” he brags, on camera, of his Gotti-hottie spikes. “It comes out perfect every single time.”
Surely scenes like that, bursting with such open, enthusiastic dialogue—and others rife with casual sex and immediate violence—are the result of some pretty heavy editing. MTV filmed the eight cast members every hour of every day from late July to early September, 2009, and only a fraction of that footage will actually be aired. Yes, Farley says, but the editors’ portrait of the show’s subjects is essentially accurate.
“MTV pretty much nailed our personalities,” she says. “If someone looked like a bitch, that person most likely, in real life, is a bitch. No matter how much you chop and screw and edit, regardless, you still did what you did, and acted the way you did. At the end of the day, it’s still me.”
“Yeah,” she says. Then adds, “Somewhat. I just had no recollection of me and Pauly. [Here, Farley is referring to a sequence in the premiere wherein she and DJ Pauly D go to a club, vigorously make out, and eventually wind up in bed together; a sequence that features Farley’s already classic line, ‘You have your penis pierced. I love it.’] So…yeah. Everyone told me about that [incident] two days later. I didn’t believe them. I guess I overdid it the first couple of nights.”
(For those who haven’t seen the show—and you really, really should check it out, because it’s terrifically intoxicating and endlessly fascinating and eminently watchable—Farley was, apparently, reasonably inebriated during this dalliance with DJ Pauly D, and also, apparently, cuckolding her boyfriend, who was at home a state away while all this action was going down in Seaside Heights. For the curious, Farley and said beau are still together: “I told him [about the indiscretion] then and there,” says Farley. “I didn’t want to wait, I didn’t want to tell him after I was done and came home… And during that time, with the whole Pauly incident, [my boyfriend and I] were on a break. That didn’t get [portrayed] that way either, though.”)
On Jersey Shore, Farley comes off as a self-confident, hard-partying club hopper. And, well, that’s who she is: She regularly does promotion at Long Island nightspots such as Bianco Ultra Lounge, Glo, The Crazy Donkey, The Savannah Lounge and Oragin. But that’s not all she is. During the day, she runs her own freelance graphic design firm. She moved to Long Island from “a small town upstate” to attend the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, and she closed on her Franklin Square home a little more than a year ago. She makes almost all her own clothing (including the scandalously revealing attire she dons on Jersey Shore). Furthermore, while she loves “headbanger” music (her favorite band is Disturbed), leather and tattoos, she describes herself as a “computer geek.” And though her father is a member of a “bike gang” and Farley herself can frequently be scoped straddling a hog—modeling for car and motorcycle magazines—she’s afraid to actually ride one. “I feel like they’re a ticking time bomb,” she says, more pragmatist than hedonist. “There’s gonna be a day that everyone falls off and really gets hurt.” Heck, she sounds more like a prude.
Still, Farley claims not to have been taken aback by anything she saw during the filming of the show. “I was actually pretty bored,” she says. “I thought they were going to put seven people in the house who were more psychotic and abnormal than I am, and I was actually pretty shocked to see how reasonable and low-key everyone was.” And she formed bonds with her reasonable and low-key roommates, which might be expected, considering the reverence with which the concept of family is discussed among them. Today, she stays in touch with her Jersey Shore cast mates. “I talk to Nicole [Snooki, Snickers] all the time,” says Farley. “Everyone else, we say hi and keep each other updated, tell each other what’s going on. None of us hate each other or have any animosity toward each other, to my knowledge.”
As for the word “guido”—which is worn on Jersey Shore as a badge of honor, a Platonic ideal to which one should aspire—Farley supports its reclamation.
“I’m all for it,” she says. “If you’re proud of anything… I know people that are goth, and they’re proud of it, and that’s not the best lifestyle, either.”
It’s an apt comparison. Disregarding subjective value judgments like “best” or “not the best,” both lifestyles are unusually maligned in the mainstream, and widely misunderstood. Thus, Jersey Shore. Watch and learn. Welcome.