How embarrassing is too embarrassing?
Sure, we've seen Snooki, Sitch and the rest of the cast of MTV's reality juggernaut Jersey Shore, get drunk, fall down, get up, get drunk again, fall down again, fight, have sex, get even more drunk -- you get the picture. But at some point the behavior that doesn't fill them with the least bit of shame (inexplicably, some would argue) actually does embarrass those who put up with or flat-out enable the insanity they wreak. Like, say, the state of New Jersey itself.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made headlines Monday axing a $420,000 television subsidy which his state was granting to MTV to keep the shooting of the Jersey Shore cast's shenanigans safely in place. The tax credit for the upcoming season of Shore were announced a couple of weeks ago and instantly decried by Italian-American groups, who've maintained since day one that the show promotes the worst kind of stereotypes. And with that no doubt in mind, Christie decided that enough was enough and attempted to do to Snooki what she hasn't been able to do to herself -- namely get her tossed out of Jersey once and for all.
But is the governor's veto right? Or is it censorship, pure and simple?
This isn't the first time a debate like this has sprung up; in fact, this sort of thing happens every time a production with questionable entertainment value takes advantage of a state's monetary largess. Think of the same arguments raised on both sides of the debate over Federal funding of the National Endowment of the Arts. The question generally goes something like this: Should a state government help foot the bill for a controversial television or film project, or at least one that most sane people wouldn't want associated with the place they call home? Where I live, in Florida, the hand-wringing turned particularly contentious last year when it was announced that a state representative had proposed a bill that would give a special $242 million worth of tax credits to the television, motion picture and entertainment industries. Above and beyond the basic 20% tax credit, there was an additional 5% bump to "family-friendly" films willing to shoot in the state. The issue, of course, was what exactly qualifies as "family-friendly"? When painted into a corner by an overzealous reporter, the bill's sponsor stated that in his opinion the 5% family-friendly bump would not apply to movies that featured gay characters; this was misinterpreted in the media as excluding all gay films from the entire incentive and drew the immediate wrath of dozens of advocacy groups who pilloried the proposal as an example of "1950's-style censorship." Although the bill's language was re-written, the current Florida incentive still excludes pornographic films
The censorship accusation is the kind of accusation Christie is facing by revoking Jersey Shore's credit, so to speak. Critics claim that he's sacrificing the revenue that a popular show brings to the state -- jobs, more production, tourism, etc. -- just because he's not a fan of the actual product.
And if that's really what Christie is doing, then those critics are right.
There shouldn't be any arguing with whether it's a state's prerogative to decide which projects to throw taxpayer funds at, but those decisions have to be based on apolitical factors. If a governor like Chris Christie -- or a state legislature -- can show that a film or television project won't in some respects pay for itself by drawing business to a state then it should be within the power of that state to reject a public incentive for it. If a State wants to offer a "family-freindly" bump then it should be based on industry-accepted standards like the current MPAA rating system, not by politicized cultural definitions. But the state should have no authority to dictate the kind of content that goes into a film or TV show or to discriminate based on content; it can't be allowed to play the role of the morality police or to issue its own brand of MPAA rating that restricts how much state credit the project should be entitled to. It should always be about the money and jobs it can net for the taxpayers and nothing else. You want to bring your production to, say, a state that's just been ravaged by a hurricane and which now needs all the Hollywood dollars it can get? Fantastic. It shouldn't matter whether that production is Three Gay Men and a Baby or The Apple Dumpling Gang Goes To Church. If the proposal means good money and employment for the state, that should be good enough for state leaders.
Governor Christie may not like Jersey Shore, but he shouldn't withhold state tax credits just because of that. Sure Snooki can be an embarrassment, but if every time she falls down Jersey's bottom line goes up, that's good news for the whole state.