Surely you must have met Snooki. No? You're not familiar with her work? You've not yet snooked? Goodness gracious. This tiny young woman, a great idiot savant of reality-TV culture, is the prima donna of Jersey Shore (MTV, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET). Adjusting a durable MTV formula—young people, picked to live in a house, find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting belligerently drunk—the program instantly earned a special place in the trash canon upon its debut last December.
The transformative tweak, nothing less than a masterstroke, was to stock the show with characters unified in their low-cultural idiom and the particular peacocking style of their exhibitionism. The summer vacation house of the first season was a playpen for eight young interpreters of the "guido" ethos. Understandably, some observers bristled at the carnival, as at the slur guido, for giving offense to the sons and daughters of Columbus, but ours is to a degree a post-racial society, and the diverting distastefulness of the Jersey Shore castmates in fact knows no genealogical bounds. Though Snooki sincerely embraces a stereotypical ethnic identity as an Italian-American princess, she represents a tribal queen for urban homegirls of all types. Mouthy and strutting, she puts herself together such that her overall look is always posing an insolent question to bourgeois values: "What are you looking at?"
Has success spoiled Snooki? Not exactly: The point of Snooki is that she was spoiled already, with the slick pouf of her hairdo amounting a silly little crown. As the show returns tonight for a sophomore season set in Miami, she looks more regal yet. Swanning around and strutting about, she wears her fame as if comfortably ensconced in a fur to which she feels fully entitled. At the same time, she is committed enough to the joke of herself that she capers around like her own court jester. Beneath it all, she adheres steadfastly to the core tenet of a homegirl's moral code—a great source of her street-corner hauteur—"keeping it real."
Reintroduced to Snooki, we soon meet her new hometown boyfriend, whom she adoringly calls "an amazing gorilla juicehead." (This dialect term apparently describes a specific subspecies of muscleman—the down-to-earth HGH addict from around the way.) "Me and Emilio have been together for two and half months," she says. There is obviously some genuine affection between them: Witness the tender way he airbrushes her forehead with a third coat of tanning solution. ("My bronzer's leaking off my face," Snooki later gripes—a moment indicating that her camped-up overtanning routine now constitutes a kind of orangeface minstrelsy.) However, it is clear that a long-term romance with Emilio is not written in the stars. His brief screen moment is scored to the famous Habanera from Carmen("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle"): "Love is a rebellious bird." No one can tame Snooki, especially Snooki herself, especially after four So Co shots.
But what of Snooki's colleagues? How has the journey to pop-cultural ubiquity impacted their presentation? JWoww, returning to her role as "the hot one," has matured; she is still not quite as hot as she thinks she is, and now she thinks that she's hotter than ever, a delusion that, perhaps ironically, actually goes some distance to making her more hot. Vinny remains unassuming and still serves as something of a moral compass, despite family pressures. "My uncles, they want me to just come here and bang everything, you know what I mean," he confesses. "But I kinda want to get better quality girls." Angelina, who departed the house early last season for reasons pertaining to her comprehensive unpleasantness, again offers herself for our revilement. "I'm trying to not be a bitch," she lies.
Meanwhile, The Situation has become rather too self-conscious. Hitting the clubs of South Beach, he's always sprawling across a banquette—a posture not unlike that of a classical odalisque or Truman Capote on the cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms—leering over the frames of his sunglasses. Nonetheless, I would happily gorge myself on raw footage of him and the Jersey Shore crew getting ready to go out for the night. Pregaming, they throw back shots with the air of warriors preparing for battle. Preening, they share high-fives in the mirror, congratulating one another's taste in T-shirts. Ah, the pouts, the thunderhead clouds of body spray, the delicate two-fingered grips on the hair dryers, the ecstatic trances of anticipation … it's hypnotic. It is said that facing one's self in the mirror is one of the most challenging things a professional actor can do on film. Accordingly, I would advise drama students to study the work of these talented narcissists. It's appallingly difficult to look away from them looking at themselves, and liking what they see.