Evolution of Guidoism
The word guido exudes multiple dichotomies and contradictions; lower class and upper class, fashion couture and tacky clothes. Whether it is deemed self-effacing, degrading, educational, or a tactic to create more Italian-American fanfare, the culture of guidoism has evolved as a cultural phenomena, gaining exposure with such shows as The Jersey Shore. The show itself has served as a catalyst for debate and exposure concerning the cult of guidoism. No longer must guidos wield guns, knives or partake in crime in order to bear credibility. Instead, due in part to the success of The Jersey Shore, guidoism has come to be defined as existing in a specific geographic area rather than in a particular nationality or criminal syndicate, devaluing assertions that guidoism serves as a character assault on Italian-Americans.
The term guido can be traced back as far as at the turn of the 20th century, when impoverished Italians sought refuge from a maligned economy and corrupt government, migrating to the United States. However, just like racial epithets “nigger” and “spic”, several decades would pass before “guido” was dismantled and then re-mantled as a source of culture pride. Among other influences, the introduction of Saturday Night Fever starring Italian-American actor John Travolta, guidoism began to crop up as a bonafide subculture, with beachheads primarily established all over New York and New Jersey (Brooks, 2). These denizens of guidoism were ingrained with family mores and a sense of Italian pride that sometimes eclipsed American pride. Although the breadwinners of most Italian families in the 1970’s worked blue-collar positions, competition among guidos laid in the amount of material possessions, toughness and sexual exploits each one had. Media have exaggerated these characteristics as celebratory goals throughout Italian culture in films, television and advertisement. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from a pool of nearly 26 million Americans of Italian descent, less than 65,000 of them were involved in crime (Sons of Italy, 2-3). The appeal of gangster and mafia-orientated media work in tandem with our vicarious natures as human beings. Gangster films allow citizens of a particular nation to live vicariously through a gangster such as Tony Montana in Scarface without suffering any retribution or legal recourse. However, by the end of the movie, when a Tony Montana-type character, having reached the zenith of his corrupt empire, is killed, the audience cheers for the authorities (Braudy, 577-580).
When The Jersey Shore appeared in December 3, 2009, it was met with immediate ire from multiple groups. The day after, UNICO National tried to encourage its cancellation (Press of Atlantic City, 1) but MTV would not acquiesce to its demands. The show would continue to be broadcasted, and the cast would ultimately shift from being hated to being embraced. Despite its success, government officials in Italy were not excited to host the cast for season four, as they represent an iconoclastic faction against Italian culture (Meichtry, 1). Perhaps as a publicity stunt, Abercrombie and Fitch recently disabused its consumers of their support of the show, paying the cast, most notably Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, to not wear its clothing (Clifford, 1).
Rather than having unique issues of crime and other malfeasance, today’s guidos are plagued by relationship, sex and friendship issues much in the same vein as the rest of us are. Audiences are drawn to this because they can resonate with guidos (Marche, 2). Audiences are now attracted to the way in which guidos solve every-day problems. They live vicariously through the vices of these guidos, but also revel in their alcohol-inspired downfalls and debauchery. In effect, its “Italian-Americans only” barrier has crumbled, as Albanians, Irish and other nationalities have adopted the culture and appropriated it as their own. In fact, cast members such as Nicole “Snooki” Poluzzi aren’t even Italian.
The guido gang depicted on The Jersey Shore exude a type of mentally not seen since the hippie days of the 60’s and 70’s. Free love, hedonism and an indifference towards the future reign supreme. None of the cast members order “hits” on others, and the fights that break out manifest with the same fervor of a summer storm; they end as quickly as they begin. Sure, some of what they do may be scatological, but these may be indulged in by audiences as examples of what not to do in public or to others (Genzlinger, 2). In light of a recession, it may be easier to emulate this type of lifestyle as opposed to mimicking Kim Kardashian or others who are millionaires and insulated from the global economic downturn. The popularity of The Jersey Shore may also lie in how genuine the cast of characters are (Pappademas, 3). Ronny doesn’t hide his love for Sammi. Pauley D and The Situation launch into discourse over what “GTL” (Gym, Tan, Laundry) means as a prominent ethos in their daily lives. This candidness has impelled producers to not create spin-offs, but also establish Jersey-shore type shows in Boston, and Los Angeles. The rawness of these reality soap-operas has struck a chord within its target demographic, and is a type of entertainment that may have yet to reach its apogee.
Clearly, guidoism has been diluted to blend in with other forms of being young Americans. Its latest interpretation is less abrasive and perhaps more comical. It conjures up a minstrel type attitude and denotes a watershed moment in our culture; we have circumvented the politically correct police and can finally laugh at ourselves. After all, guidoism is a lesser form of being “white”, but it is nonetheless just another sub-strata of society with its own idiosyncrasies and maladies. Italian culture has still retained a level of respectability despite this other perception. Italian luxury goods, art, restaurants, and opera remain at the pinnacle of their respective culture niches. Even today, tourists continue to travel to Italy to see works of art, music and culture, not to see mobsters, gangsters or tough guys.
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