Pop Culture

What is it About New Jersey?

There are some trends, like vampires (thanks, Twilight!), that just won’t go away. Another one is anything remotely having to do with New Jersey, and it is especially prevalent on television.

The Sopranos first got this wave started when it premiered in 1999, but it was Jersey Shore that took fascination with the Garden State to a whole other level. Just this week new seasons of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Jerseylicious premiered, and I’m sure there are shows featuring NJ that I don’t even know exist. What is it that makes the state so irresistible? Is it because so many of the shows focus on bigger=than-life characters, like Snooki?

For those who don’t know, The Real Housewives chronicles the lives of five women living in northern New Jersey, most of whom are Italian-American and related to another housewife (Caroline is one of the show’s featured women, as is her sister-in-law Jacqueline, and participant Teresa’s sister-in-law Melissa and cousin Kathy are now part of the show as well). The season premiere showed Melissa’s son’s christening party, which turned into a brawl after her husband called his sister Teresa garbage. The F bomb was dropped roughly 3 million times and fists were flying just as fast. Jerseylicious was a bit tamer; taking place in a salon, much of the drama surrounded tough girl Tracey and the more demure Olivia, who fight about everything from their ex-boyfriends to whose hair is teased higher.

I must admit, I don’t know that much about New Jersey. I’ve only driven through it once on my way to Philadelphia, and I also went to Elizabeth for a graduate school class visit to a detention center for undocumented immigrants (yeah, that was as depressing as it sounds). What I do know is that all of the shows that are supposed to show “the real Jersey” feature drunken brawls, “guidos and guidettes,” and table flipping. It’s ridiculous to lump an entire state in with these people, but that’s what has happened.

I’m always curious as to what average, every day people think about things that go down in their communities. For example, what do the people who live in Franklin Lakes think about the “real” housewives? How about the workers at the Sonic next to Jerseylicious’ Gatsby Salon, where Olivia and Tracy got into a hair pulling fight complete with spitting and broken sunglasses? Does it bother them that people instantly think of the kids on the Jersey Shore as representing New Jersey, despite the fact that most don’t even hail from there?


One of my good friends from grad school was quick to tell people when she met them, “I’m from South Jersey!” as a way to distance herself from the rowdy northern folks on television (a vast majority of the shows featuring New Jersey take place up north). She felt that they made her state look like it was horrible and filled to the brim with people behaving badly. While that was the furthest thing from my mind when we met, I can see why she would want to clarify.

I know a little something about people having preconceived notions on where you live based on television; I was born and raised (and currently reside in) Southern California, and I’ve had people express shock and disbelief when they find out that no, I’m not a blonde; no, I don’t live next door to Tom Cruise; and no, I don’t know how to surf. However, I’ll gladly take these stereotypes over being asked if my dad’s a mob boss or if I’ve ever ripped a girl’s hair extensions out during a fight.

So, proud residents of New Jersey, tell me – what do you think about the depiction of your state on television? Is that how it really is? Are you shocked that people think this is reality?

 Photo: Getty

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

30 replies on “What is it About New Jersey?”

I’m from the tiny beach town three beaches down from Seaside.
First and foremost: Nobody goes to Karma. We used to walk passed it on the way to Bamboo and laugh about what a desolate wasteland it was and theorize who would go there.
Last Memorial Day Weekend, the line was around the building.
Jersey Shore does a pretty good job of showing the types of personalities that visit Seaside each summer. However, just two miles away in Lavallette, there’s a completely different world. My beach is private – you have to live or rent there to get badges and it’s 90% families.
Seaside is filthy – and I love it. Absolutely love it. I don’t do club scenes – it’s too overwhelming however, Bamboo though is half inside, half outside so you’re in the open air. There’s something like 20 bars and you never have to wait in line for a bathroom (more popular with locals is Hemmingways, where the bathroom line is akin to the line for a ride at Great Adventure – upwards of an hour). It is the best place to people watch, the drinks are cheap and I almost always have a blast.

