The Real Situation

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Moving here five years ago, I thought I had left behind the Northeast's obsession with ethnic identity. Then came "Jersey Shore."

There was Snooki talking about "Guidos" and "Guidettes" on David Letterman, and staring at me from the covers of People and OK. I didn't watch Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino on "Dancing With the Stars," but he was the subject of witty exchanges on the next "Good Morning America."

When I first heard the term "Guido," back in the 1980s, it seemed an innocent inside joke among "us" -- educated, middle-class Italian-Americans -- to describe our brash brethren from the outer boroughs. We considered them embarrassing distant relations -- they were a minority who hadn't left insular ethnic communities abandoned by our ancestors.

I was curious how popular the terms "Guido" and "Guidette" had become. The online Urban Dictionary, where visitors vote on their favorite definition, pegged Guido as "a sad pathetic excuse for a male." Much more offensive was the blatantly misogynistic Guidette, who has fake breasts, a big nose and is wildly promiscuous. Repugnant slurs have gone viral and venomous.

The mere existence of Jersey Shore makes me wonder why producers have made Italian-Americans the exception to protocols on ethnic stereotyping. I agree with Andre DiMino, head of the Italian-American organization UNICO: "If you replace Italian-Americans with any other ethnic group, would they use such a perjorative term?"


MTV producers attempted to justify themselves by asking cast members if they found the terms derogatory. Of course they didn't. It's their ticket. Three of them aren't even Italian-American, including Snooki. Using such terms repeatedly is going to make them famous-and, as they might say, "famouser."

I'm not calling for a world without Snooki and The Situation, although I'd find that dreamy. But whether we watch the show or find these folks appealing or repulsive, Snooki and company have become a ball-and-chain we "normal" Italian-Americans are forced to drag around.

With a Perspective, I'm Joanne Furio.