A fresh brew

This lovely Moka Express print is for sale at Mengsel.

Also, read this recent NY Times article on the classic Bialetti design.


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Posted at 14:30 • No Comments

Italianness in Jersey Shore season 4: E2 (’Like More Than a Friend’)

In this second episode of the fourth season, the main focus is put on the idea of the cast members being confused by Italy and Italian culture. This is done in a typical ‘Jersey Shore’ manner: by editing the comments and actions of the cast members to make it look like they think they’re saying something smart or true or that they know what’s really going on. The use of background music then creates a kind of slapstick effect: the viewers are in on the joke, while the ‘actors’ aren’t aware that their stupidity or ignorance creates a comical (you could almost say deadpan) effect. The main sequences where this construction is used can thus be seen as bits or skits.

The Italy as Disneyland bit
Throughout the episode, the house mates are presented as completely unaware of Florence’s cultural history. They all seem oblivious to the fact that the Vatican isn’t in Florence, and furthermore confuse Michelangelo with Da Vinci (arguably the two most famous Italians in history). In an ultimate example of delusion, they even comment on the similarity of Florence and Disneyland. While on their way to the supermarket, Vinny, Mike/The Situation, Pauly and Deena admire the Florence streets and squares. Deena patronizingly currs “Look at how cute these little places are!” Vinny then chimes in with “It looks like Beauty and the Beast or some shit. I feel like people are gonna start singing out their windows”.
(“Is this the Vatican?” “Yeah I think so. It’s so nice.”)
Instead of acknowledging the fact that Disney borrowed the scenery of European villages to construct a romantic, fairy-tale-like setting, the order is reversed and Florence becomes the copy, while Disneyland (quintessentially American, fake, and hyperreal) becomes the original. This image of the cast members as ignorant American tourists is reinforced by them messing up Italian phrases throughout the episode, as well as complaining about everything being in Italian in Florence. Altogether, this creates the impression that they have been exposed or even unmasked as true, common Americans.
(”Everything’s in another language. Like, what the hell is this? Nothing is in English.”)

The pizza-bit
The housemates are set to work in (where else?) a pizzeria (Pizzeria O’ Vesuvio) this season. Marco, the pizzeria owner, gives them a pizza-baking lesson, while they look bored and distracted, joke around, and seem altogether unable to comprehend what’s being explained to them (this again being emphasized by music). Sammi, looking vapid, makes the ambiguous comment of “It looks like a Domino’s version of Italy pizza” (subtitled so the viewers don’t miss it); Ronnie calls a pizza a ‘pizza pie’ (an exclusively American term); and there is more confusion about ingredients (pepperoni/peppers/salami). Snooki blames her inability to understand Marco’s explanation to the fact that ‘he doesn’t speak English, like, very well’, while later, she argues that she doesn’t know how to ‘cook’ pizza because she doesn’t speak Italian.

The scene becomes the equivalent of one in which either clowns or toddlers are taught about, for instance, quantum physics, if the clowns or toddlers were under the impression that they were all Einsteins. Only these are supposedly dumb Americans who think they are Italian being taught to make a pizza. (The notion that is implicitly put forward here is of course that Italians naturally know how to bake pizzas and Americans do not.)
(”I don’t speak Italian. How am I the fuck supposed to know how to cook a pizza?”)

The coffee bit
JWoww wants to make coffee with the pot she finds in the house, but is unable to find a coffee grinder. She looks around the kitchen and picks up a potato press, asking “What is this, a ravioli maker?” She looks puzzled at the thing and then continues to grind the coffee beans with it. “Probably a lot of work to make coffee,” Pauly comments from across the kitchen, to which JWoww sarcastically replies: “Yeah, we ain’t in fucking America any more.” We see an inserted clip of JWoww speaking to the camera, saying: “Making coffee is Italy is like making coffee in the 1600’s.” Back in the kitchen, Sammi, in a child-like manner says: “I never knew how to make coffee before. That’s the machine?” JWoww responds, dryly and in a low voice: “I guess. The directions are in Italian.”
The comical effect in this clip is two-layered. First of all, JWoww intentionally turns the whole coffee-making episode into a shtick, exaggerating how hard it is to make coffee in Italy and cracking jokes about it straight-faced. The second layer, created in the production phase, is then added by (once again) background music and timed editing of both the action and the dialogue. The girly tone with which Sammi utters the grammatically incorrect, overly child-like and puzzled ‘I nevva knew how ta make cawfee befowa’ draws attention to the awkward fact that a grown woman doesn’t know how to make a cup of coffee, and, furthermore, to the fact that neither of them recognizes (or seem to recognize) one of the most famous Italian designs of all time, the Bialetti percolator/Moka Express. So, in this sequence, we are partly laughing with, and partly laughing at the cast members.

The ‘real Italian ladies’ bit
Deena and Sammi decide to cook Sunday dinner: Deena suggests to Sammi: “Shall we have a glass of wine while we cook?”, to which Sammi replies: “Oh my god, yes. We’ll be like real Italian ladies cooking dinner.” We have seen before how the idea is constructed that a real Italian woman is a woman who cooks (and takes care of others). For Sammi apparently, the drinking of wine while cooking is an important part of this image. Immediately after this, we hear circus-like background music that accompany images of Sammi having trouble figuring out the difference between garlic and scallions, and between strawberries and raspberries. Confused, she asks Deena “Tell me these are strawberries. These are like weird strawberries, are they good like this?” And as if the message wasn’t clear enough already, the two girls are then shown to let the dishwasher overflow.
The music and visual material in this sequence works as a punchline to which the ‘real Italian ladies’ comment is the setup, meant to convey to the viewers the message: Real Italian ladies, you two? DREAM ON! Later on, an interaction between Deena and Mike takes place to the same effect: Deena throws the pasta in the pot with Mike standing next to her, cooking (which I guess makes him a real Italian lady?…).”You put the pasta in before it boils?” Mike asks incredulously. Then, with Deena looking the other way, all the boys laugh (seemingly unbeknownst to Deena) while Mike gives them a look of shock and amazement. Due to the way this scene is set up, and because it has been established (twice) before what being a real Italian woman means, an interesting division takes place: the guys are in on the joke along with the viewers, while the girls aren’t. The joke is twofold: first, that the girls are lousy cooks, and second, that they are are lousy (as) Italian women.

–Next episode: E3 - ‘Twinning’–

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Posted at 22:04 • 1 Comment