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Snooki and The Situation, from MTV’s Jersey Shore. (Scott Gries/Picture Group)

“This situation,” the man said, “is gonna be indescribable. You can’t even describe the situation that you’re about to get into the situation.”

Confused? You must be among the fortunate few who’ve managed to miss the pop-culture leviathan known as Jersey Shore, a reality show that follows a tribe of young, libidinal coxcombs and slatterns as they lounge on the seaside strip.

The media reacted to the show much as a flock of cockatiels might react to the sudden appearance of a fresh field of millet, pecking away at its every bit. In Snooki, J-Woww, Pauly D and the show’s other protagonists, printer-toner stained wretches everywhere found greater meaning by the pound. For most pundits, all it took were a few hours watching MTV to collectively bemoan the imminent passing of Western Civilization, asphyxiated, presumably, by a cloud of hormones and hair product.

Western Civilization, you may be relieved to hear, is alive and well, and the legacy of the Enlightenment is firmer even than the muscles on Ronnie’s chest. But Jersey Shore does raise some worthwhile philosophical conundrums, all of which, it seems, are embodied in The Situation.

For the uninitiated among you, The Situation is the nickname Mike Sorrentino, the show’s inimitable star, has given himself, or, more accurately, his meticulously sculpted abs. So emblematic is Mr. Sorrentino’s midriff, that, in his mind, it has come to represent his entire being. This, as critics have noted humorlessly, is known as synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to refer to the thing as a whole: think “Washington” for the federal government, “wheels” for a car, or “Facebook” for three hours spent doing absolutely nothing but checking out photos of people you hated in fourth grade on an inane ski trip to Vermont.

The Situation is, perhaps, the first man in a long time to make synecdoche sexy: by designating his abs as a stand-in for his self, he declares head, heart, and all other organs superfluous. In so doing, The Situation presents a more formidable challenge to the spirit of the Enlightenment than his critics give him credit for. Forget cogito ergo sum; on the Jersey Shore, it’s I tan therefore I am.

As we have recently spent so much time enumerating the most notable things about the past decade, allow me to nominate The Situation as the emblem of the decade to come. We may be barely a month into the 2010s, but the tides emanating from Seaside Heights, N.J., carry with them a message we mustn’t ignore: welcome, it says, to the age of no consequence.

Nothing captures the essence of The Situation more aptly than his cheerful obliviousness to the idea that the things he says and does have outcomes. One moment he’s holding hands with Sammi, aka Sweetheart, in what seems like the sweet prelude to romance, and the next he’s dipping in the Jacuzzi with a gaggle of pantsless girls he has picked up in a bar. When Sammi distances herself the following morning, The Situation is baffled, so difficult is it for him to comprehend the mechanics of cause and effect.

It’s easy to pick on the hapless he-man as a boorish know-nothing, but take a closer look and you see that there are two, three, many Situations. There’s John “The Situation” Edwards, for example, the campaign trail Casanova who was shocked—shocked!—when his extramarital indiscretions derailed his presidential run. Or Bernie “The Situation” Madoff, who screwed pretty much everybody and never imagined he’d be caught. Edwards may be able to afford much better hair care than Sorrentino, and Madoff’s beachfront digs are far nicer, but, deep down, they’re surprisingly alike, ravenous men who are not about to let tomorrow get in the way of today.

Luckily for them, and for us, this week’s haftorah provides some required reading for Situations of all sorts. With Babylonian troops surrounding Jerusalem, the people of Israel look up to Egypt for support. No way, divines Ezekiel: Egypt, he prophesies, will abandon Israel in its time of need, a betrayal for which the Lord will punish the mighty kingdom with suffering and dispersal.

“And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel,” Ezekiel roars, “bringing iniquity to remembrance, when they turn after them; and they shall know that I am the Lord God.”

Ezekiel’s message is as pertinent to the Promised Land as it is to the Garden State. Actions, he reminds us, have consequences, and ignoring these consequences won’t make them go away. Betray Sammi, and watch her affections dwindle and die. Betray God’s chosen people, and risk putting the Almighty in a smiting mood.

It’s a simple lesson, yet it’s one so many of us fail to learn time and again. Before we truly turn our society into a hellish, heedless mess, let’s chase that pint of pop culture down with a shot of Ezekiel. Otherwise, we may have an indescribable situation on our hands.





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