Over the course of the past 10 months, I have often found myself in the awkward situation of explaining to someone whether I am a “Guido.” If asked at a party, I would emphatically start fist pumping and unbutton a button or two on my shirt while replying in an East Coast accent. If responding to someone in a class setting, I would tone it down a little bit, but reply with the same general idea. I have come to realize over the course of MTV’s airing of “Jersey Shore” that being Italian American is not something one accepts as nature. It is a choice, just like most cultural aspects of someone’s life. But what does being a “Guido” or “Guidette” mean?
I’m going to preface any further discussion of the concept of a “Guido” with these interesting tidbits. The first time I heard the term Guido was learning the Italian verb conjugations at the age of 5. The verb guidare means “to drive,” as in a car, and guido is the first-person, singular conjugation, meaning “I drive.” The second time I heard the word was upon meeting my Italian cousin Claudia’s now-husband: Guido. I was dumbfounded. Not that his name was what “Jersey Shore” cast-members refer to themselves as, but rather that his name was a word. To this day, I will always remember him excitedly stating “Guido Guido!” whenever we headed out to eat. When I became familiar with “Guido” as a derogatory term, I did not immediately understand its derivation and why people used it. I was not familiar whatsoever with the culture dominant in Italian-American hotspots in cities like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. I had not yet identified Italian-American as a culture different from my own.
Growing up in suburban Minnesota, I felt and presumably seemed like any other boy/socially awkward adolescent. Aside from a trip to Italy every three years to visit family, I exhibited many cultural properties considered normal for my social situation. Pond hockey, lake houses and the Minnesota State Fair became staples of my cultural framework. Sure, I was aware of nationally renowned aspects of Italian-American culture such as the film “The Godfather,” and the general public’s infatuation with restaurants like “Olive Garden.” But these things weren’t part of my daily life. I hadn’t seen “The Godfather” until college, and the first time I dined at the aforementioned restaurant was not until well into high school. My father, who was born and raised in Italy for 35 years, is my Italian culture, and nearly everything I have gained culturally from my Italian heritage has been through him. The Italian part of me has been very Italian-influenced, and the American part of me was kept separate from that.
Enter Pauly D, The Situation, Snooki and GTL. I hadn’t previously watched MTV since they stopped playing music videos, and so when “Jersey Shore” began airing, I was originally oblivious. After many coaxes by friends for my opinion or a comment on the show, I began to do my own research (I watch it, don’t judge). While I can’t recount every hook-up, dysfunction or major plot twist, I have garnered enough to understand that the show is just another product of American pop-culture doing what it does best: showing off people who are different (and entertaining). I accept that my own unique sense of Italian-Americanism is different in its own right. While I don’t agree with the portrayal of all Italian Americans as the way they are portrayed on the show, I think the show gives a quite entertaining glimpse into the lifestyle and essence of an easily identifiable subgroup of Italian-Americans.
Of course, there are people that shared my original view of the show. Many reputable Italian American cultural organizations have tried unsuccessfully to stop the show from airing. They claimed that it bashed Italian American culture, giving it a bad rap and stamping stereotypes on all other Italian Americans. From my point of view, this was unavoidable, yet unnecessary. The show was and is rampantly popular, and the cast members of the show actively support the way they are being portrayed. In my mind, they have the right to identify with any type of lifestyle and culture they choose to identify with. I’d like to believe I have that same right, just like everyone else. So what if I have to explain to someone that I’m not exactly a “Guido” in the truest sense? Just because they claim Italian heritage doesn’t mean they are defining Italian-American culture. Does it?
How else would we know when “T-Shirt Time” is?
Izzi is a junior biochemistry, cell and molecular biology major. Izzi can be contacted at email@example.com.