The last time Professor Ari Kohen presented a paper at a distinguished academic gathering he offered up his take on heroism in “The Odyssey.” On Friday, he’ll be sticking with ancient Greece, but adding in modern Italian American.
A political theorist at the University of Nebraska, he’s found links between Plato and MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” And, he hopes his conclusions will advance the discussion at the first (annual?) University of Chicago Conference on Jersey Shore Studies.
Yes, the home for Nobel Laureates is holding the all-day event analyzing a show where one of the most memorable lines was Ronnie’s simplistic -- albeit highly logical -- reasoning for not pursuing higher education: “I don’t like tests, that’s why I didn’t go to college.”
Based on the conference agenda, anyone watching the show and simply marveling at Snooki’s fashion tastes or Pauly D’s hair might be accused of being way to superficial. There is apparently so much more to be discovered in the chilliness between Sammi and Jwoww -- or Pauly and Vinny’s affection for one other.
Both relationships presumably will be covered in: “Catfights, Bromances, and the G-Code: Jersey Shore and its Reinvention and Reaffirmation of Gender Roles.”
The Guido persona looks to be a recurring topic among the thought leaders. A potential higlight: “Guidosexuality,” the keynote address from Candace Moore, a University of Michigan assistant professor.
Hunter College faculty member Maryam Bakht will present her "sociolinguistic investigation" of the show. With the catchphrases GTL, DTF and smush, there's probably a lot there.
Meanwhile, ancient Greece isn’t the only culture that offers unexpected fodder. One paper connects “honor culture” in Medieval Iceland with the show.
That work may not be so different from Professor Kohen’s “Platonic Justice and Jersey Shore,” illuminating how ethical questions pondered by the student of Socrates have also vexed Snooki and Jwoww.
“When I started looking at the ‘Jersey Shore,’ I noticed they were having some of the same conversations about justice as you have in book one of Plato’s ‘Republic,’” Kohen said.
Those include issues around friendship and virtuous behavior. A conundrum that arose on “Jersey Shore's” Miami season got Kohen thinking back to the Greeks.
Simplistically, Ronnie was cheating on Sammi. Snooki and Jwoww felt she needed to know. They come up with the concept of an anonymous letter. Angelina, Pauly, Vinny and The Situation steer clear.
Did Snooki and Jwoww do the right thing? How about the other four who punted? What would Plato think?
For that matter, what about Michel Foucault? The 20th century French philosopher is the subject of not one, but two papers to be presented at the conference. One looks at his “theory of discipline.” The other carries the title: “Foucault’s Going to the Jersey Shore, Bitch!”
Stepping back, Kohen says he understands any chuckling about the conference and questions about Ivory Tower over-analysis. “I think that if I’m the average person, this is a great example of academics being academics,” he said.
Yet, he says there is a hunger for pop philosophy, noting Barnes & Noble visitors are more likely to pick up “The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer” than the works of that other Homer.
Still, as he readies to travel to the hallowed halls of the University of Chicago for some Guido-Plato discussion, he says “my wife thinks this is hilarious.”
It is and it sounds like a great day.