MTV's Jersey Shore begins with a monolithic dramatis personae of characters who, for a brief few years starting in 2009, would become anti-idols of American pop culture. Their messy, party-holic escapades were not meant to be emulated, portrayed as the folly of individuals who placed a cycle of momentary, material bliss over improving themselves. It was infectious, nonetheless, garnering millions of views and spawning regional remakes like MTV UK's Geordie Shore and even a DIY Toronto version bearing the fitting but objectively bad name of Lake Shore. Jersey Shore clearly scratched an itch (no, not crabs) that no one had thought to scratch (or wanted to scratch at all).
When the series ended in 2012, it was not eulogized kindly. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker said that "all [Jersey Shore_] existed to do was to provide its audience with scenes of people acting like arrogant sots, falling down and hooking up." Others argued that it was an anti-feminist, culturally insensitive blight on the country that left a trail of easily swayed youth in its wake. Both of these takes are mostly true, but when something gets this big, its footprint has to match. Besides raising a generation of gym and tanning obsessives, _Jersey Shore was a sieve that allowed the big room EDM sound to fully infiltrate North America's suburbs and breed a newer, dumber, massively successful dance music subculture.
Electro house, the ostensible mold in which your Steve Aokis, LMFAOs, and Aviciis fit, was a niche concern that had been accessed by various audiences throughout the 00s. First was Benny Benassi, then blog house. Lady Gaga's harnessing of that distinctly Euro aesthetic for her music sent the sound into the mainstream in 2008 and 2009, but it wasn't there yet. It wasn't bro enough yet. Jersey Shore presented an ideal consumer of this kind of music: horny, obnoxious, but oddly discerning and particular. In fact, EDM didn't just slot into the lifestyle the series portrayed, it was essential to it. Pauly D's side hustle as a DJ placed him as an important character, allowing him to grab headlines as much as Snooki's post-Hilton tabloid melodramas. In the alternate America of Jersey Shore, knowing, or least kinda knowing, how to use a CDJ and a mixer was like being a star football player, with the club as your field and every woman on the dancefloor as a goalpost. This was not rave culture, this was fist-pump culture.
Fist-pump culture was, and is, something wholly different from its traditional origins. Whereas raving ideally emphasizes communal transcendence, then fist-pumping is about objectives, strategies, plans, all in the name of scoring. It is wolfish males—sometimes hunting in packs—getting ripped at the gym and making sure their haircuts and outfits are optimized for maximum courting potential, like a bowerbird but on two scoops of N.O.-Xplode. To be completely frank, this viral video from 2007(!) probably summarizes fist-pump culture better than my words can.
You may know this person as the "douchebag" or the "douchebro" or simply a "bro," but they are still everywhere. The bro of today will disguise his bro-ness in pseudo-intellectuality or being a "nice guy" instead of outright foulness, but whether he is the "woke bae" on Twitter or the shirtless festival-goer donning an ill-advised Native American headdress, he is a bro nonetheless. They also remain one of EDM's dominant audiences and a force of opposition to any hope of making the community a safe space for women, non-binary people, or hell, anyone who isn't a straight white dude. While Jersey Shore has gone away, the toxic culture it helped solidify has not. Average suburbanite young men, ignorant of the rich history they were stomping all over, entered en masse to the world of dance. That's not to say that opening a subculture up to a broad audience is always a bad thing, but in this case, it did more harm than good.
My own memories of watching this wave play out are biased, seeing as I was living in suburban Toronto and not New Jersey. It played out the same, nonetheless. My last years of high school and the subsequent first few of university were populated by buff, extravagantly-coiffed dudes of various dull orange shades. A transfer student who lived with my family was a half-ironic follower of Jersey Shore and GTL, obsessing over his biceps and fauxhawk while acknowledging the ridiculousness of doing so. What he manicured most of all was his iPod playlist, an endless list of David Guetta, Tiesto, and Swedish House Mafia cuts. The song he played the most, which I associate with him to this day (we still talk), is Edward Maya's "Stereo Love." It's a perfect fist-pump single, that accordion-played interpolation of an old Azerbaijani song supplying the " Euroooo broooo" signifiers that were a requisite. It went top ten globally during Jersey Shore's run, including in Canada. Even polite Canucks weren't impervious to the allure of the Shore.
It's worth noting that that EDM makes up very little of the actual music on Jersey Shore itself. Its background music is almost solely composed of the vaguely laddish alt-rock that MTV used for all their other reality series. The show's soundtrack album was far more true to the fist-pump spirit, featuring the unofficial Pitbull-starring theme song "I Like It", deadmau5's big room house anthem "Ghosts N Stuff," and pretty much every artist listed above. It's likely that the scoring snafu was the result of MTV not knowing what made the beast they'd created such a cultural phenomenon. But regardless, the antics of the Shore crew didn't resonate without a soundtrack, and that soundtrack—a whole genre—didn't make sense without these characters to provide a platonic ideal of partying. "EDM" as we know it, a catch-all term for accessible and bro-centric dance music, doesn't exist without the Shore.
Jersey Shore showed up in a transitional era for television. Pre-Netflix, the idea of prestige TV hadn't yet crystallized, with only the dramas of HBO and AMC representing a first wave of sorts. Reality series were king, and Jersey Shore represented a peak (or a nadir, if you will) for the format. Nothing was more dependably outrageous night after night and nothing seemed less self-aware. In fact, much of Shore's success does seem like an accident, with no one expecting this particular group of idiots to gain the resonance they did. It was maybe the last of its kind, as more absurd characters were quickly found in the equally problematic and buffoonish superstars of Vine and YouTube and Snapchat, rather than those assembled by networks. Viewed that way, Jersey Shore is almost poetic. If The Osbournes began reality TV from a musical base, then it's only fitting that Jersey Shore ended in that base and took an entire music culture down with it.
Phil Witmer gets his Gym Tweet Laundry on on Twitter.