When I started writing my first book, the Jersey Shore meant something different to people not from the area. It was some beach off the Garden State Parkway, heard about in passing, or something they never really cared about before.
Four years and two books later, MTV has shredded that term and stamped it on something that the 127 miles of New Jersey’s coast is not.
This we know: What you see on MTV is not the Real Jersey Shore. The cast isn’t from New Jersey, and what they present — the drinking, the fights, and the more drinking — is present in only a small sliver of a North Jersey beach, amped up to nightmarish cartoons for the sake of attracting viewers.
The fictional Jersey Shore of MTV’s creation doesn’t make room for sunsets in Cape May, or slipping down the water slides at Raging Waters in Wildwood. It doesn’t make room for riding the antique carousel in Ocean City, wing night at the Windrift in Avalon, or taking that long walk down the promenade in Sea Isle City. This Jen — me, not JWoWW — is the real Jersey Shore Jen. I spent my summers in Avalon. I’m tan from running. My blonde hair color is the real deal. I’m also an actual Italian American. Oh, and I’m from New Jersey.
But none of that will get the same kind of ratings as stuffing buffoons in a house with cameras and plenty of alcohol and proclaiming that this is the Jersey Shore.
“The Jersey Shore is not what television would like you to believe,” says Justin Gaynor, photographer and creator of Jersey Shore Videoscapes. It’s an iPad app he launched this winter that turns your screen into one of Gaynor’s sunrise photos, with time and weather information of your favorite Jersey Shore town also displayed. The photos are breathtaking, showing the beauty of the Jersey Shore at sunrise. No GLT in sight.
Gaynor made the app out of frustration. “MTV has an agenda that has nothing to do with promoting the actual Jersey Shore,” he says. “Drama sells. Bed and breakfasts do not. Teenagers are not going to tune in each week to watch a family take a stroll along the beach at sunrise.
“These MTV executives don’t live here — and neither do the show’s cast members,” he adds. “They come in, act up for cameras, get paid, and get out.”
“New Jersey has always been an easy target,” says Emil Salvini. He’s author of a series of history books about the Jersey Shore, including Boardwalk Memories: Tales of the Jersey Shore, Jersey Shore: Vintage Images of Bygone Days, and The Summer City by the Sea: Cape May, New Jersey — and An Illustrated History. He also runs the popular blog Tales of the Jersey Shore and a Facebook group of the same name. “Ben Franklin wrote that New Jersey is a cask — tapped at one end by New York City and the other by Philadelphia…Since we receive most of our news from these two major cities, our unique culture is lost to the general public.”
Salvini has owned a summer home in Cape May since 1986. Like Gaynor, he is fighting back. He’s created a pilot for a television series that would show the real Jersey Shore, town by town, quirk by wonderful quirk, and showcase why this area of the country is so unique, even magical.
He has completed the pilot. “The concept is that I would be the on-camera host and provide the views with a glimpse of the real shore,” he says. While the pilot focuses on Asbury Park, which we would consider a North Jersey beach, he hopes that it will prompt a series that will span up and down the coast.
“The Real Jersey Shore are the people and places that create a wholesome, family oriented destination,” he says. “People do not come here to fight or act out. They have come for generations to enjoy the beaches — some of the most beautiful in the world.”
Marlton’s Sean Streicher is a 23-year-old college student at Rowan University. He grew up spending his summers in Wildwood Crest — as did his grandparents and his parents. Like Salvini, he’s trying to showcase the real Jersey Shore, too, and spent last summer filming in the Wildwood area for a show he’s calling Sean’s Real Jersey Shore Show. He figured that one summer would be enough, but while editing the footage in the off-season, he realized he needed much more to really show the world about the place he loved. He’s back out with the cameras right now.
“I’ve been a lot of places. I was in Canada for a few years. I’ve been out in California. I still always come back home to the Jersey Shore for the summer. I haven’t found a place to top it yet — not that I’m looking,” he says.
We can’t just blame North Jersey for the image problem, either. Yes, Seaside Heights is in that portion of the state, but so are many beautiful beaches north of Atlantic City, and residents of those shore towns are just as — if not more — affected by having their identity trashed.
“Do those elements exist in South Jersey? The answer is no,” says Steve Chernoski, director of New Jersey: The Movie a documentary that explores the differences between the two sides of the state. “It’s very understandable how people in South Jersey say it’s only North because it is. But South Jersey people also have hubris when they say that the image is a North Jersey thing.”
The real Jersey Shore is what you make of it. To me, it’s long days swimming at that one special beach in Avalon, followed by campfires, burgers and s’mores, then even longer nights listening to bad cover bands at the bars on Landis Avenue in Sea Isle. It’s being stuck in one spot with my family for a week – for better or for worse. It’s seeing friends from all different parts of my life, all in one place at one time. Now that I’ve been down the shore in all four seasons, that Real Jersey Shore also includes a walk down a windy Atlantic City Boardwalk on those first crispy days of fall, the Christmas Tree at Congress Hall in Cape May, lining up for discounted ride tickets on Easter Sunday, or sunset at Sunset Beach, any time of the year.
The Jersey Shore “is not just one thing. It’s like going into a supermarket and asking which type of apple you want,” says Chernoski. “You have a million choices. It’s the beach with a lot of different personalities.”