I live in West/Central NJ now, my first boyfriend was from north Jersey… It’s all the same, the only difference is if you cheer for NY or Philly sports teams.
Basically people who get upset about NJ shows need to relax. People who watch that and really believe that everyone from NJ is like that will soon turn 13 and realize that you can’t classify an entire group of people based on reality television. Hey if Jersey Shore is to be believed, there are absolutely no people of color in NJ (unless you count tan as a marginalized group). I always toy around the idea of making a blog NJorNot where I’d have pictures and you’d have to decide which ones were NJ… A NJ farm and a PA farm, a NJ beach and a DE beach, a NJ guido and a NY guido, etc – it’s no different from any northeastern state. I always say that I don’t know who is more obnoxious the “NJ is the armpit of our nation” types or the “DIRTY JERZ IS BETTER THAN YOU” types. It has good points and bad points… like everywhere.
I will say again that Karma has a line out the door. That means their bartenders are making bank – last MDW we had to walk to Seaside because the traffic going in was stopped dead… this schtick is GREAT for the local economy. I <3 Bennys – the shore wouldn't be as great as it is the other 8 months of the year if not for the revenue the summer pulls in.

I was born and raised in New Jersey, then went on to college in Boston, and then Virginia. Currently working in Austria, I have yet to escape the New Jersey stereotypes. Perhaps I take them all a bit too seriously, as I grew up moving around the state- 10 towns in 15 years, North, South and Central. When asked for my home town, it was always easy just to say New Jersey (side note, is it obvious I’ve been writing mostly in German? Holy dependent clauses Batman).I don’t regret growing up in Jersey- the Shore is wonderful 8 months of the year (fuck the high school/college kids who’d come down to puke on our sidewalks- Snooki is part of that, but it dates back before MTV decided the Shore was Summer Vacation hotspot a few years ago, or whatever)- the Pine Barrens have a mysticism to them, and even North Jersey has the ability to hop a train to NYC (side note, NJ’s public transportation system is pretty boss compared to most states). I grew up surrounded by different cultures (thanks to the proximity of NYC and the number of immigrants), in a fairly liberal environment, but also knew of poverty and dying cities (Newark, Trenton, Camden).

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I have pounds of NJ pride, but I just wish people would stop asking me if my dad is in the mafia.

I was not born in Jersey, but I did spend my formative years (21 of them) there. I live in GA now and when people here find out I’m a Jersey girl they ALWAYS ask me if the shows are real. I say ‘yes, of course they are…for the people in them’. I never get offended by the stereotypes in the ‘Jersey’ shows. None of my friends or family in NJ do either. I’m from the Shore, so yes I have met people who fit the “Jersey Shore” stereotype to a T. Those people do exist, but they are not the norm.. Most of my friends and family find those show hilarious because of the ridiculous dramatizing of Jersey stereotypes. I think that to be from Jersey automatically endows you with a certain ‘toughness’, so the people in Jersey I know wouldn’t be offended by this crap, cause they know it is just that – crap. And so they embrace the humor in it. Some people are actually kind of proud of the ‘rap’ Jersey gets. I must admit, I can include myself in this group. It’s the “yeah, that’s right, I’m from New Jersey, land of the frivolous lawsuit, where we learn defensive driving in grammar school, where people *might* jump all over you for looking at them the wrong way, where you must learn, very early on, how to navigate through those few people you meet who *do* fit the stereotype……so you/this can’t scare me.”

I’m from north/central Jersey and I really can’t remember ever meeting anyone remotely like the characters in Jersey Shore or Real Housewives, or Jerseylicious… in general the people here are just like anywhere else, there are all kinds.

That said these shows don’t really bother me. It’s kind of fun to see places I recognize from tv sometimes… When I drove by the Gatsby Salon (from Jerseylicious) by chance – I couldn’t believe it was right on Route 22, one of the crappiest/ most dangerous highways in the country!

Parts of it have stores on both sides and between the 2 opposite lanes, and there are u-turns everywhere, so there are constantly cars coming on and off the highway from both sides of the road, all at high speeds. Not the best planning.

And it was just funny to me that they would pick this salon in a strip mall on a highway for the show – no wonder they only ever show the sign for the store and not its surroundings!

After months of lurking on this site, my Jersey pride has finally pushed me into registering and commenting for the first time on a site like this. I originally hail from the Wayne/Denville area, so I can attest that the bulk of Jersey residents are not the Jersey-shore type. Like greengrey, I too used to specify that I was from northern New Jersey so that I wouldn’t be confused with central/southern New Jersey. My high-school did have a clique that were the typical clubbing, tanning, gelled-out hair variety, but they were not a large group in relation to the rest of the students.

