What do you do when your brand or product suddenly appears in a burst of free national publicity thanks to a reality television show that many people find either offensive or stupid?

That was the situation facing the Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau earlier this month when MTV unveiled its newest reality show, “Jersey Shore” which follows a half dozen self-proclaimed “guidos” during a summer season in Seaside Heights.

In response to protests from some Italian-American groups, MTV declared that “the show continues MTV’s history of documenting various subcultures, rites of passage of young people, and the ways they self-identify. The Italian-American cast takes pride in their ethnicity. We understand that this show is not intended for every audience and depicts just one aspect of youth culture.”

But rather than fight MTV’s portrayal of the Shore, the Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau has used the opportunity to tell its own story: Daniel Capello, the executive director, explains:

The Jersey Shore has found itself at the center of a national discussion on the role and responsibilities of reality television.

Ignited by MTV’s new series “Jersey Shore,” the show has been a polarizing force among critics nationwide, as well as New Jerseyans and Italian-Americans. As executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau , representing Monmouth and Ocean Counties, I entered the dialogue by releasing a statement denouncing the “one-dimensional” nature of the show, reminding viewers that MTV is “hardly telling the full story.” Journalists nationwide picked up the statement, and in my discussions with them, have seemed eager to pit my organization against MTV.

We at the Jersey Shore CVB are not angry at the producers and cast members of “Jersey Shore.” We understand that MTV is in the business of creating at-times sensational or controversial content in order to garner interest in its programming. We also understand that reality television does not have a history of representing its subjects fairly and humanely. Would promoting New Jersey’s rich culture and heritage be compelling enough television for MTV’s rather specific demographic? It might not. We do believe, though, that those things are exactly what create a compelling travel destination.

And that is the story we’d like to tell.

I don’t need to remind our current visitors that the Jersey Shore is filled with world-class attractions and accommodations. We have an incredible colonial lineage, a noble maritime heritage, and rock and roll legacy known throughout the world. Our community arts organizations, from the Two River Theater in Red Bank to the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, prove that the Jersey Shore is not the culturally vacuous place that MTV depicts.

We understand that this issue resonates deeply with members of the Italian-American community. I, too, am an Italian-American. And growing up, I spent many summers in Seaside Heights, enjoying the surf, sand, and boardwalk with my parents and brothers. I am as proud of my heritage as the cast members of “Jersey Shore,” but I celebrate that pride quite differently.

In the end, whether MTV’s depiction of Italian-Americans is appropriate is not an issue for the Jersey Shore CVB. Our role is to promote and protect the business community of the Jersey Shore. Tourism in New Jersey is a $38 billion industry that contributes substantially to the quality of life of our residents. For 160 visitors to New Jersey, one new job is created. Ten percent of total employment in the state can be either directly or indirectly attributed to tourism. Every 204 visitors pay for one New Jersey public school student for one year (Source: 2008 NJ Tourism Satellite Account).

There’s obviously something appealing about the image of New Jerseyans as a straight-talking, tell-it-like-it-is people, and this is something of which we’ll always be proud.

We hope consumers, wherever “Jersey Shore” is seen, are savvy enough to differentiate between the caricaturized personalities depicted on the show, and the dramatized situations. There’s a potential rift between them and the folks who have visited the Jersey Shore, and return year-after-year, aware that what is depicted on MTV’s “Jersey Shore” is so very different from their experience. It is no secret to any New Jerseyan, and to any visitor to the Jersey Shore, that our beaches attract people from all life stages, all income levels, and all interests. From Asbury Park’s grassroots music and art scene, to Spring Lake’s majestic Victorian inns, to the family-friendly excitement of Point Pleasant Beach, there truly is something for everyone at the Jersey Shore. Those who have NEVER visited, whose only frame of reference is this show, are misled by MTV’s representation.

We welcome anyone and everyone to experience the Jersey Shore region of Monmouth and Ocean Counties and ALL it has to offer.

David Capello is the executive director of the Jersey Shore CVB.

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