I caught the most recent episode of Jersey Shore (MTV) the other night. Putting aside for a moment the fact that I watch Jersey Shore (what can I say? I love Snookie), this third season continues to offer an opportunity to talk about an issue that is present in the lives of so many young people—intimate partner violence.
Two of the housemates—Ronnie and Sammi—started a relationship in the first season. “Passionate” is perhaps the term they might use to describe their relationship. “On-again/off-again” is perhaps how People Magazine might. While I’m normally hesitant to judge others’ relationships, particularly those seen on an edited reality show, I can only think of words like tempestuous, troubling and toxic.
During this episode, Ronnie and Sammi got in a fight at a club (as they do every episode), then went home and continued to fight. (In case you’ve never seen the show, Ronnie’s the guy and Sammi’s the woman). Through shouting and tears we learn that Sammi was hurt that Ronnie was talking to another girl at the club. When Sammi leaves the room, Ronnie takes all of her clothes out of the closet and drawers and throws them across the room. Sammi returns crestfallen, asking, “What did I do to deserve this?”
When housemate Jenny “J-Woww,” Sammi’s nemesis, consoles Ronnie, Sammi appears and punches Ronnie in the face.
This display is both ordinary and shocking. Ordinary because this is the pattern between Ronnie and Sammi every week. We see their intense passion for each other, then intense hatred, then the make-up snuggle. Since I am not a psychologist or expert on intimate partner violence, I can’t comment on or analyze the clinical definitions of healthy relationships or abusive relationships.
I can only offer what it feels like to me to watch two people who say they love each other yell, throw things at each other, slam doors, punch walls, push and punch each other, then cry and profess their undying love and go out for pizza.
It’s painful. And I feel on edge when I watch the show. I feel worried about Sammi and Ronnie. I feel worried about the housemates who witness this cycle. And I feel worried for the young viewers of Jersey Shore.
If MTV is not using Jersey Shore to talk with their young audience about intimate partner violence, they are not only missing a critical opportunity but a moral imperative. Young people watch the relationships in their lives—their parents, older siblings and family members, neighbors, and yes, those they see on television—to form ideas and opinions about what is “normal” and desirable.
Two colleagues of Italian decent who are familiar with both the culture and place where the show is filmed explained to me that Sammi and Ronnie are probably just perceived as “hot-tempered” and their arguments as “heated.” They suspect that the couple and the housemates don’t see anything permanently damaging about their relationship.
I believe that MTV has a responsibility to help Sammi and Ronnie. I believe they have a responsibility to create a forum for the young stars of the show and their viewers to talk about what they experience, see and feel. Open up the conversation and educate more young people about intimate partner violence—what it is, how to recognize it in their own relationship or others’, what to do about it and how to build relationships that demonstrate mutual love and respect.
According to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, nationally, 1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend. To find out more, go to http://www.loveisrespect.org/
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