Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Sammi, Ronnie, And Lessons On Abuse
[DISCLAIMER: I'd like to preface this by saying that this post is a discussion on abuse and uses examples from "The Jersey Shore" as well as my own experience. I know this is a topic that can be triggering, so this is just a heads-up that if so, you may want to skip this post.]
If you're like a lot of America, you've been sucked into "The Jersey Shore." It's terrible. Awful. Really, the worst show ever. However, it's almost sickeningly addictive and it's become a huge part of pop culture since the first season debuted last year. While most of the show's content should be seen as a how-to guide to being a complete douchebag (translation: if you see it on Jersey Shore, you should never do it), there's one part of the show that I've always found super-disturbing: Sammi and Ronnie's relationship.
In the first season, Sammi was the main abuser. She was extremely moody and short-tempered with Ronnie, who seemed genuinely interested in being faithful to her. She would fly off the handle and then demand his forgiveness (for example, the "Fred Flinstone toe" incident). Just like him, she flirted with other people at clubs, even getting some guys' numbers. She played far more games than he did, and games are never a sign of a healthy relationship. The two clearly struggled to determine whether they could be together all season until, at the reunion, they called it quits.
And then there was this season, when it stopped being just stupid and got horrifyingly sad. Let's go over the basic trajectory of this season's romance: Ronnie going and out, getting really wasted (and probably coked up) and hooking up with a zillion chicks, then coming home, telling the guys he was going to sleep with Sammie-- who, let's recall, is not his girlfriend-- and just getting into her bed. Then they decide they're dating. And then he acts like an ass and calls her lovely names like "bitch" and "cunt" and hooks up with more girls. Sammie says she "done." He apologizes and says he loves her. They sleep together again. Sammi plays some emotional games (such as searching Ronnie's phone and telling him he can go out but really "testing" him to see if he'll stay with her). Ronnie plays emotional games by cheating and then coming home to his sort've-girlfriend. Oh, we're done, no wait I love you, let's make up. Then Ronnie does something stupid and Sammie says she's "done." And then they make up, snuggle. More stupid stuff, "done," "BUT WAIT I LOVE YOU SAMMI!" wash, rinse, repeat.
It got so bad that the girls in the house decided to write Sammi a note about all Ronnie's infidelities. Sammi reads the note, it's very dramatic, she claims this is the last straw, but ultimately Ronnie tells her he loves her and he's sorry (again) and they appear to be back together. Sammi and the girls fight over all the shadiness in the house and we won't find out the rest of the story until episode 7.
I, like most people watching this show, am sick and tired of watching Sammi allow herself to be Ronnie's fall-back plan. Like she says, yeah, it does make her look bad-- should it? Maybe not, but I think a lot of us are sitting on the other side of the screen yelling "DON'T GO BACK TO HIM YOU ARE BEING SO STUPID!" and banging our heads against the wall. Or, conversely, we've just given up on the whole thing and decided that she's dumb. She'd have to be dumb not to listen to all the evidence that's smacking her in the face.
But here's the rub: most of us, if not all of us, have either been in a similar situation or had a friend just like Sammi.
The first time my first boyfriend broke up with me, I found out that he was over my best friend's house hitting on her little sister the next day. My friend asked my ex didn't Vanessa mean anything to you?! And he replied, I later found out, "no." At the time, my friend just got on the phone with me and said, plain and simple, "never go back to him." But did I follow her advice? Of course not. Because when I had a guy still paying me attention and flirting and then saying he hated me and talking about other girls and then acting like he wanted me back but saying no, I was too confused and naively hopeful to listen. I thought about the good times. I thought about how he was the only guy who'd ever liked me-- said he loved me-- enough to date me and I wasn't going to let that go. No one's advice mattered to me. They didn't see him like I did. They didn't know about how nice he could be. So I dealt with him getting plastered every night and telling me how awful and undeserving I was because sometimes, yeah, he'd snuggle and who else did I have to do that with?
My refusal to see the truth came from an ailing sense of self-esteem and pure, utter desperation. He never harmed me physically, but I was being emotionally abused. I was being used on top of it for the fact that, as the typical victim of abuse, I was willing to stay and hold on and be there whenever he wanted me to. He didn't love me and I later realized I didn't love him. I was desperate and obsessed and lost and hurt. I was not in love.
Unfortunately, I can also say that within the relationship, I thought the love I had for this guy was so real and that even though he treated me awfully, he loved me, too. I would turn him around. He would realize someday that I paid for lots of things for him and had sex with him and let him be mean to me and that that? That was devotion and he owed me it in return. That never happened. There was never a chance of it-- and I'm glad of it.
I began dating my current boyfriend when my ex went to boot camp for the Marines. When he came home, I told my ex that our relationship was done, he begged for my forgiveness. He told me he changed and he loved me and that I had abandoned him when really it was he who refused to be committed to me. I was strong enough then to put my foot down, but had I not had the distance from him that I got, I don't think-- I really don't-- that I would have been strong enough to do so. I saw plenty of warning signs of how bad the relationship was along the way, including the advice of my loving, amazing friends, but I didn't listen until circumstances made me ready.
I can, in that sense, relate to how Sammi must feel. She's acting stupidly and unwisely, but I don't think what she's doing in front of America is any different than what many of us have done or seen our friends do in a way that isn't as public. Abuse like this tends to take a certain form, and unfortunately that often means one party delusionally clinging to another out of hope and desperation. Emotional abuse, like any other form, becomes a force for manipulation and coercion and you can lose sight of the way out. I can say without shame that I acted stupidly and that what I went through was something that I never in a million years would have imagined myself going through. I wasn't "that girl" in my head. Now, older and wiser, I see everything for what it was. I'm willing to bet that Sammi feels the same way I did when I was with my ex and that someday she'll see how terrible and degrading an experience she went through. She's the only who will be able to make herself see that-- not her friends/castmates. Hopefully she'll come out of it as a better person. Say what you will about the Jersey Shore cast, but people are people and each and every one of us deserves love and respect.
Sammi is not being stupid as much as she is being human. Whenever we see people in abusive situations who don't seem willing to be, as Sammi says so frequently, "done," we react with bewilderment and frustration without taking a moment to remember how different and confounding the feelings can be from the inside. It's so much more complex than a lot of people want to believe. Sammi is not stupid: she is human and if what MTV shows us is accurate, she is a victim of abuse.
Interestingly, while MTV decided to air the number for an abuse helpline after the infamous Snooki-gets-punched incident, there's been little explicit attention paid to the abusive nature of Sammi and Ronnie's relationship. Yes, it's become the main conflict of the show, but MTV hasn't passed any real judgment on what we're seeing yet. In the first season, we never see the number for an abuse helpline at the commercial after Sammi manipulates Ronnie into apologizing and doing arbitrary tasks to prove his devotion and then proceeds to go out and get others guys' numbers. In the second season, we never see the number for an abuse helpline at the commercial after Ronnie goes out and cheats and calls Sammi a cunt and she says she's "done" and then sleeps with him anyway because she loves him so much. We're watching two people in a very real, very violent cycle.
Many of MTV's viewers are young, maybe even getting into some of their first relationships. Whether kids should be watching this or not is inconsequential right now: they're watching it. If MTV wants to be truly responsible and take a big step in the right direction, they'll make it clear that what we in Sammi and Ronnie is not healthy, because for some people it might not be. If you know people-- male or female-- who watch this show, talk to them about it, especially if they're younger. I think a lot of the "problems with today's youth" could be fixed by a healthy dose of dialogue. Either way, MTV needs to take a stand and acknowledge that just because this kind of abuse doesn't leave bruises doesn't make it any less horrific.