The Jersey Shore is all you need
On the Greatest American Place
My first thought, upon seeing video of a feverish throng swarming Beach Haven’s Dock Road, was that it looked like an only slightly exaggerated teen night at Ketch. Then delighted amusement; then disbelief; then tremendous pride. For a brief moment, Jack Antonoff, Margaret Qualley, and Taylor Swift—whose pious worshippers turn highways into parking lots wherever she goes—put the Jersey Shore atop the cultural landscape for the first time since 2010, when MTV zealously teased, then ultimately cut, footage of Snooki being punched in the face by a SUNY Cortland grad.
Jack Antonoff, the producer of the moment, omnipresent and maligned, proved himself a Jersey boy at heart, mustering the sheer might of his celebrity rolodex to force gossip websites to pull up Long Beach Island on Google Maps. From an artistic standpoint, it’s the boldest thing he’s done since “Venice Bitch” and “A&W.” Local fishermen, who saw their annual Beach Haven White Marlin Invitational interrupted by the swarm of celebrities, police, paparazzi, and Swifties, failed to see the import of the moment. “Fuck the wedding,” a local deep-sea fisher told the New York Post, “they should’ve planned it on a different weekend.”
In a recent piece on Antonoff for The Drift (a piece that, like its subject, was quietly celebrated, quickly became inescapable, and then was roundly and perhaps unfairly mocked), Mitch Therieau portrayed the superproducer as a sort of personification of the effects of streaming culture upon “independent” music and aesthetics. Therieau’s Antonoff is ubiquitous, shallowly evocative, a purveyor “pure sensation” meant to approximate either intimacy or the cinematic. Therieau writes:
If there were a producer who fully belonged to this moment, he would need to be something like a non-brand brand, paradoxically recognizable for his ability to produce stylishly forgettable content. In the preferred euphemistic terms of the ruling class, he would be less an innovator than a curator: a bricoleur of cultural tidbits, endowed with impeccable taste in kitsch and the classics alike. His persona would be humble or sincere or exuberant in a muted sort of way, like someone shouting as he recedes down a hallway. He would be impossibly versatile: a wearer of all hats, capable of working in seemingly any style. He would be wildly successful by the standards of commerce — views, streams, dollars — and by those of professional tastemaking — glowing reviews from critics, fawning profiles by journalists. Ubiquitous and ignorable, critically acclaimed and terminally unhip, memeable but unshakably serious, such a figure would fully express the essence of a seemingly essenceless moment.
The critique, such as it is, may ring true; I don’t listen to enough of Antonoff’s music to have an informed opinion. But Antonoff’s sins, to the extent that they are real, must be forgiven if ultimately committed in service of putting the Jersey Shore, fleetingly, back on the map.
If Therieu’s lambasting of Antonoff is to be believed, then the Jersey Shore is the fundamental anti-Antonoff. The Shore is a place and mindset doggedly committed to a singular aesthetic, sincerely evocative and deadly serious. Antonoff’s blandness is his failing; the Shore’s simplicity is its virtue. It is kitschy, it is simple, it is beautiful, it is utterly without pretense. To arrive down the shore is to lose yourself to a way of life that has somehow been decided for you well before your birth, to exist on the pure plane of memory and sensation, to love, despite your best attempts, the place you are from. It’s a spell that lifts the moment you leave, one that lurks latent in the corners of your mind until the next time you find yourself clawing through traffic on the parkway. It is, pound for pound, the Greatest American Place.
If the modern spiritual crisis is one of universally imposed visual austerity, cloying sentimentality, and aesthetic sameness, then the Jersey Shore is an antidote. The Shore is a place of many aesthetics, each fully realized, each completely sincere. The Bruce parents and Bruce teens really mean it; the hip surf bums really mean it; the white polo Republicans with their manicured lawns and the tank top Republicans with their seashell gardens really mean it; the sunburnt, flip-flopping teens testing their freedom on the boardwalk really mean it; the guidos, meatheads, and ratchets really, really mean it. The Shore is a place where your priorities, responsibilities, and anxieties are totally subsumed by a totalizing, pre-made aesthetic identity. Each pocket of the Shore is precisely what it is, no more and no less. Each pocket a total realization of its aesthetic and purpose, a place that can be immediately and authentically felt for what it is in a world where everything else begins to blend into a gray, ungraspable blob. The Shore is one of the last places not designed for an imaginary version of your preferences. Against an expanse of infantilizing, underwhelming adult playgrounds, the Shore offers little; as it turns out, it’s enough.
The modern illusion that one can have, and be, it all makes us feel empty because of the way that its fetishization of options renders them dull, hollow imitations of the real thing. The Shore makes no such promises; rather it imposes demands. Submit, it urges, give in to the forces operating upon you. You already do every day, so why not be honest with yourself? There’s nothing to do but roast in the sun, stroll the boardwalk, stitch together a series of acceptable meals, time your arrival at the bar; do you really want anything more? Therieau perceptively diagnoses an essenceless world; the Jersey Shore is pure essence, an Americana perfectly embalmed.
One of the most satisfying days of my life was spent at the Shore. I was killing time before the dreaded drive up north, the Brooklyn Nets had just signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (I did not know what was to come; how could I have?), my friends and I walked to a nearby beach bar. A band of four was setting up on the pier and the sun was high. By the time we had gotten drinks, the band had begun playing a familiar tune. It took minutes for the song to reveal itself as an instrumental interpolation of “Funkytown.” By the time we finally decided to head out and return to our lives, the sun had nearly set. Funkytown was still being played. I got the sense that had we never left, they never would have stopped playing Funkytown: the sun rising and setting, the sand heating and cooling beneath our feet, buckets of cheap beer, ice cream if we were feeling childish, the bass bubbling toward infinity. I hope that Taylor enjoyed her stay.
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Never Hungover in the wild: The Never Hungover Jersey Shore propagandizing kicked off earlier this week when I had the opportunity to contribute to LOOSEY’s summer-end list. Check it out if you haven’t.