New Jersey is humblebragging its way through these latest brushes with notoriety if only because they offer a rare opportunity to control the message. The Super Bowl and even Christie -- for better or worse -- are matters of national import that New Jerseyans had a say in and had a means of either benefitting from or directly influencing. The same can't be said for the state's somewhat unflattering roles in HBO's The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, which cast it as a fertile ground for mob activity, violence and corruption. New Jersey also didn't get much of a voice in Bravo's The Real Housewives of New Jersey or MTV's Jersey Shore, which turned the state into a backdrop for loudmouthed, anger-prone, hyper-aggressive social outliers and made it look like a booze-and-rage-filled playpen for the overtanned nouveau riche.
None of that is necessarily wrong, mind you. For a small state, New Jersey produces more than its share of outsized personalities from its densely packed environs. While it's the state of Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman and Junot Diaz's Oscar Wao, it was also the state of the Oxygen Network's Jersey Couture, the now-defunct Style network's Jerseylicious and, yes, The Cake Boss. When Hoboken indie rock club Maxwell's closed last year, club co-owner Todd Abramson lamented to The Star-Ledger that The Cake Boss, JWoww, Snooki and various cast members of The Real Housewives of New Jersey have turned the town's nightlife into a sea of LED screens and cheap cocktails. In short, it lost control of the message:
"The culture in Hoboken is driven by TV now," Abramson continued. "A lot of the bars downtown are fighting with each other for who has the most giant TVs. That's what Hoboken nightlife has become."
The rest of the nation, meanwhile, is starting to tune all of it out. Of that slew of aforementioned Jersey-based reality television shows only Cake Boss and Housewives remain. Each is losing traction, ratings and the coveted 18 to 49 demographic -- with recent airing of Cake Boss dipping below 1 million viewers, more than half of whom are 50 or older. With U.S. viewers shifting their gaze to Louisiana and a family of duck-call makers, New Jersey is slowly sliding out of reality television's picture.
That makes the present day Peak Jersey. By Feb. 4, the Super Bowl will have cleared out of town with a massive hangover and an ill-advised late-night hot dog run to Rutt's Hutt still rumbling in its belly. By March, Season 6 of Cake Boss will be wrapped up -- though Carlo's baker Buddy Valastro's spinoff shows Bakery Boss and Cake Boss: The Next Great Baker will muddle on. The Olympics, midterm election coverage or some other distraction will inevitably kick Christie and "BridgeGate" out of the headlines.
In the meantime, we as a nation are stuck with Jersey. For a state that's spent much of its modern existence advising the rest of the nation to fugheddaboudit, the Garden State is making it painfully difficult to do so.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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