May 2011

Heather Clitheroe

scarlet woman of self-help

Notes on a Situation

It is surprising, to say the least, that Mike Sorrentino's new book, Here's the Situation: A Guide to Creeping on Chicks, Avoiding Grenades, and Getting in Your GTL on the Jersey Shore, opens with a quote from Marcus Aurelius. Surprising, that is, because Sorrentino -- more commonly known as “The Situation,” a caricature of a young man on MTV's Jersey Shore -- is not a young man I would tend to associate with a quote on the essential nature of a person. Have we misjudged Sorrentino?

In his short time on this earth, Sorrentino says, he has reached one realization (only one?): life is a battle. It is, he intones, the battle of hair against gravity, the Escalade against traffic, skin against sun.  

In other words, a guido's gotta be a guido, because that's the nature of a guido. No. We have not misjudged him.

Sorrentino remarks that his experience as "a professional underpants model" and his superior genetics, among other things, give him the credibility and experience necessary to discuss the first topic of his book: gym. "I've thought this shit out, bro," he says. He begins by inserting an extra day of the week into the traditional seven-day calendar (Super Sunday), noting that it is a day for working both the abs and the biceps. Like the Holy Trinity -- yes, he compares himself to the Holy Trinity -- Sorrentino notes that The Situation is Lifting, Cardio, and Nutrition. Those are all capitalized, bro. The Situation has his own Grammar.

A section on tanning is equally baffling. The sun, Sorrentino says, "is an angry star -- the angriest in our galaxy -- and if not respected it can derail your game real quick." Astronomers might disagree with him there -- Eta Carinae is pretty angry, and pretty big, and the Pistol Star is pretty big, too -- but The Situation is all about the tan, and less about the science. No need to go "free-balling" in the tanning bed, he says -- you can leave your Calvins on, because if you don't, you're likely to have another ball of heat and fire (possibly two) on your hands. Er. Body. Er. Whatever.

If you're a "pussy who's afraid of skin cancer," there's always the option of sprays and bronzers, though Sorrentino wisely cautions that a bro should not come to rely on them: "if fake is how you look, fake is how you'll feel." And after all, he says, "what's the point in living if you're not tan?" Chemotherapy and surgery, we can only assume, is also for pussies.

On to laundry. Sorrentino writes that purchasing "the two halves of a track suit together, and in identical shades of the same color, is always recommended," though there are occasions when a bro should mix and match (and, he suggests, mix and match from The Situation's new clothing line). Laundry includes grooming, for reasons I cannot fathom, and Sorrentino -- or is it The Situation? -- recommends regular haircuts, showers, the shaving of chest hair, and the partial trimming of armpits. And the application of Axe brand scent (which, no doubt, landed Sorrentino a healthy promotional fee). Or you can use Sorrentino's own line of fragrance. Which, sadly, I assume that young men will undoubtedly do, and to the detriment of us all.

To live the lifestyle The Situation demands, Sorrentino tells us, is to live a life of sacrifice. Beyond the gym and the tanning and the laundry, there is the beach. To get to the beach, a disciple of The Situation must have an Escalade or a largish SUV -- don't tell him you're taking mass transit. "That's for communists." Don't fret about the environment, either, for The Situation is solar powered. Though not the car. The car is not solar powered.

Key to the lifestyle is the creeping. Girls may tell you that they don't like being creeped on. But they do. Oh yes, he says, they do. And what is creeping? Something akin to an overly tanned, overly muscled young man, wearing too much cologne with hair done a little too much, slyly moving around a dance club and sidling up to women with the goal of propositioning her for sex. "A creeper creeps," Sorrentino says. "A creeper never sleeps." I suppose not, what with the solar-power bit. A creeper apparently only needs a bit of sunlight from time to time. Creeping extends to the gym and the tanning lounge (apparently the only other places The Situation frequents). Probably not the library, the subway, or the grocery store. If you are an accomplished creeper, you must be prepared to deal with sexual encounters that necessitate condoms and the locking up of cell phones (to prevent nude photos of one's self spreading across the Internet). Word, bro.

Though it’s surprising that Sorrentino advocates for the young guido to avail himself of higher education, it is not entirely unexpected: education can be another way to impress others (my parents are impressed by the amount of reading I do for my master's, but I've yet to score a date on the basis of my thesis, but that's neither here nor there). A young person can't drop knowledge on the masses if, he says, "they choose now to drop their books in the trash can." Besides, there "ain't no creeping like college-chick creeping."

Sigh.

In 1963, Erving Goffman -- a man who, though not a creeper, probably would have been fascinated by one -- wrote Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. "The attitudes we normals have toward a person with a stigma," he wrote, "and the actions we take in regard to him, are well known, since these responses are what benevolent social action is designed to soften and ameliorate. By definition, of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human." Is it possible that celebrities like Sorrentino suffer from stigma? When they come to refer to themselves in the third person, and by a title, yes, I think they do. The individual afflicted by stigma, Goffman said, feels that he is the one who is normal, and that we are not. Insulated by alienation, and protected by his or her own beliefs of their identity, the stigmatized carry on with the belief that the rest of us do not accept them and refuse to meet them on equal grounds. They become self-conscious and calculating about the impression they make, finding that even the most minor of accomplishments are assessed as "signs of remarkable and noteworthy capacities."

Supposing this is true of the celebrity caste, Goffman's observation that the stigmatized approach the world with a  kind of hostile bravado seems to ring true. The discrepancy between the stigmatized actual identity and the “virtual” identity that is perceived by others causes a great deal of distress, and, in effect, spoils the identity of the individual. Goffman moves on to a discussion about the various ways a stigmatized individual might work to manage that spoiled identity: passing for something else, creating a persona that works to “cover” an identity, perhaps, or seeking the company of others with similar predicaments. Though the research is dated, the idea of a stigmatized, spoiled identity seems to be one way to approach books like Sorrentino's: that the kind of “guido” lifestyle he espouses is a foil for something else.

But for what? Granted, Sorrentino and his co-stars are doing quite well for themselves. It seems unlikely that they will have to take public transit -- the People's Chariot is not in their near future. But there is always an air of “otherness” about them -- something that hangs about this newer generation of young celebrities created by the MTV-era reality shows. They are not quite themselves, and yet they are carefully constructed versions of themselves, always professing that they are “real” people, living “real” lives. At times, it seems impossible to decide whether the stigma is their celebrity status, or if they are stigmatized people who sought the celebrity caste as an act of hostile bravado, meant to throw up a carefully managed identity in place of another.

Sorrentino's book sold well. He continues to purchase large cars, to sleep with, by his admission, countless young women, and to live the gym-tan-laundry lifestyle to which he and his cronies are so attached. Do we ask what more is there to The Situation? Or do we ask, we normals, who take public transit and wear sunscreen, who do not have rock-hard abs or bank accounts flush with residual payments, what more need there be?

In 15 or 20 years, I hope, there will be more to these spoiled identities than there is now. Perhaps the creeper shall awaken.