I like to yell at the television. I seem to do it quite often when I watch Jersey Shore, particularly whenever the doomed romance of Sammi and Ronnie takes over the screen.
The producers of the show have apparently decided to make the on-again, off-again romance between Sammi and Ronnie the dominating storyline of the season, dedicating a ton of airtime to the make up/break up aspect of their relationship. It seems to work like this: Ronnie goes out, gets wasted, cheats on Sammi, calls her a cunt or a bitch directly to her face, leaves her for the night, and then stumbles home drunk, tells her he loves her, and ends up in bed with her. The next day, sober, the two are "back together," and Ronnie always somehow spins any of Sammi's complaints or suspicions back around against her, making her seem like the villain somehow.
Last week, after tiptoeing around the situation, and attempting to clue Sammi in via an anonymous note, the housemates finally blew up (particularly JWoww, who became violent with Sammi) and had to basically scream to her face that she was being cheated on, treated terribly, and that she needed to get out of the relationship. Nobody's screaming at Ronnie, mind you. Just at Sammi, who keeps taking this kid back, who keeps believing every lie he tells her, again and again and again, who puts up defenses whenever anyone attempts to pull her out of an emotionally abusive relationship. And even though Sammi has seen everything Ronnie has done to her and said about her, just as we have, while watching this season on tv, she is, to this day, still with him. "I think he is actually really trying to show me the good instead of the bad," Sammi tells the New York Daily News, "That's what I hold on to all the time."
I'll admit that whenever I watch the Sammi and Ronnie drama unfold on television, as a distanced observer, I find myself yelling just like JWoww: "What are you doing?! Get away from him!!! He treats you like shit!! Why are you being so stupid?!?" But it's easy to make those kinds of simplifications about someone else's relationship when you view it through the prism of entertainment. It's easy to think Sammi is being "stupid" for not leaving Ronnie, as opposed to being a myriad of other things: scared, confused, trapped, etc. When I read her quote in the Daily News this morning, I couldn't help but think of certain real life conversations I'd had with friends who'd rattled off a list of the ways their boyfriend was treating them like shit, but wrapped things up with a "but he loves me, you know. He's not always like that."
For all that gets written about this dumb show, and particularly for the attention paid to the amount of physical violence that takes place between various cast members, cast members and strangers, and, of course, the notorious incident wherein Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was punched in the face by a man during the show's first season, there's not much said about the other type of violence taking place during every episode, the kind without fists, where a man can sit two feet from his girlfriend and call her a cunt or a bitch and dismiss her, but then come back hours later and tell her he loves her, only to repeat the cycle over and over until it's unclear if the loving boyfriend or the raging verbal abuser is actually the person living in that house with her.
It's easy to roll our eyes at the relationship and say we're "done" with both of them, but this is, of course, "reality" television, and these are real people. Sammi, Jersey Shore character, might get on our collective nerves, but Sammi, actual human being, is actually being yelled at and manipulated like this on a regular basis. And when you think about it that way, and you consider the times you've seen your friends, or yourself, go through a similar situation, it suddenly takes on a darker, and more depressing tone.
Maybe instead of brushing Sammi and Ronnie's actions off as "dumb," we should consider the messages the relationship is sending to viewers at home—that it's her fault that she can't leave, that it's her fault for believing whatever he tells her, that Ronnie is the one the other women in the house thought was worthy of protection for so long, and not Sammi, and that she should be "embarrassed" for the way Ronnie made her look, as opposed to Ronnie being embarrassed for being an emotionally abusive boyfriend. It's perfectly normal to wonder why Sammi just doesn't get out—but assuming that it's just because she's naive or stupid is a really easy, and unfair, answer to a pretty complex question.
Earlier: Why Does MTV Let Jersey Shore Guys Get Away With This? [MTV]