In my experience, people have always though badly of NJ, and the new NJ shows haven’t really made their impression any worse, it’s just about the same. I went to school in a very rural Pennsylvania area before NJ became “trendy” and people made fun of me every single time they heard I was from there. I have developed a thick skin and am used to people badmouthing my state.

Oh, and you probably smelled the disgusting pollen. Morris County doesn’t usually smell. NJ being a smelly state is just a bad rumor, there are a few areas that smell bad near the plants on the NJ turnpike near the swamps, but the bulk of the state is normal.

I wouldn’t say there were stereotypes, but for some reason we have strong regional affiliations. Like when we went down the shore in the summer, southern NJ residents call us “bennys” since we weren’t locals. Many southern NJ residents affiliated with Philadelphia, and where I grew up we kind of thought of ourselves as an offshoot of New York.

When I was younger, I had heard from peers that people that lived in the Pine Barrens were toothless, uneducated hicks. I dated a guy in college that had family that lived there, and of course that stereotype wasn’t true at all. Even though they at the same time thought that since I lived in northern NJ, that I must have been stuck-up and owned a horse (?). As much as I would have loved my parents to give me a pony, we don’t turn 12 and find a horse in our backyards.

I’m from northern NJ. I’ve met a couple people who get worked up over “negative portrayals” of NJ, but they seem to be in the minority. In my experience, most NJers seem to be apathetic towards this kind of thing, because why the hell would we put any stock in the opinions of people who are naive enough to think deliberately sensationalized reality TV is a balanced portrayal of life in the Garden State?

I, too, am from North Jersey. As in the part of New Jersey where you turn left to make a right (I’m looking at you, greater Princeton area, land of jughandles).

Additionally, I am a complete product of the NJ school system — public middle and high school, public state university, and public graduate school. YES, there is a small population of a-la-Jersey-Shore-“guidos”, but they are only a small component of the incredibly diverse New Jersey population.

The people I know from New Jersey are all awesome, and I absolutely don’t lump them together with the crazy reality show participants. Have you found that people have preconceived notions when you meet them and tell them where you’re from?

As far as Jersey Shore goes, it’s because the party scene is already here. The Italian stuff is due to the planet’s everlasting interest in Mafia lore. I don’t know when we first started being a joke but the fun thing is that we’re okay with it. I’m not sure if people from LA or NYC or Boston would really be in on their own joke.

Maybe I’ll submit a response article from the perspective of actually living in NJ!

I know a ton of New Yorkers and Angelenos who can’t take a joke about where they live. 99 percent of the time I’ll laugh about jokes in regards to So Cal, but that one percent of the time, it’s just not funny! haha

And you should totally submit a response! I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say!

I’m not from New Jersey. I’ll start with that. But, I travel – a ton. I’m also from the Pacific Northwest. So, it’s pretty different.

But, I can tell you, from my week in New Jersey, meeting a LOT of people from three different towns (Wayne, Denville, Whippany), everyone was super mega awesome. One woman whom I spent the day with started the morning off with a coffee taste testing because I had never had Dunkin Donuts coffee and she wanted to see how I compared it to Starbucks. She bought me TWO LARGE CUPS. This woman is now a deity. Another took me to lunch at an incredible sandwich shop (she didn’t pay, it’s against company policy, but still). The third woman was just the most fun to work with. I cannot tell you. Three great women who were unselfish, gracious and full of charm. Even the hotel staff were great. If you want to talk about hospitality, man.

Though, there was an odor. I think it was pollen? I was there the week after Wayne had flooded last year. But either way, it sort of stank. I’m really sorry but I did have to run from my car to the hotel to avoid getting sick. I’m sorry. (also, some of the drivers are real jerks. Not all, but a good number, a real good number.)

Either way. The real New Jersey and the MTV/Bravo New Jersey are not even on the same planet.

It hasn’t been that prevalent out here. There are more shops popping up but we’re already so saturated with coffee shops that it’s hard to compete.
And, while I did drink both cups (large sizes, remember), I did sort of favor the Starbucks. Also, I was WIRED for the rest of the day. But frankly, I prefer Stumptown and Portland Roasting Coffee…

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