With a record setting 8.9 million viewers last Thursday night, the fire-cracker, mostly-Italian twenty-somethings of Jersey Shore have captivated our culture with their curious slang and obnoxious behavior. The cast members (Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww to name three) have stacked up an impressive resume including appearances on SNL, The View and David Letterman, even scoring a spot on Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010 list. President Obama, in the midst of the economy and foreign policy, is privy to their antics. Why?
Human behavior is entertaining. Extreme spontaneous behavior is arresting. The safely printed scripts of sitcoms lack the unpredictable intrigue of Jersey Shore. In the 90’s, Jerry Springer’s talk-show turned brawl-show inaugurated the gritty reality genre that hinges on lust, lies and lashing out. It assumes there is a segment of society who casts off civility and reasoning, allowing their feelings to culminate in indiscriminate fights, casual sex acts and a host of absurd behaviors. Catching these antics on film is gold…America can’t get enough. The drama, heightened emotions and spring-break lifestyle allows viewers to break from their less exciting realities and participate in extreme living without consequences.
Peppered throughout the mass of faithful followers are the haters, those who are appalled by the Jersey Shore crew. They’re vulgar, excessive and pointless. It is unthinkable that distinguished and sophisticated Americans would devote time and attention to so much nothingness and “total trash” as one reviewer put it. Fifteen years ago, a show with this caliber of content would not have seen air time.
Christians have the responsibility of responding rightly to cultural phenomena. Avoiding them completely breeds judgment and ignorance which hinders our ability to engage the lost world. Embracing them like familiar friends welcomes temptation and blurs the lines of holy living. What is the Christ follower to do with Jersey Shore?
First, recognize what’s really happening: lost sinners are sinning. It’s the fruit of an unregenerate life, captured on film. Why is this shocking? Separate from the Bible’s teaching, cultures adopt standards of acceptable behavior based on experience. With no absolute by which to measure, standards mean little and easily shift. Some non-Christians embrace a biblical moral code and some do not. Apart from the saving work of Christ, everyone pursues sin zealously. While Jersey Shore pushes many entertainment envelopes, humanity has always been “this sinful,” even if not parading it through the public square. One only needs to search Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for an equally graphic and blatantly sinful display. Christians should be unsettled and hope for higher TV standards, but not be surprised by what they see.
Second, keep sin in proper perspective. The word “sin,” a term used in archery, means to miss the mark. It doesn’t matter how close or distant the arrow lands to the target…a miss is a miss. Our bull’s-eye is God’s standard: perfection. It doesn’t matter if the mark is missed by a mile or millimeter. The bitter thought of a housewife and the vicious punch of an abusive father render them equally guilty before God, even though our world catalogues one as worse. It’s easy to sit on the couch and ridicule these people, forgetting that my calmer, lesser known sins, while not on TV for the world to view, are just as repulsive to Him. While Christians benefit from the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to sin less, they are not sinless. Rather than post our sins proudly, Christians work to hide them and pretend they don’t exist. Behind closed doors, many are treading similar sands. Should we despise their sin? Yes, and our own as well.
Lastly, exercise wisdom in entertainment. What profit is there in watching this show? In keeping with the teaching of Scripture, Christians are to meditate on things which are praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), to keep their eyes from viewing worthless things (Psalm 119:37), to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and to love God with their entire mind (Mark 12:30). We become products of what we consume. While the effects aren’t immediate, over time, they impact our view of God and the world and how we live. Claiming that watching something won’t affect you is nonsense; no one can objectively measure the influence of entertainment on themselves. Is watching Jersey Shore wise? No. God is not glorified and nothing valuable is gained in being absorbed by a show that has as its chief goal to glorify the shame and sinfulness of mankind.
We must be careful as we acknowledge these things. Recognizing a wolf for what he is and avoiding him is different than charging his cave with a torch to string him up and list his crimes. Looking at Jersey Shore through the lens of Scripture is not judgmental but responsible. Condemning the individuals, as if we sinners created the law and can both save and destroy them, is wrong (James 4:12).
This may enrage some of you and validate the rest. For the enraged, check your heart and determine why this threatens you. For the validated, don’t be caught with a smug look. We are not better. Apart from repentance, God’s Word and meeting with the local church, Christians are more than capable of anything on Jersey Shore. Instead of watching and copying them, we pray for and love them. Just like me, Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww were created in the image of God, and just like me, they need Him desperately.