Jersey Shore, meet UChicago.
This unlikely clash brought speakers and attendees from all around the country, and even, in a few cases, other nations—here’s what attendees, presenters, and event organizer David Showalter had to say about the experience:
Amanya Maloba, AttendeeClass of 2014; majoring in English and minoring in Cinema and Media Studies
College Site: Why’d you decide to come to the Jersey Shore Conference?
Amanya Maloba: Well, I love Jersey Shore! [Laughs.] I’ve been watching it since the first episode. I’m from the East Coast and when I was at home, it came out my senior year. We all watched it; nobody ever judged anyone for watching it and then I came here and it was like, “Oh my god, you watch Jersey Shore? So tacky!” And I was like “No!” and I couldn’t articulate why it was a good show to watch, so I realized I needed to come hear the intellectual argument because I need to be able to vocalize why the show isn’t trash and why people should watch it.
CS: Who’s your favorite cast member? Or, what character would you be if you were on Jersey Shore?
AM: Well, my two favorites—yeah, I have two—I like Pauly and JWoww. I really respect them actually. I think that they are a lot smarter than people give them credit for, in that they both came on the show with an agenda. Pauly was a DJ and now he DJs all over the country because of this. So, he just self-promoted. And JWoww was already pretty accomplished. She has some—don’t look into this [Laughs]—some kind of graphic design company.
CS: Anything else you want to mention?
AM: I think that for people who make fun of Jersey Shore, the joke is really on them. These people make more money than they will ever make just doing what they would do anyway. And they all have a lot of swag!
Samuel Rivier, AttendeeGraduate Student in Physics at Syracuse University
CS: Are you a fan of Jersey Shore? Do you watch it?
Samuel Rivier: I’ve never seen it. Well, I mean, it’s a cultural phenomenon, right? [This conference] is basically the reaction of others to it in a completely stoic, unbiased fashion, so that would be how I’m reacting to it too.
CS: Do you think that, even in the two hours you’ve been here that your perceptions about the show have been somewhat changed? As someone who has never seen the show but has only heard about it?
SR: There’s a point at which I stopped thinking that we’re at a conference about the end of the world or the end of human culture as we know it and started thinking that this is, in the scope of human history, just going to be a couple years. But also, it’s interesting to see that this is not just an isolated thing. I’ve seen other horrible shows, so… that’s just the nature of the game, I suppose.
Elizabeth Miller, AttendeeClass of 2012; majoring in Radio, Television and Film at Northwestern
CS: What do you think the value of a conference like this is?
EM: I think there’s a lot of value in analyzing and engaging in academic discussion around things that aren’t necessarily viewed as intellectual objects; you know, something that could be perceived as very lowbrow like Jersey Shore has a lot of cultural value. I think opening up the world of academia to something that is usually excluded from the conversation has a lot of value.
CS: How do you feel about the show? Are you a huge fan?
EM: I have watched it, but mostly to say, “Oh, you know, cultural studies purposes” but secretly I’m like, “Oh, what’s going to happen next?” Sometimes my friends and I watch it semi-ironically. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to admit you’re actually interested in what’s going on because it has that lowbrow nature to it, but kind of reframing it to be a cultural text or an ironic sort of media entity makes it semi-OK.
CS: Do you have a favorite character?
EM: Pauly and Vinny. I think those two have to be my favorites. What I appreciate so much about those two is their commentary; they know that so much of what happens is ridiculous. A lot of times they say what the audience member wants to say, like, “Did you really just do that Deena?”
Ottorino Cappelli, Keynote speakerProfessor at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”Vice President of the Italian/American Digital Project, Inc.
CS: Did you personally watch Jersey Shore prior to having to prepare for this conference?
Ottorino Cappelli: I did. The reason I came to this conference was because we had just published a book about the “Guido” phenomenon in New York. I teach at an Italian university but I am affiliated with the Calandra Italian American Institute at CUNY. It is there that we’ve done research on the “Guido” lifestyle of young Italian Americans.
CS: What do you think the value of a conference like this is?
OC: The conference was a great success, and I was impressed by the fact that David is an undergraduate student, not only because he was able to do it but also that the University let him do it. They gave him all this space, and he’s managing the whole thing. And it went global and there was a great response from a lot of young people. I was very impressed.
CS: What do you think was the best part of your experience of coming here and speaking at this conference?
OC: That there are so many young people—so many young people among the presenters; you would expect many students in the audience. It’s very lively culturally and you kept all these people here in these three rooms all day, so they’re not going to the Jersey Shore. [Laughs.] I was impressed how young and how serious they were. It’s very positive.
David Showalter, Creator and OrganizerClass of 2012; in the Tutorial Studies program; studies Crime and Punishment in the Criminal Legal System
CS: Why’d you decide to make this conference?
David Showalter: I’ve been a fan of the show since almost the beginning of the series. Since I started watching it, I just spent more time thinking about it seriously and thoughtfully than most people did, and I thought there was a lot of potential. Then the specific idea for the conference actually came from this joke that I discovered on the Internet that was a fake advertisement for such a conference and I thought that needed to be rectified. One of my friends was like, “Well that’s what the Uncommon Fund is for.” And I decided to apply for that and it came through. That’s the sort of history.
CS: What do you think makes this event uniquely suited to UChicago?
DS: It was funded by the Uncommon Fund and it really displays this uncommon spirit; the combination of high academia and low culture is clearly something that’s uncommon and sort of quirky and idiosyncratic to UChicago in that way. I think the fact that it’s student-organized also — all of the discussants and people who are volunteering and running the conference, myself included — we’re all students. UChicago really gives students the tools to take on big projects like this in a way that might not be encouraged to at other schools.
CS: What was the whole experience like?
DS: It’s been really incredible. It’s not over. I’m hoping that the material presented here has sort of a life beyond the conference. I would love to have opportunities to reproduce or publish it in some way. I’m excited for that phase of this journey to begin. These past few months have been pretty stressful; the past week has been more stressful; the past 24 hours have been the most stressful. But overall I’m astonished and overjoyed and humbled and every other adjective that one can use about how the conference has turned out. I think it was a wonderful experience for everyone who came. What’s most rewarding is that this has been my thing, but today, it became everyone else’s thing.
To read more about the Conference, click here.