by Melissa Campbell
I don’t own a television, so I would go out of my way to download it the day after it aired, watching it on my laptop curled up under my covers before I got out of bed to start my day. The problems with the show are obvious: women are treated as sex objects, everyone binge drinks and starts stupid fights, and there is serious girl-on-girl hate. These things, though, are all par for the course in terrible MTV reality shows. Some of the cast members—Pauly D, Snooki, and yes, even J Woww—were enough to keep me watching.
This season, though, it’s nearly all hate, and I no longer watch. I only got two or three episodes in before Ronnie and Sam’s relationship moved from troubling and annoying to straight up emotionally abusive. Ronnie, who had cheated on Sam multiple times and always denied it (despite the cameras following his every move –SERIOUSLY?!), isolated Sam from her friends, convinced her that no one except for him would ever love her, disrespected her, ignored her emotions, and turned all of her doubts of the relationship back onto her. My breaking point came when she tearfully confronted him, saying she felt “sick” and unable to trust him. She said she felt completely alone and had no idea what to do. He responded by saying, “Why are you the only one who gets to hurt?” She cried in silence; as though this was a valid question that deserved answering. I, in turn, shouted at the screen in response: You are the one doing the hurting, Ron. She gets to hurt because YOU HURT HER!!
The next episode was terrifying. During a fight on the balcony he shouted at her, “I AM THE ONE WHO’S TALKING. YOU LISTEN TO ME. NO! YOU LISTEN TO ME.” He yelled so loud it drowned everything else out; her lips moved but you couldn’t hear her. And no one in the house acknowledged how dangerous that behavior was, how he was using his voice to overpower her and shut her down the same way he’d questioned her feelings in the previous episode. And we, the viewers, were complacent in watching this unfold. I closed my media player and walked away because I could not be a helpless observer. I just couldn’t. I didn’t download any more episodes; this show wasn’t fun anymore.
And now, according to my Facebook feed and my tumblr dash, on last week’s episode Ron became physical, dragging Sam’s bed around while she clung to it, smashing all of her belongings, and destroying everything she owns. He even threatened to bring back girls for a threesome in order to get back at her for dancing with a guy at a bar. I will not be watching this episode. The description of the events alone makes me shake.
These things are abuse. I want to shout this at people! I’ve even got into fights about it. So far the attitude of the housemates and viewers alike has been that Sam is “annoying,” “whiny,” “a bitch,” and that she needs to “shut up” and “get over it.” These attitudes normalize and perpetuate abuse. And even though we as viewers have no power to change the relationship we see playing out on screen, our collectively inability to identify Sam as a victim suggests something very disturbing about what we consider an acceptable relationship–especially considering the number of teenagers who watch Jersey Shore.
If we think Sam is an “annoying bitch who deserves” to be emotionally manipulated, what do we think about the people around us who are in dangerous relationships like this? Do we even realize that they are dangerous? Would we help if we did? Or we would just sit back and watch?
I’m not going to tell you to stop watching Jersey Shore. I’m not going to tell you to boycott MTV. I am going to tell you to think very carefully about the way this relationship is portrayed in the future. Sam has now left the house. Will the housemates or the show call Ron out on his abusive behavior? Or will they stay silent, siding with him and supporting his abuse? I don’t have high hopes that MTV will work to portray this relationship as dangerous or Ron as an abuser, so it’s going to need to be up to us.