All told, MTV has spent more of its life grasping for a piece of popular culture than actually affecting it. Besides its vulgar awards shows, occasional hits come and go and ideas are sometimes recycled (“TRL” being a recent example), but the network’s derelict condition rarely improves in the long run. Age may certainly be a factor, but it’s hard to remember the last time I heard anyone talking about what’s on MTV.
Oh, wait, I do remember – it was “Jersey Shore,” the surprise-hit reality series about a group of young partyers living together for summer seasons in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, which aired from 2009 to 2012 and briefly held viewers in a guido grip of voyeuristic astonishment. Fast success elevated “Jersey Shore’s” cast members to a fleeting and opportunistic fame; they eventually became future answers to trivia night questions. (Sure, you can get the names Snooki and the Situation correct, but what about Pauly D? Or JWoww?)
People over 40 are fond of suggesting that MTV could solve all its identity problems by simply returning to its original, all-music video format, but that idea grows more outlandish with time, especially in the Spotify era.
Instead, the network is venturing back to the debauchery of a beach town – this time in Monday night’s premiere of “MTV Floribama Shore” (the use of “MTV” in the title already suggests an erosion in brand confidence), where eight young strangers gather in an oceanfront house in Panama City Beach, Florida, and behave precisely as their forebears who settled the first “Real World” season 25 years ago.
You don’t get on this show because of impressive intellect or emotional maturity. You get on this show (more specifically, you offer yourself up to this sacrifice) by embracing the stereotypes that are being sold.
In “Floribama’s” case, that means commodifying one’s Southernness. The first two episodes are scrubbed clean of any controversial red-state politics or inherent prejudices (gone are the days when someone on an MTV reality show made a slyly racist remark in the first 10 minutes). In fact, “Floribama” is edited in such a resolutely post-racial way that its two African-American cast members, Candace Rice and Kirk Medas, quickly become invisible. The only identity here is a mostly bogus notion of what it’s like to live in the South – which, when described, doesn’t sound all that special.
“There is not one other bitch like me,” proclaims Kortni Gilson, a 21-year-old Panama City Beach local, who apparently hasn’t looked around much. As the gang gets acquainted over binge drinking, an overserved Kortni conks out early, rising only to stumble around in search of a bathroom and eventually urinating on her roommate’s bed. “I wasn’t just blacked-out,” she nonchalantly explains to the camera the next day. “I was blacked the hell out.”
It’s here where a viewer realizes that MTV is again clinging to some unworthy aspect of its past, nostalgic for those old reality shows where alcohol abuse could be seen as an affectionate quirk or rite of passage. The old defense holds true – in a documentary setting, the producers are obligated to let us see people behaving as they are, in good moments and bad – but the luridness of it has lost all meaning. Rather than laugh at Kortni, you think: Someone help this woman.
Similarly depressing is having to watch and listen as a group of young people in 2017 adhere to outdated ideas about gender roles. “I have to be a gentleman and a douchebag because I feel like that’s what women want,” explains the house heartthrob, Jeremiah Buoni. The effect is more regressive than retro.
This gang also correctly intuits that hooking up is the only path to pleasing their producers. Their nightly excursions to clubs have a conspicuous familiarity about them, as they twerk and strut and try to show how much fun they’re having on mostly empty dance floors. (Is it possible that they’ve been sentenced to “Floribama Shore” as part of a work-release program?) It’s a sad pantomime of Snooki’s faded glory, which gives a viewer the vague feeling that an entire generation has moved on and no one remembered to tell poor ol’ MTV.