If you had never been to New Jersey and have only seen the TV shows that take place in the Garden State, you would assume that everyone is a fist-pumping, table flipping, Italian American with big hair. Sure, there are some people like that in certain parts of New Jersey, but it is most definitely not everyone.
So how did we get to New Jersey being represented like this in the media? I recently started rewatching The Real Housewives of New Jersey (don’t come for me – reality television is my guilty pleasure), and it made me think that this had to be one of the first reality television shows that put New Jersey on the map and perpetuated some, not so flattering, stereotypes of Italian Americans living in New Jersey, and New Jerseyans in general. There’s that iconic moment in television history of Teresa Giudice (who’s tagline that season was “people make fun of Jersey girls, I think they’re just jealous.” I mean, I don’t think she’s wrong.)
Flipping the dinner table at a restaurant and calling another woman horrible names. There is also Caroline Manzo in that same scene saying “My family and I are thick as thieves. If you mess with one of us, you’re messing with all of us.” Everyone on this show has some of the biggest personalities you have ever seen, and they’re bound to clash in one way or another every season, if not every episode. If you wanted people who fit New Jersey Italian stereotypes, they found the perfect people.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey premiered on May 12, 2009, and later that year in December, the MTV reality show Jersey Shore premiered. Eight tri-state locals living in one house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey for the summer took the world by storm when it premiered.
Again, New Jersey stereotypes were on full display: big hair, heavy accents, and big, loud personalities. I would say this is the show that most perpetuated the New Jersey/Northeast Italian American stereotypes. Personally, I can laugh along with these, but I know many people, especially when the show first aired, were upset with how the show presented Italian-Americans.
They felt that it was in a less-than flattering light, and that the Italian cast member were not who they wanted representing Italian-Americans on television every week.
Another possibly lesser-known reality show from the early 2010s was Jerseylicious, which followed hairstylists and makeup artists in the Garden State. Every cast member was decked out in leopard print, bright colors, and big hair. The same personality traits that were showcased in every cast member in the previously mentioned shows were also present here. Loud personalities that clashed with each other every season happened in this show just like the others.
I think the fact that every cast member across each show that took place in New Jersey had many of the same personality traits and similar styles, that is where much of the stereotypes were born. Also, all of these shows premiered and aired in the same year, making it seem as though all of New Jersey must be like this.
Now, there are certain people that like this in the state, especially in a hometown like mine where the demographic is mostly people from Brooklyn and Staten Island, NY, where it is believed a certain attitude comes with that territory, but it certainly isn’t everyone. I also feel as though every state has their own stereotypes; it is just that states like New Jersey and New York have much stronger and pervasive stereotypes than other states. I think they’re probably the funniest stereotypes too, so I say we take them in stride.