Dead birds falling from the Arkansas sky. Dead fish in the Chesapeake Bay. And the multi-tentacled beast that is "Jersey Shore." Reset your Mayan apocalypse calendars now, everyone, for surely the end of days is at hand.
When the reality series that made fist pumping a national pastime debuted on MTV in 2009, perhaps the best thing it had going for it was that it was a self-contained train wreck. Its stereotype-perpetuating dramas were tailor-made for next-day water cooler small talk and easy spray-tanned Halloween costumes. But aside from the cast doing self-mocking bits on "Leno" and the like, there wasn't the constant danger of "Jersey Shore"-related ephemera lurking around every corner. Now, that menace is real. Hide your wife, hide your kids, and ask Kirk Cameron for his opinion on the rapture. Snooki's a novelist.
Authoress Nicole Polizzi's inevitably titled "A Shore Thing" -- a "collaboration" with writer Valerie Frankel -- was released Tuesday to the sound of agonized groans and eye rolls of literati. "Life was hard," it begins. "But a pouf? That should be easy." Like "Eat, Pray, Love," "A Shore Thing" contains an inspiring message for women. "I love my body," a character declares, "especially the badonk." And you won't find "nut shrinkage" and "bacne" in the new Annie Proulx, I assure you.
But the "Jersey Shore" cast isn't just skulking about the shelves of your local Borders. Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino has leveraged his shirtlessness into a workout DVD. Jenni Jwoww Farley has launched a line of "Ab Cuts Natural Body Supplements," an already defunct "Filthy Couture" clothing line and, of course, a "Jwoww Black Bronzer" for that rich Corinthian leather look. And on Monday, Vinny ventured out in the world of fashion, debuting his IHAV (as in I Have a Vision, not as in I Have Alcohol Poisoning) anti-bullying line of casual wear.
To have a Vinny clothing line and Snooki novel debut the same week that Kim Kardashian unveils her new single makes it damn near impossible to assume 2011 isn't going to be the most terrible year in human history. It also reflects the apparently limitless branding lengths to which people who are famous for merely living their extravagantly Jager and hot tub-fueled lives will go to create the appearance of having real jobs. Yo, The Situation is an entrepreneur, yo! Yet even as they branch out, the "Jersey Shore" cast stays intimately close to that carefully cultivated image of good times and occasional blackouts. You likely won't see Pauly D attempting "Hamlet" any time soon. A public service message from Vinny takes the form of a hot girl on a T-shirt declaring "F*CK BULLIES!" [sic]
But just because people watch the cast of a show, does it follow they want to, say, read them or smell like them or attire our feet like them? Three words for you: Heidi. Montag. Album. Yet the deluge of "Jersey Shore"-related products suggests that we have entered a new era, one in which reality fame quickly translates into superstore product. Those of us who grew up in Jersey and have spent the better part of our lives trying to downplay our innate skank and/or juice-headedness can only gape in wonderment at the notion of its reality stars attempting to become aspirational icons. "Jersey Shore," after all, isn't really about the glamour or role model-ish lifestyles of its cast. It's about their larger-than-life fights and hookups and all the things that don't necessarily translate to retail gold. Maybe Snooki will become the next Jonathan Franzen and Vinny is the new Tommy Hilfiger. More likely, their headline-grabbing projects will be forgotten by next week. Because what makes the cast famous isn't for sale on a shelf. And you just can't bottle badonk.