“Jersey Belle” Jaime (left, courtesy of Bravo) and me, eating pizza (folded in half, of course) on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
Though I wasn’t born in New Jersey, I’ve spent more years there than elsewhere, so I consider myself a Jersey girl. I love Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, Italian food is my favorite and I worked on the Seaside Heights boardwalk for several summers during college.
Now I live in the South. I moved to Birmingham several years ago to work at a magazine and grew to love it here. I also met my husband here, so now I would like to consider myself somewhat of a Southerner (at least my Northern friends and family say I have the accent!). I love pecan pie and football (though not as much as these folks in Alabama do!). Some of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen are right here in Birmingham, and I love the friendly people I meet every day, and men who hold the door open for women.
But I’ll probably never be a considered a “true” Southerner. I don’t care for sweet tea. I would never, EVER skip a friend’s wedding because of a football game. And while I love to monogram things, I had to Google which letter went where. I had no clue.
So when I watched “Jersey Belle” this morning before work, I had a lot of mixed emotions. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a “Real Housewives” type of show about Jaime, a Jersey girl who fell in love with a man from Birmingham, Ala., and found herself surrounded by lots of Southern ladies who she is sometimes too brash for or feels she doesn’t fit in with. I found myself tweeting in defense of, or in horror of, both the Jersey girl on the show and the Southern women from Mountain Brook.
When it comes down to it, the show is produced to make you feel this way. They want people to feel riled up about one side or the other, or as in my case, both. They exaggerate stereotypes to elicit passionate responses — and gauging from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, they were successful!
Some of the stereotypes were hilarious to me. I know people from Mountain Brook. Not everyone drives a Ferrari or owns a horse. And not all Jersey girls talk so explicitly about sex (at least not in mixed company!) or wear huge hoop earrings.
Two things they did get right — Southern women do love to throw a tea party, and you know what? They’re freakin’ beautiful. Some of the prettiest table settings and yummiest food I’ve ever had. Also, Jersey girls love a lasagna. Or at least this one does! Maybe it’s cliche, but living in N.J., you learn to cook and love Italian food. You also learn how easy it is to make up a yummy batch and bring it anywhere — a graduation party, to new parents, and yes, bridal showers. We served Italian food at my bridal shower in N.J., and I loved every bite! I would’ve been disappointed if we didn’t have penne with vodka sauce.
And I have to address the cannoli thing. Look, I have met people here in Birmingham who have never had a cannoli. If this is the case for you, they have them in the dessert case at Whole Foods. Go get one immediately. Preferably with chocolate. But I can’t make fun of people who have never heard of cannolis, because there are dishes from the South that I had never had until I moved here — like pimiento cheese. Or those white meringue thingys that people make at Christmas … I don’t even know the name of them!
If you don’t take this show too seriously, it is entertaining, no doubt. It brings up funny, but sometimes cringe-worthy and highly exaggerated, stereotypes. And you have to take it all with a grain of salt because the show is produced that way. They cut and edit on purpose to make Southerners look one way and Jersey girls look another. We all know people are more complex than that.
But there is one serious issue that I have with this show.
The lack of diversity on the show really bothers me. I want to give the show the benefit of the doubt because we’ve only seen one episode. Maybe there will be people of different races or economic backgrounds in future episodes, we’ll see. But I think what worries me is other people around the U.S. will get this picture of “the South” by watching “Jersey Belle” that isn’t at all representative of what this region is really like. I felt the same way when “Jersey Shore” was so popular — that people would think everyone from Jersey is just like Snooki (when Snooki is actually from N.Y., but that’s neither here nor there).
Maybe it’s the area this show is filmed in — mainly Mountain Brook — or maybe it’s the generation of the people they are filming. But I hope people outside of Birmingham know that there are people here who have friends from all different backgrounds, that we’re a city that is embracing togetherness and doing a lot of great things to lift this city out of its dark past and move it forward. I don’t want that to be lost on this show. But I have a bad feeling it won’t be addressed at all.
So will I continue to watch “Jersey Belle?” Probably. It’s cliche to say, but it’s like a bad car accident that you just can’t help looking at. I’d like to see if the racial and economic dividing lines are addressed, though.
What about you? Will you watch the show? What did you think of the first episode?