Jersey Shore = Hate Crime?

January 2, 2010

In one of the most hilarious developments in the Jersey Shore controversy to date, NJ state senator Josef Vitale has recently alleged that the show violates the spirit of New Jersey’s hate crime legislation. That’s right, Jersey Shore may actually be a hate crime. But settle down, America; the show is not a hate crime against you just because it sucks and you hate it, nor is it a hate crime against you just because you’re a dermatologist who experiences great existential anguish at the thought of the skin cancer that those kids are going to get later in life — no. Senator Vitale (who is also the chairman of the New Jersey Italian American Legislative Caucus) says that Jersey Shore resembles a hate crime because,

“The bias-related acts displayed by employees of MTV Networks in the production and marketing of Jersey Shore, by their nature, are confrontational, inflame tensions and promote social hostility. . . . These acts are contrary to the spirit of New Jersey law and jeopardize the active and open pursuit of freedom and opportunity.”

It’s important to notice that all Vitale can say about the show is that it violates the spirit of NJ’s hate crime laws, because to claim that they violate the letter of those laws would be completely stupid. How do I know? I did my research, bitches. I read those laws, and you can too, provided you are willing to deal with the completely shitty and unhelpful user interface of the NJ state legislature’s website.

I’m guessing you won’t, so I’m going to break it down for you.

1) Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction.

In order for Vitale’s accusation to even begin to be coherent, the “production and marketing” of Jersey Shore, which he believes constitute “bias-related acts,” would have to have occurred in New Jersey. And most of them didn’t. The filming of the show took place in Jersey, yes, but MTV’s corporate headquarters are in New York, and that is probably where the conception, post-production, marketing decisions took place. While it’s entirely possible that dreaming up a show originally called “The Guidos” and marketing said show with liberal use of that word might fall under the definition of a “bias-related act,” probably none of that happened in New Jersey. The only thing we know for sure that happened in the Garden State’s jurisdiction is that a bunch of kids were put into a house and filmed acting like jackasses.

2) Reality Shows Are Not (Technically) Crimes.

NJ Statute 2C 16:1 defines “bias intimidation” as follows:

A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of an offense specified in chapters 11 through 18 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; N.J.S.2C: 33-4; N.J.S.2C:39-3; N.J.S.2C:39-4 or N.J.S.2C:39-5,

1) with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or

2) knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or

3) under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.

I’m no legal scholar, but what we’re looking at here in items 1), 2), and 3) seems to be a list of circumstances under which the actions specified in the first paragraph would be considered bias intimidation. Do you know what actions are specified in that boring-looking list of statutes up there? CRIMES. Crimes from murder to assault to “throwing bodily fluids at certain law enforcement officers” (2C: 12-13). I’m going to go out on a legal limb here and say that FILMING A REALITY SHOW, no matter how crappy or generally offensive to humanity that show is, IS NOT A CRIME.

3) The First Amendment Gives You the Right To Be A Jackass.

To the best of my knowledge (and I invite you to correct me if I’m wrong), the mere use of a racial slur is not technically illegal; in fact, it’s protected under our first amendment rights to free speech. Using a racial slur may be offensive, rude, insensitive, and mean, but it’s not illegal in New Jersey or anywhere else in the United States. One of the few exceptions to this is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which employers may sometimes be prosecuted for tolerating hate speech by their employees if it contributes to a broader pattern of harassment resulting in a hostile working environment for employees. But until we hear from an Italian-American producer, film editor, or cameraperson who says that he or she felt uncomfortable working on Jersey Shore, Title VII isn’t applicable. New Jersey’s actual hate crime laws, like most of those in the US, are a set of provisions under which an act that is already criminal can be considered a hate crime — and the only crimes committed by Jersey Shore are those against taste, fashion, and intelligence. If that was illegal, the only channels on the air would be PBS, The Weather Channel, and Animal Planet, and we’d all have to figure out how to get excited about Meerkat Manor. Personally, I’d take Flower over Kim Kardashian any day of the week.



  1. You did all that work and call us bitches? Why you calling me names, hater?

    And Jersey Shore is a love crime.

    • A few minor quibbles: I didn’t look up the statute, but I would assume that at least personal jurisdiction would not be a problem in this case. All states have “long arm” statutes that allow a state court to exercise jurisdiction over an individual even if that individual has never set foot in a state if the individual’s actions have a substantial effect in that state. (I forget the exact wording of the test, but thats the gist). So unless the NJ statute explicitly says the the constitutive act itself must take place in New Jersey, the effect of any such acts are probably sufficient to give a NJ state court jurisdiction.

      Second, and more so, hate speech is not protected by the first amendment. Though the 1st Amend protects speech generally, there are various “categories” of speech that are of so little value that they are not protected. Classic examples include incitement to violence, obscenity, and fighting words. Fighting words are those that would instigate an average man to fight. Thus, racial slurs surely fall under that. So MTV’s speech, if you found it to be hate speech, would not be protected and could be punished.

      All that’s beside the point if, as I think you correctly argue, MTV’s actions do not come close to violating the substance of the statute. However, I think a creative lawyer could make the case that MTV’s decision to make Jersey Shore itself was a substantial and serious crime regardless of its racism, and thus it was a “hate crime” that can be punished under the Hate Crime law also.

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